Jamaican author and journalist Alecia McKenzie has just won a second prize for her first novel, after Commonwealth accolades for her short stories.
Sweetheart (Trésor in French) has been awarded the 2017 Prix Carbet des Lycéens. It’s a literary competition, judged by French-Caribbean high school students, to highlight the best writing by authors from the entire Caribbean region.
“I was moved and honored that the book was chosen by students, although I’d previously considered it a work for the over-16s,” says Alecia. “It touches on heavy themes including death and incest which require a certain maturity. It’s about a Jamaican artist who dies in unclear circumstances, and the reader learns about her life from people who knew her, and who talk about her.”
Through the different narratives, readers learn, among other things, about the life of the artist’s Jewish grandfather. Jamaican-Jewish? “Yes, there’s a sizable community of people whose ancestors were Jewish in Jamaica. My primary school was near one of the oldest synagogues in the region.”
On the importance of the setting, Alecia says: “This is an essential element of storytelling. If I didn’t tell the truth about the setting, I would feel I were betraying readers, my country. How can you write about a place if you don’t know the setting? It has to be authentic. I try to put that across when teaching my students short-story writing at WICE”