I remember submitting an article once to a writer’s site in which I spoke about my school visits and my work with my youth writing programme, the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize. I remember it was rejected on the premise that they were concerned with publishing pieces that showed writers how to profit from their writing. And while it’s true that I have yet to cash in big on my writing, I feel like my involvement as an advocate of the literary arts in the community has paid off.
Now I didn’t start doing Wadadli Pen because I wanted to profit from it. My first books (The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight) were targetted by the publisher at the teen and young adult market, and both have been taught in high schools in Antigua, but children and children's writing is not my niche; I tell stories, sometimes the protagonists are kids, sometimes as with Nikki in my new book Oh Gad! they're adult. I started Wadadli Pen because I wanted to create something that I didn’t have as a young wanna-be-writer, something that nurtures and showcases the talent. I wanted to encourage young writers. When I say that it has paid off, I mean that I’ve watched, with satisfaction, some of these writers grow in the eight years since the programme started. For instance, this year’s winnerin the 18 to 35 age category first entered as a 12 year old in one of the junior categories, and this year claimed the main prize and a few other prizes. “Hi Joanne, I still feel strange calling you that” she joked in a recent email to me, and that’s when it hit me that I first met her when she was a kid, and I was "Ms. Hillhouse", and now she’s all grown up. And though I’m not yet out of my 30s, I’ve experienced some version of that more times than I can count. Seeing them grow, watching them shine. That’s priceless to me.
When I say that it has paid off, I mean that I’ve reinforced, to my community, my commitment to this project and the literary arts. Again community validation is not what set me on this course. I started reading to kids Saturday mornings with the Cushion Club because I wanted to find some way to get involved in my community. I started Wadadli Pen for the reasons I’ve given. And as for the school visits, it’s sometimes more than I can take on and I’ve had to give myself permission to say so, no guilt, in those times. But what it has yielded is a community identity beyond my personal pursuits. Like a company developing goodwill by supporting community programmes – like the many who have supported Wadadli Pen – my time away from my own writing can, and I’d like to believe, has created its own good will. The cashing in, if you want to call it that, comes of the community coming out to support you when you have your big moments like I will shortly with the April 17th launch of my book Oh Gad!
The fact that I spotlighted, in the rejected piece, those things I do that have no immediate tangible value does not mean that I do not believe that a writer should be compensated for her time. As someone who lives exclusively by the pen, I know quite well how important it is for me and those who would use my services to value it. After all, writers, too, must live. But I also believe that there is value in community outreach, and I’d like to think that with my outreach I’m helping to show people in my community that there is value in the literary arts as well.
Joanne C. Hillhouse is an Antiguan and Barbudan writer. Oh Gad! is her third book of fiction and first fulll length novel. Keep up with her at http://www.jhohadli.com and http://www.facebook.com/JoanneCHillhouse