McCaulay wins Carib Commonwealth prize
FOR the third-straight year, the Commonwealth Short Story prize for the Caribbean region is coming to Jamaica.
Writer and environmentalist Diana McCaulay followed in the footsteps of the two previous winners, Roland Watson Grant and Dr Brian Heap, capturing the coveted prize for her short story Bridge Over the Yallahs River. She will go on to compete with four other regional winners from Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe and the the Pacific for the overall prize which will be announced at the end of June.
No stranger to the winners’ enclosure, McCaulay was the Caribbean regional winner of this same competition back in 2012 for The Dolphin Catchers.
“This feels great. I had been experiencing a great deal of rejection in these 10 years [to the point] that I was beginning to question whether or not I was a short story writer, so this win is a great boost to my confidence,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
Kevin Jared Hosein, judge for the Caribbean region of the competition, described McCaulay’s work as a tale of simultaneous triumph and botchery; loss and reclamation; comedy and tragedy.
“Bridge Over the Yallahs River is the story of a storm-struck bridge and the various people tasked to rebuild it. It transports the reader to the small, riverside village of Back To. Modern political powers have kept it in a sort of post-colonial Sisyphean stasis. The new bridge seems to be the catalyst for something hopeful — long-needed repair. As the bridge progresses, the residents and the Chinese construction workers form an unconventional symbiotic bond — only for their actions at the end to announce that more than a physical bridge had been broken,” he noted.
When asked what, in her opinion, gave her story the edge with the adjudicators, McCaulay hesitated then stated that the work is a story that is real and present.
“I’m not a great judge of my own work but I believe that this is a story about our times. It examines the development decisions we confront everyday, and what happens when development which brings jobs and livelihood to a community harms the health of the very persons it is suppose to help.”
For many, the name Diana McCaulay is more closely associated with environmental activism rather than literary pursuits. However, she is the author of five novels — Dog-Heart, Huracan (Peepal Tree Press), Gone to Drift (Papillote Press and HarperCollins), White Liver Gal (self-published) and Daylight Come (Peepal Tree Press), and was keen to note that these two facets of her life feed into each other.
“Environmentalism is deep within me. I recall being interested in writing from I was 13 years old. And the truth is, each informs the other. I have found that stories are more likely to reach the heart easier than science, so I have always found it instructive to couch my messages through stories,” she said.
The five regional winners will vie for the main prize next month. The others in the running are: Ntsika Kota from Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), who is representing Africa; Sofia Mariah Ma from Singapore for the Asia region; Cecil Browne from the United Kingdom/St Vincent and the Grenadines who represents Canada and Europe; and Mary Rokonadravu from Fiji representing the Pacific region. McCaulay is quite nonchalant about her prospects.
“I don’t expect to win. I am encouraged and feel very rewarded by the win for the region but the truth is, all five of us in the running might say we don’t expect to win… even though the winner will be one of us. So, I am just prepared to be gracious and congratulate whoever emerges winner. However, I must say that writing in the Caribbean is enjoying an increased level of recognition and attention. You will see a writer from St Vincent — representing the UK — is also in the running. The Commonwealth Short Story Prize has always been a great way to get recognised so I hope that this will encourage other writers here to continue on their journey,” said McCaulay.