June 6, 2017

A WICE Writing Teacher Wins Another International Prize

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”
Although she has spent chunks of time in several other countries, she seizes every opportunity to return to the place that rules over her imagination.  “Jamaica is a part of me,” she says. “It’s as James Baldwin put it: you have to take your homeland with you, or you end up homeless.”
For Sweetheart, she draws both on her knowledge of this setting with her experience in painting when writing about the life and death of an artist.  “One thing people might not realize is how physically tiring painting can be!” 
Alecia knows this from her sideline as a painter who has exhibited in Kingston, Singapore, New York, and here in Paris.  Another activity is live readings of her work at various venues, in France and elsewhere, where she partners with a jazz singer or guitarist for accompaniment. One such performance on June 7 forms part of France’s annual Semaine de l’Amérique latine et des Caraϊbes.
Alecia is a regular teacher of short-story writing at WICE, a vital center for English creative writing in Paris, particularly celebrated in our Paris Writers Workshop. 

Our six-week short story course with Alecia was too short,’ said student, Monique Amaudrey.  “She has a soft-spoken approach albeit one can sense her strong will to push us in the right direction.  My best memory of the course was when she struck a match and lit a candle to inspire a story. It led me down memory lane …”

In her teaching, Alecia draws on a lifetime of experience.  She started out publishing poems in local newspapers while in high school in Kingston.  Her first short story collection, Satellite City, won the regional Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book.  Other works include Stories from Yard, Doctor’s Orders, and When the Rain Stopped in Natland.  Alecia holds an MSc from Columbia University in New York, and taught Communications and Creative Writing at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium for 12 years.  She continues to write articles on cultural issues, the environment and other subjects. 
Alecia believes her rather itinerant life has strengthened her writing and her outlook. But she says that the strongest influence remains her homeland.
Post by Elizabeth Bouché

Be sure to look out for upcoming WICE writing and literature courses in our 2017-2018 program. 

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