Bocas Book Bulletin

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.

New releases

In her new book of poems Passport to Here and There (Bloodaxe), her ninth, the eminent writer Grace Nichols describes a personal journey from her childhood in rural Guyana through her migration as an adult to the United Kingdom and her present adopted home in Sussex. The book “embraces connections and re-connections,” writes its publisher, “with the ability to turn the ordinary into something sensuous and memorable, whether personal or public, contemporary or historical”.

The new bilingual anthology The Sea Needs No Ornament/El mar no necesita ornamento (Peepal Tree), edited and translated by Loretta Collins Klobah and Maria Grau Perejoan, is a groundbreaking collection of poems by thirty-three women writers from the English—and Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Diverse in subject, form, and voice, the anthology includes Trinidadian writers Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, Vahni Capildeo, Jennifer Rahim, and Shivanee Ramlochan, among others.

The Sea Needs No Ornament previously won a 2018 PEN Translates award from the organisation English PEN to support its completion, and was named the Summer 2020 Translation Choice by the UK Poetry Book Society.

Winner of a 2017 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature, and previously published in a Caribbean edition in 2018, the novel Home Home by Trinidadian Lisa Allen-Agostini has now been published in an expanded edition by major trade publisher Delacorte in the United States. Tackling issues of mental health, gender, and sexuality, frankly and accessibly, the novel tells the story of a teenage girl sent from Trinidad to live with her aunt in Canada, where “home” takes on a different meaning.

New Voices (UWI Press) is an anthology featuring poems by 26 emerging Jamaican writers, all of whom were winners of or shortlistees for the Poet Laureate of Jamaica Prizes for Poetry from 2017 to 2020. Selected by Jamaica’s current Poet Laureate, Lorna Goodison, these pieces suggest numerous future directions for Jamaican poetry, various in theme and written in both Jamaican Patwa and Standard English.

Awards and prizes

Having already won several awards for debut novels, Golden Child by Trinidadian-British writer Claire Adam was announced in June as the 2020 winner of the UK Society of Authors McKitterick Prize, awarded annually for a first novel by an author over the age of 40.

In the 2020 Locus Awards, awarded annually by the US science fiction and fantasy magazine Locus, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Jamaican Marlon James was named winner of the award for best horror novel.

The debut novel Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams—born in London to Jamaican parents—was named both overall Book of the Year and Debut Book of the Year at the 2020 British Book Awards, announced on 29 June.

The title character of the novel is a 25-year-old Jamaican-British woman living in London, navigating through romance, sex, race, and gender, tackling heavy issues with a light touch and ample humour.

Festival news

Previously scheduled for May 2020, then postponed to September, Jamaica’s Calabash International Literary Festival has now been pushed back again to 28 - 30 May, 2021, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other news

Book lovers around the region are preparing to mark the first annual Caribbean Literature Day on 12 July, 2020. Proposed in a statement read by poet and publisher Lasana M Sekou at the closing ceremony of the 2020 St Martin Book Fair, Caribbean Literature Day is intended to celebrate “the roots, range, and excellence of writings and books across the language zones of our region”. The chosen date is the anniversary of an event in 1562 when Spanish colonial authorities destroyed a library of Mayan books in Yucatán.

The St Martin Book Fair statement proclaims: “As July 12 marked the destruction of the first known books and library containing knowledge spanning millennia in the widest space of this region, we are inviting all of you to grace this day with the attributes of the Maya Itzamna’s creative force of writing, of Legba, the opener of the gates of languages, of a brilliant phoenix, and now celebrate Caribbean literature, one of the world’s youngest and most resilient literatures, which continues to flourish within the same region that had at its most ancient recorded foundation, encoded and written in books, the orature and literature of a great people.”

Suggestions for celebrating Caribbean Literature Day include giving books by Caribbean writers as gifts, sharing information about favourite Caribbean authors and literary works online, and staging virtual readings and performances.

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The Bocas Lit Fest is celebrating its tenth year with a birthday poster by Jackie Hinkson of the iconic Old Fire Station in downtown Port of Spain, and the National Library, the usual home of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

Reggae/hip hop performer Rheon Elbourne believes a lack of emotional balance has given local dancehall music a bad rap.

Though immensely popular among young audiences both here in T&T and throughout the region, the local “zesser” Trinidad dancehall movement has been highly criticised for its overly violent and sexually explicit lyrical content.

In this week’s Great Soca Bands instalment, we look at a vocal trio that in the 1990s to early 2000s worked with some of the most significant and popular calypsonians, soca artistes, rapso artistes, and bands of the day. They are arguably the best girl group out of Trinidad then and since.

Kelline Theophille is creative at heart. It was through nurturing her creativity that she was able to come up with a simple little idea that she turned into a thriving business. After Theophille’s Promise Jars turned out to be just what her closest friends and family needed, she launched her business in 2017, using her idea of celebrating people in a way that was unique and sentimental.

Sabira Ali and her family were heading to Barrackpore to check out some animals for the Muslim sacrifice (Kurbani). They stopped at a Masjid and on the walkway she saw a bat about the size of a 25-cent coin. After making a few calls Ali made the decision to pick up the bat for rehab… The rest became history… The bat became yet another addition to her repertoire of animal rehabs.

Mamma Mia is serving a slice of Italy to go.

Like all restaurants in Trinidad and Tobago, the popular Italian pizzeria has been restricted by the national ban on in-dining due to the ongoing pandemic. But Italian chef and owner Mirko D’alessio says their new family meal offerings and classy packaging make it easy to recreate an authentic experience at home.