A monthly roundup of news about Caribbean books and writers, presented by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest
Welcome to the latest installment of the Bocas Book Bulletin, a monthly roundup of Caribbean literary news, curated by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival, and published in the Sunday Express.
The Bread the Devil Knead (Myriad), the first adult novel by Trinidadian Lisa Allen-Agostini, is a powerful story of love, lust, violence, and abuse, set in 1990s Trinidad. “Alethea Lopez is about to turn 40. Fashionable, feisty, and fiercely independent, she manages a boutique in Port of Spain, but behind closed doors she’s covering up bruises from her abusive partner and seeking solace in an affair with her boss. When she witnesses a woman murdered by a jealous lover, the reality of her own future comes a little too close to home.” Writer and editor Margaret Busby praises the novel as “both unpredictable and unforgettable - dealing with the masquerade of everyday love as well as hidden secrets that are the legacy of family”.
Easily Fooled (Guernica Editions), the latest novel by St Vincent-born, Canada-based writer H Nigel Thomas, is the third in his “No Safeguards” quartet. Millington, a gay Vincentian and former Methodist minister, had migrated to Canada, where he now lives with his husband Jay — who he fears is about to depart. “He thought he’d resolved the issues that made him leave, but he comes to understand that psychological trauma, childhood conditioning, parental and community expectations and his own need for community and family valorisation are not easily exorcised.”
In This Other Island (Bookouture), a novel by St Lucia-born Steffanie Edward published electronically, Yvette is reconnected with her estranged father Joe, who migrated to Britain as part of the Windrush generation. Trying to make peace with their past, Yvette learns of dark secrets in her family history that destroyed her parents’ marriage, and now impinge on her own sense of herself.
Witness in Stone (Peepal Tree), the latest collection by Barbados Poet Laureate Esther Phillips, “explores the fragile territory between remembering and forgetting, both as an individual experience and in the life of a society”. “Phillips’ poems are always lucid and musical,” writes the publisher. “They gain a rewarding complexity from being part of the collection’s careful architecture that offers a richly nuanced inner dialogue about the meaning of experience in time.”
Things I Have Withheld (Canongate), the second book of essays by Jamaica-born Kei Miller, “blends memoir and literary commentary to explore the silences that exist in our conversations about race, sex, and gender”. Ranging from Jamaica to Britain, Trinidad to Ethiopia, tackling subjects as diverse as Carnival, family history, and literary criticism, the book “explores the silences in which so many important things are kept … and how the meanings of our bodies can shift as we move through the world, variously assuming privilege or victimhood”.
Awards and prizes
The Dyzgraphxist, the second book of poems by St Lucia-born, Canada-based writer Canisia Lubrin, has been shortlisted for Canada’s 2021 Governor-General’s Literary Award for Poetry as well as the 2021 Trillium Book Award for Poetry. The Dyzgraphxst was previously shortlisted for the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize and named winner of the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature — making it one of the most prize-acclaimed books by a Caribbean-born writer in recent years.
Jamaican Roland Watson-Grant was named the Caribbean regional winner of the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, alongside other regional winners from Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, and the Pacific. The five regional winners now compete for the overall prize, to be announced on June 30. The prize is awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any Commonwealth member state.
The Bocas Children’s Book Prize is a new prize to be awarded annually to one English-language chapter book for children written by a Caribbean author. The prize is administered by the Bocas Lit Fest, and supported by the Unit Trust Corporation. It will reward the most outstanding contribution to Caribbean literature for young independent readers, aged 7 to 12. The inaugural prize opened for entries on May 1, and the submission period runs until 30 July, 2021. The winner will be announced in November 2021, and will receive a US$1,000 cash prize or the equivalent in TT currency. For more information, visit www.bocaslitfest.com/awards/childrens-book-prize.
The UK literary magazine Granta, known for its periodic and celebrated “best of young writers list,” recently announced the latest in the series: “The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists”, whose work is featured in a special edition of the magazine. For the first time, the list features four Caribbean writers: Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Dainerys Machado Vento, and Eudris Planche Savón of Cuba, and Carlos Fonseca of Puerto Rico/Costa Rica. Selected by a six-member jury, the list of 25 writers under the age of 35 is intended to be “an authoritative list of the best writers of this generation”.
The NGC Bocas Lit Fest resumes its monthly workshop series in June, with an online session on “How to Make Your Book Look Good”, led by graphic designer Melanie Archer. This session on June 26 focuses on understanding the aesthetics of publishing — book covers, layout, page design, and how to use these visual elements to attract readers and book-buyers. Registration details and a schedule of other workshops for 2021 are online at www.bocaslitfest.com/workshops.