At least some positive news
THERE WAS SOME good news last week after the depressing and sad news of the last weeks. We had been hearing so much of murders, particularly that of Precious Williams whose battered body was put in a bag and deposited elsewhere.
Hers was among a number of others. Then there was the seven year old whose decomposed body was found in a car, with the post-mortem report listing that the cause of death was undetermined. That report in itself was depressing – a 7 year old who was last seen about a week before.
The good news was that a Vincentian emerged as one of the regional winners of the annual Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Cecil Browne who migrated to the UK as a teenager in 1970 was judged in the Canada and Europe category.
This year’s competition had 6,730 entries from 52 Commonwealth countries and the overall winner is to be announced on June 21. There was also another Vincentian winner. This time Hubert Nigel Thomas, a well known author who is based in Canada.
He was one of two winners of the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize.
I was searching for something positive to write about after watching a video of a vigil held for Precious Williams on the spot where her body was found. There had over the past months been other positive news from Vincentians residing overseas. The two I have highlighted happen to be recent ones.
I am concerned about the image of SVG especially in this time of a social media revolution where anything that happens in any part of the global village becomes known instantly. SVG had become associated with gender based violence, really, an embarrassment to our country. Let it be known that there is more to SVG and its people living here and abroad.
I am specifically thinking about those who know little about SVG, apart from the 2021 eruption of the volcano and its high placement as it relates to gender based violence. So let them know that there are also positives about the country and its people who even though residing abroad identify themselves as Vincentians as Browne and Thomas do. I am not sure that the names Browne and Thomas and what they are doing mean much to Vincentians, but my hope is that there are young people who might be influenced by what they are doing. I say this after having participated recently in a public library programme that focused on the works and art of some Vincentian writers. I was surprised speaking to a few of the students about the large numbers who were actually writing short stories and poetry. They wanted to know more about publishing opportunities and about better understanding the art of writing.
Thomas is well-known in Canada. He hails from Dickson and had been a teacher and civil servant here before migrating to Canada where he completed his education and became a professor at Laval University in Quebec. He has retired and seems to be focusing on his writing. He donates the first prize to one of the categories of the UWI SVG Open Campus’ Fiction and Poetry Prize.
I first met Cecil Browne in 2012 when I did a review at the launching of his book of short stories- FEATHER YOUR TINGALING. I noted then that all his major characters come from and live in all parts of SVG and that the names of Vincentian villages were frequently mentioned. Chatoyer and Duvalle are surnames of two of the characters. His sense of history stood out.
I am not surprised now and am in fact impressed that his winning story A HAT FOR LEMER is set in 19th century SVG. The Judge who represented the Canada and Europe region said of his work, “The spunky narrator’s voice speaks with verve in the island’s vernacular and is the driving force that carries the narrative. As a child of runaway slaves, the protagonist grew up in the island’s difficult and volcanic hinterland and knows how to navigate the lay of the land and the diversity of the people who inhabit it . . .” The Chair of the Judges, speaking about the works of the winners emphasized that fiction is very relevant to today’s world. Browne’s portrayal of 19th century SVG will hopefully provide us with a better understanding of post-emancipation St. Vincent as seen by the artist even with all of the liberties and licences we give to the artist. It will also allow us to make comparisons with today’s SVG.
All of this will not erase the social malady that stalks our land but will provide room for reflection and hopefully, action.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian