March 28, 2011

In My Own Words...Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming


In 1994, Dr. Sandra Pouchet Paquet, Director of the Caribbean Writers’ Summer Institute (CWSI), offered, and I accepted an Institute scholarship to attend the CWSI Fiction Workshop, directed by noted Caribbean poet and writer, Olive Senior, at the University of Miami. Then in 1995, Dr. Pouchet Paquet offered, and I accepted an Institute scholarship to attend the CWSI Poetry Workshop, directed by another noted Caribbean poet and writer, Lorna Goodison. Both of these workshops were the very first writing workshops I had ever attended and the experience was overwhelming.

 I learned much from Olive Senior and Lorna Goodison, as well as the other workshop participants. Seminars for scholars of Caribbean literature were held simultaneously with the writing workshops. The scholars and writers were all able to participate in discussions and readings that enhanced the workshop experience and exposed the writers to literary criticism. The writers and scholars also benefited from the discussions, seminars and readings presented by the specially invited guest Caribbean writers such as George Lamming, David Dabydeen and Maryse Conde, to name just a few. Each workshop lasted five weeks, but at the end, we had made new friends, and many of us are still friends today.

The CWSI Fiction and Poetry workshops proved to be the foundation for my writing career. I was able to polish my first poetry manuscript, which included poems written in the CWSI Poetry Workshop, based on feedback from Lorna Goodison. That manuscript was to become my first poetry collection and first book, Curry Flavour, which was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2000. I was introduced to Jeremy Poynting and Hannah Bannister of Peepal Tree Press by Deborah Nester, a PhD student at the University of Miami, who attended the CWSI as a Literature scholar and who was also on the staff of the Institute.  Curry Flavour was reviewed by the Caribbean writer and blogger, Geoffrey Philp, who was himself a participant in the CWSI workshops.   

As for my fiction, after participating in the CWSI Fiction Workshop with Olive Senior, I was able to get my short stories published in journals and magazine, in particular The Caribbean Writer, published by the University of the Virgin Islands, St Croix, USVI. Subsequently, in the summer of 2000, I was awarded a scholarship to attend the inaugural Cropper Foundation Fiction Workshop, which was led by Merle Hodge and Funso Aiyejina (himself a participant in the CWSI workshops). The next year, 2001, I entered the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short Story Competition with the story ‘Saving Rupa’, which won the Overall or Grand Prize. I continued submitting my short stories for publication, one of which won the Canute Brodhurst Prize from The Caribbean Writer in 2009.

Some other publications in which my poetry and stories have appeared since attending the workshops include:  Poui: The Cave Hill Literary Annual - University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados; Woman Speak - Bahamian literary journal featuring women’s voices; Anthurium - A Caribbean Studies electronic journal, Editor Dr. Sandra Pouchet Paquet, published by the University of Miami; Voice, Memory, Ashes: Lest We Forget - An anthology published by Mango Publishing, UK; In Our Own Words – A Generation Defining Itself – literary journal edited by Marlow Peerse Weaver, published by MW Enterprises, NC, USA; Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review Special Caribbean Issue (2004) - University of Virginia; Yinna - Journal of the Bahamas Association of Cultural Studies (BACUS); Journal of Caribbean Literatures - University of Central Arkansas literary journal; Thamyris – literary journal published by Najade Press, Amsterdam, and Caribbean Erotic, edited by Opal Palmer Adisa and Donna Weir-Soley (two participants of the CWSI) and published by Peepal Tree Press in 2010.

As a result of my writing, I was a featured writer at the Miami Book Fair International (1996 and 2000) which was organized by Mervyn Solomon, who was on the staff of the CWSI. I was also a featured writer at the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, Duke University, 2002, organised by my friend and noted Caribbean poet and scholar, Dr. Christian Campbell. Along with Olive Senior, I was one of the featured writers at the University of The Virgin Islands, St Croix Campus Humanities Week, 2004 which was organized by a graduate of the University of Miami, and former student of Dr. Sandra Pouchet Paquet, Dr. Kim Dismont Robinson. In 2007, spearheaded by Dr. Sandra Pouchet Paquet, the University of Miami hosted a Caribbean Literary Studies Conference under the theme “The Asian Experience in The Caribbean and The Guyanas: Labour and Migration, Literature and Culture”, for which I was one of the guest poets. I was also the keynote speaker at the Caribbean without Borders Conference 2008, at the University of Puerto Rico, organized by Caribbean scholar, Dr. Dorsia Smith.

In 2009, I submitted my second poetry manuscript, ‘Immortelle and Bhandaaraa Poems’ to the Inaugural International Proverse Prize for unpublished writing. Based on incisive critiques by Lorna Goodison, I edited the manuscript, and Dr. Sandra Pouchet Paquet wrote the preface to ‘Immortelle and Bhandaaraa Poems’. The manuscript was shortlisted for the prize and was subsequently published by Proverse Hong Kong in 2011.

Lamenting the lack of writing workshops available to Caribbean writers, two Bahamian writers, Helen Klonaris and Marion Bethel, both of whom participated in the CWSI workshops, created the Bahamian Writers’ Summer Institute in 2009 offering fiction, poetry, memoir, playwriting and screenwriting workshops. I had the great opportunity to teach the BWSI Fiction Workshop in 2010, where Olive Senior was the guest writer. I am slated to teach the Bahamas Writers’ Summer Institute Fiction Workshop again in 2011. The CWSI spawned many new Caribbean writers and now they are continuing its legacy in many diverse and interconnected ways.

About Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming:

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming resides in Nassau, The Bahamas where she is a practicing Mechanical/Building Services Engineer. Her academic qualifications include a B.Sc. Degree in Mechanical Engineering (Hons.) from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad; and a M.Sc. Degree in Building Services Engineering from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland. She is a Chartered Engineer registered with the Engineering Council in the UK and a Professional Engineer registered with The Professional Engineers Board of The Bahamas.

Lelawattee is also a poet, fiction writer and essayist, whose poetry, stories and artwork have appeared in numerous publications in The Bahamas, the Caribbean, Nicaragua, USA and Europe. She has won poetry, essay and art awards in The Bahamas. Internationally, she has won the David Hough Literary Prize from The Caribbean Writer (2001); the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for Short Fiction from The Caribbean Writer (2009); and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) 2001 Short Story Competition. She was short-listed for the inaugural Proverse Literary Prize (2009). Her first book of poetry, Curry Flavour, was published in 2000 by Peepal Tree Press, Leeds, England. Proverse Hong Kong published her second book of poetry, Immortelle and Bhandaaraa Poems, which includes some of her artwork, in 2011.

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