Like it's golden

Musgrave Medalwinning author pleased with award

observer senior reporter

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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It goes without saying: author Roland Watson-Grant is proud of his latest achievement — the Musgrave bronze medal for his contribution to literature.

“This is 121 years of history and legacy on my shoulder. I am really enjoying it. The most important thing that has not escaped me is that it comes at the end of five years. It's been five years since my first book was published and I am receiving an honour like this. For me, the Institute of Jamaica is only encouraging me to continue on this path. It may be bronze, but I'm going to wear it like it is solid gold... for me it is,” the 44-year-old told the Sunday Observer.

Despite the relatively short time span, Watson-Grant has created an enviable space for himself with the publication of his novels Sketcher and Skid. Having submitted the former as a short story in a literary competition, he was more than surprised when it earned a place among the top 10 — from well over 100,000 entries.

“I was invited to Hull in England in the winter of 2011 to read. It was cold and grey, I had a baby on the way so all I wanted to do was read and get back across the Atlantic as quickly as possible so I wouldn't miss the birth. But while there I met a publisher who told me if I could fill out the holes in the story... flesh it out, then he could give me a book deal,' he recalled.

By February of 2012 the book was ready, but Watson-Grant was not ready for the critical acclaim that would come. GQ Australia put Sketcher on their reading list for the summer of 2013. The Times, The Independent, Spectator were all among those raving about this story about a Caribbean woman whose American dreams go belly up in the swamps of Louisiana. The story is narrated by her son and covers themes of identity, poverty, and folk magic. Sketcher would also be translated into Turkish and Spanish, broadening the reach and scope of the writer.

The success of this initial work would lead to even more success that Watson-Grant admits he never saw coming. Publishers Bloomsbury, New York, would pick up the follow-up novel Skid, and he is currently working on the third and final installation in the series, which he admits is the hardest to write.

Watson-Grant always knew he could write. From his earliest days in the working-class community of New Haven in St Andrew, to his teen years at Kingston College and then on to The University of the West Indies, Mona, he was confident of his worth as a writer.

“I was well aware of the feminisation of literature; — how it is seen as a nerd thing. But I grew up in a house of high achievers and being good at what you are good at was encouraged. I clearly remember at 13 reading Olive Senior's Summer Lightning, a collection of short stories. I believe at that point I started to write my first novel. It would, however, take years as I had to overcome the paralysis of my strict religious upbringing.”

At the Musgrave presentation ceremony held at the Institute of Jamaica just over a week ago, it was a joy for Watson-Grant to have two extra special persons in the audience — his 70-year-old mother and six-year-old son.

“I was very excited to have my mother there. Just the look on her face was enough for me. Then there was my son. It is important for him to see and experience a counter to the images that are out there so it can inform the pedigree of the human being that he will become. He asked me, 'Daddy, are you famous now?'... I said, 'I'm working on it.'”

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