Bocas Picks 5 For the Bocas Breakthrough Fellowships, 2024

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Five writers from Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago have been selected for a new fellowship programme for early-career Caribbean writers, administered by the Bocas Lit Fest.

The Bocas Breakthrough Fellowships, which run from January to June 2024, will support the writers in completing a book manuscript, and developing their professional skills and networks in the regional and international literary world.

The fellows, announced on January 3, are Heather Barker of Barbados, Stephanie Koathes and Rhea Manley of Jamaica, and June Aming and Amílcar Sanatan of Trinidad and Tobago. They write across a range of genres and themes, and all have substantial works in progress.

The Bocas Breakthrough Fellowships are funded by Creative Caribbean, a joint project implemented by UNESCO, the Caricom Secretariat, and The University of the West Indies (UWI), with funding from the European Union and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States, under the ACP-EU 11th EDF Culture Programme. Creative Caribbean brings the region’s creative community together to achieve shared goals and initiatives for the advancement of the Caribbean as a cultural and creative space and economic player.

Over 100 writers based in the Caribbean region applied for the fellowship programme. Several rounds of assessment included the deliberation of a jury consisting of authors Imam Baksh, Breanne McIvor, Rajiv Mohabir and Sharma Taylor, leading to the final selection.

Each fellowship will include participation in a series of virtual seminars with international literary professionals, six months’ mentorship from an established author, publication of a chapbook with an excerpt from the writer’s work in progress, and a stipend of US$300. Fellows will also participate in the 2024 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain in April.

“The Bocas Breakthrough Fellowship programme is exactly the type of thing I wish I had when I was first starting out as a writer,” says Breanne McIvor, one of the jurors. “For writers based in the Caribbean, the world of publishing can sometimes seem opaque and distant, and I love that the fellows will learn how to get a book published, and receive opportunities to hone their craft. I was blown away by the diversity, creativity, and originality of the applicants’ writing samples. I’m sure that, in the not too distant future, I’ll be holding their published books in my hands.”

“The number of applications for the Bocas Breakthrough Fellowships – 104 in all—suggests the need for initiatives like this,” says Nicholas Laughlin, Festival and Programme Director of the Bocas Lit Fest. “Seeking out new writing talent and making opportunities for early-career writers have always been key parts of our mission. One of the most rewarding aspects of our work has been the chance to help new Caribbean writers explore their craft, shape their ambitions, and find an audience.”

Laughlin adds: “These five new Bocas Breakthrough Fellows are writers who have been working seriously and steadily, in some cases for many years, and each is within sight of a completed book. We hope that the mentorship, training, and other components of the fellowship will give them the boost to break through into international publication, as the name of the programme suggests. We’re excited to see how their careers take shape.”

About the Bocas Breakthrough Fellows

June Aming, based in Trinidad and Tobago, has been writing for over half a century. In 2019, she received an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of the West Indies, and she has participated in the Cropper Foundation’s Caribbean Creative Writers’ Residential Workshop and presented her work at the Miami International Book Fair. She was the winner of the 2023 BlackInk Writing Competition and shortlisted for the 2015 small axe Writing Competition, among other recognition. Her novel in progress centres around three generations of women tied not only by bloodline but by love.

Heather Barker, based in Barbados, was shortlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, the 2019 Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize, and the 2016 small axe Writing Competition, and she has twice been a finalist for the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment, among other awards. Her fiction has been published in a range of anthologies and journals. She is at work on a collection of connected short stories titled “The Island of Repair”, exploring the legacies of enslavement and colonialism through the lives of Barbadian women.

Stephanie Koathes, is a writer of fantasy fiction, based in Jamaica. She also works as a freelance copywriter and digital content producer. Her work in progress is a fantasy novel about a woman searching for her missing sister, drawing on and reinventing traditional Caribbean folklore.

Rhea Manley, is a Jamaican poet and teacher. She was shortlisted for the National Library of Jamaica’s Edward Baugh Prize for Poetry in 2019 and 2022, and has published her work in various anthologies and online journals. She is working on a debut collection of poems in which “personal experiences and political conviction are inextricably linked.”

Amílcar Peter Sanatan, is an interdisciplinary artist based in Trinidad and Tobago. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals. He is an alumnus of the Obsidian Foundation’s Writers’ Retreat and the Cropper Foundation’s Caribbean Creative Writers’ Residential Workshop, and the 2020/21 recipient of the Bridget Jones Award for Caribbean Arts of the Society for Caribbean Studies. He is at work in his debut collection of poems, titled “Capital and Other Countries”, exploring the everyday lives of people in east Port of Spain.

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