Heap of accolades

Entertainment

Heap of accolades

Retired UWI tutor wins Caribbean literary prize

BY RICHARD JOHNSON
Observer senior reporter
johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, June 04, 2020

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Dr Brian Heap ― dramaturge and retired resident tutor at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at The University of the West Indies, Mona campus ― has been announced as the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner for the Caribbean region.

Heap's work, Mafootoo, emerged on top for the region, beating four other shortlisted writers. He will go on to compete for the overall prize which will be announced on June 30.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer Heap expressed shock and delight at being named the regional winner.

“I was pleased to have made the top 20, so for me to be named the winner for the Caribbean region is even a bigger shock for me. It's beginning to feel nice as the story is now available on Granta [online literary magazine] and there is now a much wider audience reading, commenting, and just getting that feedback is really for me,” he said.

Heap explained that although he has spent his life writing for stage and academia, fiction is an entirely new territory for him.

“I have got some ideas for possible stories. So in the future I might put together a collection of short stories... who knows? A colleague has also told me that this story is very 'filmic', and therefore lends itself easily to writing a screenplay. I really don't know what direction I will go, but I'm very open. This is possibly another career for me, after all I am retired, so this is a bonus,” said Heap.

Chair of the judges, Ghanaian writer and editor Nii Ayikwei Parkes, in commenting on the entries noted that there is no perfect story, but rather there are great stories.

“What is amazing is what happens when a story encounters a ready reader or listener – that moment is magic. That connection is never the same for any two people or for any two moments, and that's why I love judging competitions: I get to talk about stories with other people who love stories, but it's completely unpredictable. We now have a list of regional winning stories that are striking for their lateral leaps, their use of language, voice, and subversion – and their sheer courage. I look forward to the discussions with my fellow judges to pick an overall winner. I guarantee that it will be a story that moves people, but I don't know which one it will be,” said Parkes.

Heap's Mafootoo captures the reflections of a Jamaican woman living in London just before and during a taxi ride to undertake a life-changing decision.

This work will compete with When a Woman Renounces Motherhood by Innocent Chizaram Ilo from Nigeria; The Great Indian Tee and Snakes by India's Kritika Pandey; Wherever Mister Jensen Went by Reyah Martin; and The Art of Waving by Andrea E MacLeod of Australia.

Speaking of his chances for the main prize, Heap said he already felt like a winner.

“I am just so pleased to have come this far. Like any other competition, you set your sight on the main prize. But honestly, I am so happy with the process and the journey. Like I said, I was happy to make top 20 and to emerge winner for the Caribbean is fantastic. The truth is I will be just as happy for whoever is named winner on June 30,” said Heap.

Regional winners received 2,500 and the overall winner is set to receive 5,000.


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