Write Start: Allen-Agostini calls on young essay writers to develop writing muscle

The following is the full text of the brief address delivered by Lisa Allen-Agostini, chief judge for the 11-15 panel in the Write Start National Essay Writing Contest, at the prize-giving ceremony, held at the bMobile box at the Queen’s Park Oval on Thursday 16 December 2021.

Also in attendance at the ceremony were Minister of Education the Honourable Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly; Brian Lara, former West Indies Test captain and world record holder; 2012 Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott; Sean Powder, main sponsor of the Contest; Lasana Liburd, CEO of Wired868; and major prize-winners, accompanied by one parent.

Photo: Wired868 Write Start judge Lisa Allen-Agostini speaks to students and parents at the inaugural prize giving at the Queen’s Park Oval on 15 December 2021.
(Courtesy Karla Ramoo/bmobile)

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and others, good evening.

I was honoured to have been the head of the judging panel for the short stories in the Wired868 Write Start competition. With my fellow judges, Francis Warner and Raheema Sayyid-Andrews, I was given the job of choosing the top stories from a field of over 100 entries by writers aged 11–15 years.

It was quite a task but a pleasant one as we were sometimes surprised and delighted by what we read.

The best of these stories were exciting, heart-felt and emotionally engaging—and they were well-written, with good grammar, good sentence construction, good use of language, and good story structure. The very best of them meaningfully incorporated the local heroes into the stories. They developed the local hero as a character in the story and used the heroes’ backgrounds to drive the story.

Photo: Is it really you?!
Holy Name Convent (PoS) student Amayiah Joseph (left) points at her hero and bmobile brand ambassador Keshorn Walcott at the Wired868 Write Start prize giving in the Queen’s Park Oval on 15 December 2021.
(Courtesy Karla Ramoo/bmobile)

A word here on the story prompt. Write a short, fictional story of 600-800 words with the title ‘The day I met my local hero’. (Characters may be fictional but the ‘hero’ must be a real, living, local person.)

When we began reading the submissions, we quickly realised that many writers took ‘local hero’ to be something entirely different from the national icons we had imagined. There were a lot of parents who were heroes, and some friends; in one case, an anonymous biomedical technician who fixed a machine during the protagonist’s life-saving surgery. Unfortunately, these stories could not make top scores because the aim of the contest, as we saw it, was to get young people writing about the men and women who have given greatly to this country as national figures.

Perhaps, Lasana, that needs to be spelt out in future contests.

That notwithstanding, Machel Montano should know that he was by far the most popular choice of local hero in the stories I read. Kees Dieffenthaller was also very popular, as were Keshorn Walcott and of course, Brian Lara, who was the subject of the winning entry. The long list of heroes included Sunil Ramdeen, Ria Ramnarine, Destra, Her Excellency President Paula Mae Weekes, Aiyegoro Ome, Gerry Besson, Gary Griffith, Heather Headley, Earl Lovelace, Billy Ocean, Calypso Rose, Raymond Ramnarine… and even me.

Photo: Like a Boss…
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

We found that, while there were, as this ceremony proves, some outstanding ones, many of the writers disappointed in their use of the mechanics of English. There was also this: every story has to have a conflict, characters drive the story and the plot, and every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There were stories we found glaringly weak in these basics of storytelling.

The judges agreed to suggest that Wired868 follow up the competition with a support programme refreshing the contestants on creative writing basics, and another programme to get these young writers into peer-to-peer writing workshop groups. I am pleased to note that Wired868 has courageously accepted the suggestion and perhaps very soon it will be implemented.

Go with God; the Lord knows this is His work so He’ll equip you for it!

The Write Start Competition was a great idea. I thank Lasana and his right hand man Earl Best for putting it together, and all the judges on both committees for working on it. Thanks to the sponsors for investing in these young writers. Thanks to the teachers and parents who supported their young people to enter the competition and thanks to the Ministry for endorsing it.

Photo: Wired868 Write Start winners Shara Balkaran (second from left) and Aastha Kumar (second from right) pose with Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly (centre), event patron Sean Powder (far right) and Wired868 managing director Lasana Liburd at the Queen’s Park Oval on 15 December 2021.
(Courtesy Karla Ramoo/bmobile)

Listening to young people is a privilege. It was my pleasure and my honour to hear these voices.

To the winners today, congratulations. You did a good job and I hope you enjoy your rewards. More than that, I hope you take from it a sense of possibility.

Writers shape our world. Writers help create the ads you hear, the TV you watch, the songs you sing, the films you view and the books you read. (I trust you’re reading books. Do that.) They write sermons and political speeches. They write cookbooks. They document our history and they dream our future. No matter what happens, we will always need writers to process the world in which we live. Writers are awesome, if I do say so myself.

This prize says, “Hey! You might actually be a good writer!” Now that you see the possibility, what you do next is up to you. You could rock back with your prize and forget about writing until the next essay competition. Maybe. Or you could take this prize as encouragement to write more, developing your writing muscle and making it big and strong so that our future is in good hands. #kiddingnotkidding #nopresh

Thank you for listening, and may God bless you all.

Photo: (From left) Top Wired868 Write Start writers Malika Coutain, Aastha Kumar, Malique Auguste, Ogechi Uche Nweze, Surayya Carrington, and Shara Balkaran have a group photo at the QP Oval on 15 December 2021.
(Courtesy Karla Ramoo/bmobile)
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About Lisa Allen-Agostini

Lisa Allen-Agostini
Lisa Allen-Agostini is an editor, stand-up comedian and author from Trinidad and Tobago. Her latest novel The Bread the Devil Knead (Myriad Editions UK, 2021) is long listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022.

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