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Bermudian author wins literary prize

Inspiring figure: Florenz Webbe Maxwell was a member of the Progressive Group that helped to organise the theatre boycott

A story set at the heart of Bermuda’s 1959 theatre boycott has taken second prize in Code’s 2016 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature.

Bermudian author Florenz Webbe Maxwell, who was a member of the Progressive Group that organised the momunental boycott, won $7,000 for her unpublished manuscript Girlcott. The work will now be published and 2,500 copies will be distributed to schools and libraries across the Caribbean region.

Ms Maxwell said she was delighted to win the award and said she hoped it would help to educate the young generation about segregation.

Speaking to The Royal Gazette, Ms Maxwell said: “I am very interested in young adult novels and I realised that I would be going to the different schools and talking to the children about segregation.

“This was my idea of explaining what Bermuda was like and what happened as a result of the boycott. I am already visiting schools to talk about the Progressive Group so the children all know about it now.

“It will help to educate the younger people about segregation.” Asked how she felt about winning the prize, she said: “I still can’t feel anything; I was so surprised and I had to keep everything a secret. I had to make up all kind of lies to leave here to go to Trinidad [for the ceremony]. It came as quite a shock.

“The judge told me it was a very gripping story with well-developed characters. She said although it dealt with a problem, it wasn’t preachy and they couldn’t put the book down.”

Girlcott tells the story of a 16-year-old girl whose father wanted to treat her and her class to a trip to the theatre after she scored highly in her external exams.

It happened that the Saturday they were due to go coincided with the theatre boycott and so the trip was cancelled.

Ms Maxwell said: “At first she doesn’t understand segregation — she had never experienced it and her parents had never talked about it. She was quite upset because she couldn’t attend, but she soon starts to understand why the Progressive Group organised the theatre boycott.”

The 2016 shortlisted titles, selected from among 60 submissions of published books and unpublished manuscripts, are: The Demise of the Queen’s College Adventure Club by Imam Baksh, Guyana (manuscript); De First Family by Tamika Gibson, Trinidad and Tobago (manuscript); The Truth Is by Lynn Joseph, Trinidad and Tobago (manuscript); The Protector’s Pledge by Danielle YC McClean, Trinidad and Tobago (self-published); Barberry Hill by Carol Mitchell, St Kitts and Nevis (manuscript); Girlcott by Florenz Webbe Maxwell, Bermuda (manuscript).

Ms Maxwell has previously written Spirit Baby and Other Bermuda Folktales, and has had other work published in anthologies.