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For the Reckord | Writers and drama practitioners gear up for competition

Published:Tuesday | January 8, 2019 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
Jeanette Campbell conducting a workshop on creative writing in Montego Bay.
Workshop facilitator Dr Lisa Thompson.

With the new year comes a new phase for those entering the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) drama and creative writing competitions. Parish auditions begin this month for participants in the drama competition, but writers have until the end of April to enter the poems, plays, short stories, essays and novels they're working on.

Last week, Shaun Drysdale, the commission's drama and theatre specialist, announced that based on the frequent request, they have created an email thread allowing participants to ask questions about the competition and obtain documents from the drama unit that would assist in their preparation. The initiative follows requests made by participants in a drama workshop Drysdale conducted in November at the Louise Bennett Garden Theatre.

Speaking to me on Monday, Drysdale lauded drama as the most social and collaborative of the art forms, saying that it assists in expressing emotions, solving problems, fostering teamwork, and encouraging creativity, self-control, discipline and communication.

"The ability to understand and appreciate another's motives and choices is important in today's intolerant world, and drama definitely assists in creating responsible world citizens," he said.


Creative writing workshop


To this end, his organisation conducted a creative workshop last month, which was useful for those interested in the literary arts. I attended two of them, the first in Montego Bay and the second at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech).

The facilitators at both tackled the theme 'Drawing on Jamaican Cultural Aesthetics for Creative Writing'. Retired Edna Manley College lecturer Jeanette Campbell led the first, and University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer Dr Lisa Tomlinson, the second. Tomlinson, however, added the subheading 'Indigenising Creative Writing'.

Campbell told the 18 to 20 literature teachers and aspiring writers who made up her audience that they have numerous internationally acclaimed, award-winning Jamaican writers to use as models. They include Kei Miller, Olive Senior, Marlon James, Marcia Douglas, and current poet laureate Lorna Goodison.

In all their works, Campbell said, are to be found examples of Jamaican cultural aesthetics. The term encompasses our life-style, language, environment, superstitions, beliefs, morals, music, food, clothes and hairstyles, among other things.


Conscious writers


"We're going to be conscious writers," Dr Tomlinson said at the beginning of the workshop she facilitated at UTech.

By 'conscious', she meant that they should be knowledgeable about components of Jamaican culture - aware of what they were doing with the material, and do it deliberately. She said that though she was born in Spanish Town, St Catherine, she grew up in Toronto, Canada, and initially learnt about Jamaican culture from books.

Now, among the courses she teaches at the UWI is Reggae Aesthetics. For this course, she takes her students on field trips to clubs and Trench Town, exposing both herself and the students to real-life cultural practices.

She explained that our proverbs are really expressions of Jamaican philosophy - though they are not usually given that lofty name - and our folklore (our orally transmitted beliefs, myths, tales and cultural practices) should not be limited to olden days or the rural areas - it can be modern and urban.

She showed a recording of Louise 'Miss Lou' Bennett-Coverley speaking about Jamaican proverbs, and poems by two major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Jamaican Claude McKay and American Langston Hughes. She encouraged her audience to be 'unruly' and break the traditional rules when they write. "Don't censor yourself," she advised. "Be impulsive. If it comes into your head, write it."

That advice is in sync with the JCDC's objective in the creative writing competition - to encourage fresh, innovative Jamaican writing of international quality that is "ready to be published in hard or electronic formats for world readership". The competition is open to Jamaican citizens worldwide, as well as persons residing in the island for at least two years.