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- Robinson Road
- Nassau / Paradise Island, Bahamas
Entering its fourth year, the summer workshop for writers under the Bahamas Writers Summer Institute (BWSI) is gearing up for its intense three-week focus on writing workshops, seminars, lectures and readings this coming July.
This year however they are eyeing significant expansion, opening up the workshop to Family Island participants, inviting an extra guest writer to discuss and share their work, and even creating an entirely separate program for high school students unable to take the summer workshop itself.
Already, BWSI has begun a pilot program at a high school that they hope to expand to all high schools in order to foster a love for writing and literature. Under the directorship of College of The Bahamas Professor Ada McKenzie and T.A. Thompson Senior Mistress Deborah Thompson, 20 students at T.A. Thompson Junior High School attend a Junior Writers Club and learn how to hone their craft.
The club, says BWSI co-founder and coordinator Marion Bethel, satisfies the interests of students under 16 years of age who may not be able to take the Bahamas Writers Summer Institute, and also teaches them the value of creative writing at a level unmatched by high school curriculum.
"We want students to be able to know from an early age that this is a possibility for them," said Bethel. "Many don't have the exposure to creative writing in the way that nurtures you to be a writer if you want."
The coordinators are also eyeing a way to expand its summer workshops as well. Besides campaigning to Family Island participants and writers from the diaspora in order to grow its student body, they also look towards inviting more guest lecturers to the summer workshops.
Every year, BWSI invites one Bahamian writer and one guest writer from our Caribbean neighbors to share and discuss their work with the students of the workshop.
The visiting Caribbean writer also gives master workshops in a genre of their choice as well as a special lecture free and open to the public. Such sessions provide these emerging writers with their special knowledge of the writing craft in their field, says BWSI co-creator and coordinator, Helen Klonaris.
"When we have the privilege of great writers visiting us and giving us just a half hour or hour of their thoughts about society, about the world and the Caribbean, it's an incredibly rich moment because we are hearing from someone who has delved into the politics of being a human being in their writing and looked for meaning in their stories and then they share that," she said.
"It's great because we don't get to have community with them on a regular visit, so we're lucky to have them visit us and speaking to us about what they know."
This year the guest writer from the Caribbean is Jamaican-born, award-winning fiction writer Patricia Powell. Her awards include the Bruce Rossley Literary Award, the Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award. Powell has taught creative writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, Wellesley College and the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Currently she teaches at the graduate creative writing program at Mills College in Oakland, California.
Her books - "Me Dying Trial", "The Pagoda", "A Small Gathering of Bones" and "The Fullness of Everything" - examine the politics of identity in The Caribbean through trials of displacement, disconnect and marginalization.
Such a body of work speaks directly to this year's theme for BWSI, "Coming Home: Migration, Absence and Presence in the Caribbean Imaginary", which Klonaris points out is particularly significant in examining contemporary Caribbean identity and literature.
"I adore how Patricia is able to focus in on the intimate and the personal and highlight the problems of society in a personal way," said Klonaris. "She looks at migration and disconnect on personal levels and she deals so courageously with the issues of gender and identity and how to survive."
"She asks: how can we move past this, how can we heal this?" she continued. "Those are such fundamental questions we need to be asking particularly in the Caribbean and in The Bahamas, and I think it will resonate with many Bahamians because these are the kinds of questions we've been asking these days."
Meanwhile, in an attempt to grow their program, BWSI will be featuring two Bahamian guest writers who will give special presentations of their work, added Bethel.
Established Bahamian poet, performer and architect Patrick Rahming will share his rather large and varied body of work in an evening of poetry and lyrics.
"It's definitely Pat Rahming's time," said Bethel. "He has a body of essays and poetry and lyrics, which has made a great contribution to literature in The Bahamas, and he's one of the more established Bahamian writers who continues to write and to give commentary on the Bahamian writing scene. He has older as well as more contemporary collections of work so it will be interesting to see his journey as a writer."
Meanwhile, the writer and producer of many award winning films, such as "Children of God", Kareem Mortimer, rounds out the Bahamian guest writers, taking a departure from the usual poet and fiction writers the summer workshops tend to choose.
Though BWSI has always offered workshops in screenwriting and playwriting, with the selection of Mortimer as guest writer, they hope to highlight a rapidly growing segment of the literary landscape in The Bahamas.
"There seems to be a real interest in film and screenwriting in The Bahamas and it seems to be taking off in a real way," said Bethel. "We thought we'd add value to the entire program by having Kareem come as a screen writer and a producer. It's such a substantial medium right now in addition to fiction and poetry."
All lectures and presentations by the three guest writers not only benefit the students of the Summer Institute, but also the wider community as they are still free and open to the public. Such a move, said the founders, really speaks to the core of the program, which is to create and grow a community of writers and critical thinkers in The Bahamas, and to strengthen the legacy of Bahamian literature and its relation to strong Bahamian and Caribbean identity.
"I think that The Bahamas is coming into a new articulation of its literary tradition and I think we're feeling that we can meet the literary traditions of other Caribbean countries and communities in ways that we perhaps haven't felt until now, and we're proud of it in a way that we haven't been before," says Klonaris.
"Writers are important because they define who we are as a people, we help to create a public discourse around who we have been and who we will be," she continues. "That's why it's really important that those who appreciate what we're doing and have the ability to support it financially take that step forward to support us."
Indeed, with the vision to grow the summer program beyond its seasonal occurrence and to touch the lives of students and Family Island emerging writers, BWSI is in need of funding more than ever. Its effects just in the past four years can already be seen as talented young Bahamian writers gain confidence and skill in their craft and publish on a global level, turning the eyes of the world to our Caribbean nation that for so long had been passed over in the literary canon of The Caribbean.
BWSI has become a nucleus around which writers are coming together and taking up the mantle to take Bahamian literature forward, and it can only do so if it has the support from the very community that writers work to define and uplift. They've received generous donations in the past from Cable Bahamas, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Inter-American Development Bank, yet they need more support than ever.
As Bethel points out, many writers came together to form initiatives in the past which have advanced literature and yet failed to continue - not because the drive wasn't there, but only the funding and support. BWSI, they hope, can be different.
"BWSI's intervention in the development of literature in The Bahamas is significant and important and vital," she said. "This is an effort to make a lasting impression in the Bahamian literary development. Because we know the history of these past institutions that have come and gone for many different reasons and the significance of the work we do, the support we need is really critical to keeping the institution going."
For more information about BWSI, to apply or to donate, please visit www.bwsi.wordpress.com, email email@example.com or call Marion Bethel at 325-0342.
The Monthly meeting of the Commonwealth Writers of the Bahamas Will be held on Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 at Chapter One Book Store at the College of the Bahamas.
Parents of students who participated in the Fifth Annual Writing Competition at Government House are asked to ensure that these Students attend.
Junior Writers Meeting 2pm to 3pm - Adults from 3.15pm to 4.15pm.
Emile Hunt is the latest emerging Bahamian writer to take his work to the top and represent The Bahamas on a global scale - this July, a short story he penned will appear in the prestigious Transition Magazine, published by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University.
Guided by a suggestion and then encouragement by his fellow writer and friend Keisha Ellis, who looked over the short story, he took a chance and submitted the work to the magazine despite being intimidated by the Harvard name.
Four months later, he was elated not only to find out that the story had been accepted, but that the chief editor of Transition Magazine personally relayed her positive remarks to his work.
"I wanted to shout in joy but I didn't, I just said a quick prayer and said thanks because I am really grateful for this talent God has given me," said Hunt.
"I'm grateful for this opportunity to have my work in the magazine and at the fingertips of so many readers. A Bahamian work getting out there, a Bahamian voice getting out there in this form of academia - I'm just thankful for that."
The short story, "Names of the Dead", said Hunt, examines the life of wayward pastor Mario Major struggling under the weight of the legacy of his forefathers. In a magical realist twist, he begins hearing voices of marginalized and troubled individuals in the world of the dead and begins feeling their effects on his physical and emotional health.
"Not until he comes to some realization of the people he should represent just like his forefathers - this disenfranchised - and helps them, not until he comes to accept the names of the dead, will he come to his true self and his identity," explains Hunt.
The story is just one of many in an impending short story collection by the promising young fiction writer. After completing his English language and literature studies at The College of The Bahamas, he went on to pursue an MFA in creative writing at the University of West Indies in 2008, beginning his collection of short stories then. Though he's completing his MFA this year, he's already looking at PhD programs in creative writing.
Some of his work has already been published in Poui, tongues of the ocean, and Small Axe, yet he hopes to begin finding a publisher for the complete finished collection this year. No doubt the latest acceptance of his work is the vote of confidence he needs to put the finishing touches on the work, complete the MFA and simultaneously find a publisher.
"The reason my collection took so long is because I couldn't complete them in Trinidad," said Hunt. "They were Bahamian stories and I was detached from my setting. I couldn't put the finishing touches on them until I got home and immersed myself in the people and the culture."
Indeed his work, like "Names of the Dead", examines masculinity through male relationships in The Bahamas - whether father and son or friend-to-friend or even lover to lover. Such a decision, said Hunt, serves to highlight the importance of positive male roles models in society.
Hunt himself is doing his part - he's currently teaching English language and literature at C. V. Bethel. Besides keeping his writing practice sharp by keeping him in touch with the basics, teaching an especially underperformed subject across the board in Bahamian schools allows him to encourage a respect and love for reading and writing in Bahamian youth.
"Spiritually, I believe men have an obligation not only to their families but to younger men, to teach them how to carry themselves in society," he said. "They can look at me with my rough exterior and see that it's ok for a man to express his feelings, to write about the experiences of others, to involve yourself in the depth of a character."
"It's important to change the path that most of our young men are on," he continued. "In my classes, the young men have come to realize what we call reading and education are not 'sissy' or 'light' or the easy way out, it's a way to express yourself."
Yet a love and appreciation for that craft also begins at a young age - something, which as a teacher, he encourages parents to develop in children the ways his parents did.
"I think it's important for parents to encourage reading. I remember my parents reading to me at a really young age," he said.
"I was rapt and from then on I was obsessed with characters and stories. Everything I could get my hands on, I read. My parents encouraged that, they poured that into me. I think it's important for parents to take note of what they pour into their kids."
Hunt is also grateful to his own mentors - Sis. Annie Thompson, Arlene Nash Ferguson, Fr. Sebastian Campbell and Dr. Ian Strachan, to name a few - who he believes have also helped him get to this milestone as a writer.
Next up, he and Keisha Ellis will attend the Cropper Writer's Workshop in Trinidad, a by-application only prestigious workshop that is held every two years for Caribbean writers. With this new accomplishment under his belt, he is ready more than ever to take Bahamian writing to the world and make a great impression on the globe.
"We're excited to go there and show them what Bahamian literature is all about," he said. "We're going to show that we have powerful stories also, we have tales we can share."
"I think this generation right now, this group of writers moving forward, this movement is going to be something great," he continued. "I think it's going to shock the world. There are more avenues being opened up to us in a globalized world with readerships, so it's going to draw eyes down here to see what we're doing in The Bahamas and that's going to be beneficial for all of us."n
Saturday 14th July 2012 5:00 PM
Bahamas Writers Summer Institute 2012 Sunday, July 8th to Sunday, July 29th, 2012 Entering its fourth year, the summer workshop for writers under the Bahamas Writers Summer Institute (BWSI) is gearing up for its intense three-week focus on writing workshops, seminars, lectures and readings this coming July 2012. Applications are still being accepted. The cost of this 3-week intensive workshop in screenwriting, fiction, memoir, or poetry is $400. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for an application! Bahamas Writers Summer Institute 2012 Schedule: Saturday, July 14th / NAGB / 5-7pm – Writers in Community Series: A screening of Children of God, and conversation with writer and director Kareem Mortimer
Sunday 3rd October 2010 4:00 PM
Inspired by artist and architect Jackson Burnside’s challenge that “writers have to bring people back around the fire to hear stories” and writer Keisha Ellis, the BWSI has designed Writers in the Round, a bringing together of writers and the larger community in a circle around the proverbial fire. Several writers will be sharing words of poetry, prose and something in between seated amongst the audience. A conversation will take place post reading. Free Admission Start Time: October 3rd at 4:00pm End Time: October 3rd at 6:00pm Where: The Hub, Easy Bay St
In the past, I've written on very sensitive issues and controversial topics, as I most certainly will again in the future, but nothing I've written before has compared - with respect to the level of feedback received - to last week's 10 reasons Bahamian college graduates don't want to come home.
The quantity of messages received and social media commentary shared, as well as the nature of the sentiments expressed therein, tells me that the exploration of this topic is both timely and crucial, and that the complexity of the young, college-educated Bahamian's decision to return home after graduation is widely experienced and deeply felt.
Some readers were misguided in their interpretations of my article, its caption, and its intention, thinking: a) it was meant to be a complete list of reasons why Bahamian college graduates don't want to come back home, b) it was comprised of things only experienced by Bahamian students and graduates and by no one else in any other place in the world, and, c) it was to be used as a tool to instruct Bahamian college graduates not to come back home.
All of these interpretations are inaccurate.
To understand the necessity of a writer to weave fact, circumstance, experience, opinion, and language, to create something relatable, stirring, and useful, and how a writer captures an audience's attention and draws them into discussion, would allow for a more accurate interpretation of the '10 reasons'. Getting to know the writer facilitates this understanding.
Even though it is a means of self-expression and a mode of catharsis, I write to encourage others to find words and ways to express themselves honestly and rationally, and to share stories and ideas with them, with the hope that they will share theirs with others, so we can all learn from one another and develop a level of understanding and acceptance that strengthens us as a collective.
I write also to gauge and engage the feelings, perspectives, and tendencies of a wide group of people, irrespective of age or sex, on matters they should be thinking about on a regular basis in order to be more involved in fortifying their culture and their country.
I am a keen observer; my ability to express easily and fully comes from watching and listening, which in turn allows me to develop heartfelt thoughts and feelings about the world around me.
I use my expressive ability to give voice to the people who may not have found their own.
My writing is not intended to require anyone to agree with me or to give me a position on a topic and then beat people over the head with it.
I feel very deeply and sincerely about the things I choose to write on, and everyone can and will take from my writing of experiences and observations whatever they should. In the course of my thinking, analyzing, and sharing, if it leads to healthy debate on important matters, then that, I consider, a byproduct of my original objective.
Curiously, those who have on many occasions been uncomfortable with or opposed to my words have often said that I've allowed my experiences to affect my judgment, and to this I simply say that everyone does.
Each one of us human beings is affected by our life experiences and, we, subconsciously or not, allow them to create the basis of our thinking; it's only natural.
Every experience is a benchmark for living, and, if we don't consider our experiences as we live, then why do we live? Our lives are a series and mass of experiences, some we may want to have repeated and some we would sooner forget, but they are the foundations of our humanity.
Moreover, any writer worth her/ his salt should always seek to stir her/ his readers with human experiences. Otherwise, what do we write for?
Whether a writer is trying to convince someone of something, or simply to inform or to share, knowing how to capture the attention of the reader and how to reach that reader beyond the writing on the paper or the screen, without argument, without the burden of trying to get them to agree, means the writer's work is halfway done and likely to be more impactful.
If you write and you can't connect with the people you write for without forcing yourself on them, then you need to do something other than write. But, as long as you do write, you should try to write about things with sincerity, so your readers can be more open to your words and to feeling welcomed into the larger dialog.
Writers usually have a lot to say, but readers help them to define what they will say next, to the benefit of both the writer and the reader.
My own position
Being as sincere as I can be on the matter, I will say that my perspective on Bahamian brain drain does shift between the absolute and the uncertain, because, on the one hand, I know what my country desperately needs to grow, even to survive, but I also know that four or five, 25 or 40 returning college graduates trickling in over the next few decades won't get us to where we need to be, at least not in this century and certainly not in time to reverse the impact of lost Bahamian intellectual capital. A precise action is needed and it would have to be implemented fully in one fell swoop.
What is most factual about this issue of Bahamian brain drain is that there is a serious and valid concern on the part of young, college-educated Bahamians, and it is not to be taken lightly.
Many of these young people want to come (and stay) home if their specialties allow, but they feel strongly that the tendency of Bahamian decision-makers to turn to non-Bahamians for exclusive expertise is as common as sand on our beaches. Were it not for the longstanding and pervasive lack of national self-worth, always looking to the outside for the answers, the problem of brain drain may have ceased to exist right now.
Listening to the feedback on the topic, it is also clear that there are many other people, not only the students or graduates, who are affected by this flight of Bahamian human capital to the rest of the world. Parents, sponsors, and potential beneficiaries of this group's skills and talents who lose out when these graduates don't return to The Bahamas are also greatly affected. The problem is not just a problem of the individual anymore, especially when it's replicated many times over.
What's most alarming (though not surprising) to me, in analyzing all of the comments I've received on the subject, is that it appears as if the Bahamians who reject the possibility that a majority of young Bahamian college graduates could and do genuinely feel averse to their home country, and have very acceptable reasons for feeling like they best not return, are more likely to be Bahamians with elevated financial or social means, with a financial or social structure or network having been in place for them when they decided to return to The Bahamas; they are the well-connected and the well-funded, not the average Bahamian student who has struggled from day one to afford college, or struggles with family obligations, or struggles with basic finances and living expenses the moment they set foot back in The Bahamas.
Those arguing that the '10 reasons Bahamian college graduates don't want to come home' are mostly irrelevant really don't understand the scale of the problem. They have little to no concept of lack, what it means to eat a can of corn for dinner, or pay all living expenses on a $200 per week salary, after spending $20,000 per year in tuition (loans) to escape poverty! And they don't understand it because their worlds are closed to it. They have no experience with it; again, they are not nor have they ever been the average young, Bahamian college graduate with legitimate concerns about returning home that go far beyond successfully curing nostalgia.
Ironically, but perhaps tellingly, many young Bahamians vehemently arguing that Bahamian college graduates should return home have themselves stayed away for many years before returning, only doing so when it was at their convenience, or when they were "set", or when there was something established for them to return to in The Bahamas.
There is another option
The decision to live and work abroad after graduating from college does not mean a Bahamian college graduate turned expatriate to or in another country cannot contribute to the development of their country of birth.
They can - and I feel very strongly that this should be done by each and every one of them - return once per quarter or at least once per year to "give back", to share their expertise by hosting clinics, seminars, workshops, and trainings, interacting with the people who need them, and with the students who need to learn from them, as they once needed to learn from others. It can be done. It has been done, even if only in small numbers thus far.
And maybe that is where we need to start to resolve this brain drain issue, by providing a small incentive in the form of free or reimbursed airfare to expatriate Bahamians so they can return to The Bahamas expressly to share their knowledge at reasonable intervals and structured events and help develop their native land.
And, if this could be done, and 'coming home' at intervals is still too much to ask of these original Bahamians domiciled elsewhere, then the problem will not be with the country's lack of effort but with the people's lack of concern.
Realistically, over the long-term, without great financial or other incentives to return to The Bahamas, en masse - an acre of land on a Family Island for their first homes or first businesses, an annual travel voucher, etc. - these young people are not going to sacrifice the next 20 to 30 years of their lives and earning potential to move back home for conch salad, Junkanoo, and free baby-sitting for their children. They will visit home to enjoy these things and that will suffice.
For Bahamian college graduates, the beginning and growth of a career, and obtaining work experience abroad, usually occurs in conjunction with other personal pursuits of relationships, family, etc., which often means that young Bahamians stay where they are abroad because they have to now consider quality of life factors, world exposure, and opportunities not just for themselves but for their children.
The reality is that opportunities do not abound in The Bahamas, no matter your age or education, without access to sufficient, bordering on substantial financial resources. And what you will pay to live in The Bahamas, for decent quality food, housing, utilities, transportation, education, and any other necessity of life, far outstrips what you get. And this ties back to...
Economic value and productivity
A country and a culture of people who are unaccustomed to reasoning, analyzing, planning, creating, and innovating will not easily catch up to the competitive appeal of any country or culture that is already accustomed to these things being the essentials of a productive society.
The Bahamian college graduate has gone abroad and discovered the true definition of productivity, and that becomes a feature of life that they cannot live without. They will identify the minimal value placed on productivity by their birth country in comparison to another, and they will seek to be in the place where they can not only be industrious, but where they are valued monetarily and professionally as a measure of their industry, the place that gives them (and their children) the best chance at a productive, prosperous, and meaningful life. With that in mind, while reconditioning its approach to the 'Bahamian brain drain' problem, The Bahamas (government or citizenry, whoever can do it) will need to simultaneously recondition its people to be active participants in the fruitful evolution of their country into a productive nation.
Today, the problem of brain drain in The Bahamas isn't just a problem originating with a lack of opportunity, but it is attributable also to a ballooning number of unproductive Bahamians who just live out their entire lives sucking every bit of life and opportunity out of their surroundings without giving life and opportunity back to the country they call home.
More ambitious Bahamians will not want to be associated with this fruitless lifestyle and until a general lack of productivity becomes less of a problem, Bahamian brain drain will always be a viable alternative for the college-educated Bahamian.