Guyanese author Imam Baksh has for the third time been shortlisted for CODE’s Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.
In 2015, Baksh’s first novel, Children of the Spider, was judged the winner of the award, which is now in its fifth year. In 2016 his second novel “The Demise of the Queen’s College Adventure Club” was shortlisted but did not win. This year his manuscript titled “The Dark of the Sea” has been selected as one of three finalists.
The novel is described by the Bocas jury as “a compelling page turner.”
“This fantastical adventure story follows the journey of a young man who is rebellious, unimpressed by education and religion, cynical about the future, and obsessed with girls. The humour is dark, the morality complicated …and the victories bittersweet,” the jury explains.
Baksh, who is a three-time winner of the Guyana Annual’s Henry Josiah Writing Short Story for Children prize told Stabroek News that CODE’s response to his work is a vindication in some ways.
“I’ve been complaining about boring books in schools for a long time so to see my adventure style books get chosen again and again makes me feel like this is the right approach. Even better is hearing from young people who enjoyed it. I met a 15 year old girl at a halfway house in Port of Spain which is one of the sites CODE gave free copies of Children of the Spider. She said to me with her mouth open, ‘You? You wrote this. Oh my God I Love this book!’ Just that one fan was worth the 300 hours I spent on the book,” he shared.
Responses such as this serve as a motivator for Baksh who has been suffering with health issues including severe depression.
Problems with his vision which have plagued him for most of his life became worse in September 2016 forcing him to abandon the book he was writing at the time.
“That is why I submitted nothing for the 2017 Burt. I finished the book eventually a whole year later and submitted it for this year. Blindness is the physical issue, but the surrounding issues of depression, anxiety, losing the ability to drive and thus losing my freedom to move about plus medication side effects have been mentally draining. I’m in a much better place now and I’m starting research and preliminary work on my 2019 entry,” he shared.
Baksh has used his protagonist as means to work through some of his own issues confronting suicide in Essequibo and devoting the central theme to the philosophical question of why individuals choose to live.
According to Baksh his 15-year-old protagonist is remarkable for being an educationally ‘ discarded’ kid.
“He has failed his grade six assessment since he is poor student due to dyslexia and literally on track to nowhere since he has no support at home or school for his special needs. This little boy living a dreary life in Essequibo meets a mermaid and discovers wonders and horrors he never imagined. I know that sounds heavy, but I think I found a way to keep the adventure going while those issues churn in the background,” the author explained.
The winner and two finalists of this year’s Burt Awards will be announced on 25 April 2018 at the opening night celebration of the 2018 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Since 2014 a dedicated network of local partners has distributed more than 37,000 award-winning books in eleven Caribbean countries.
The Burt Award for Caribbean Literature was established by CODE – a Canadian charitable organisation that has been advancing literacy and learning for 55 years – in collaboration with the Literary Prizes Foundation. The Award is administered in Port of Spain by the Bocas Lit Fest, the literary organisation that founded the largest annual literary festival of the Caribbean region, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
The Burt Award for Caribbean Literature recognizes excellence in young adult writing within the region, and awards up to $22,000 CAD in prize money to its three winners. The two other winners for 2018 are Elizabeth J. Jones of Bermuda with her novel A Dark Iris and Barbadian Shakirah Bourne with My Fishy Stepmom.