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.
Pleasantview (Ig Publishing), the debut book by Trinidadian Celeste Mohammed, is a “novel in stories” set in a fictional town in south Trinidad, its carefully woven plotlines revealing unexpected connections among its inhabitants. Along the way, it unsparingly holds up a mirror to contemporary T&T and its complicated, often troubling relations of gender, ethnicity, and nationality. “The stories barrel from charm to tragedy,” says Publishers Weekly, “and back again, making for a memorable and moving immersion.”
This One Sky Day (Faber), published in the US as Popisho (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is the latest novel by Jamaican/British Leone Ross. Hovering between magical realism and speculative fiction, unfolding over a single day in an imaginary tropical archipelago resembling the Caribbean, the novel explores a world in which every person is born with a magical gift, some of them sublime, some almost absurd.
All the Rage (Nightboat Books), the second book of poems by Trinidadian-American Rosamond S King, “addresses everyday pleasure as well as the present condition of racism in the United States … from a variety of perspectives: being black, an immigrant, a woman, and queer.” Continuously inventive in form and audacious in language, the book is centred on a series called “Living in the Abattoir”, “in which people of colour live out their days as both workers and meat.”
Awarded the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Prize, What Noise Against the Cane (Yale University Press), is the debut book by Trinidad-born Desiree C Bailey. Described as “a lyric quest for belonging and freedom, weaving political resistance, Caribbean folklore, immigration, and the realities of black life in America,” the collection ranges across time from the Haitian Revolution to the contemporary United States, where the author is now based.
Awards and prizes
The poetry collection The Dyzgraphxst by St Lucia-born Canisia Lubrin was named the overall winner of the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, at a virtual announcement ceremony on Saturday 24 April, during the 2021 NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Considered the leading award for Caribbean writers, the OCM Bocas Prize is sponsored by One Caribbean Media. “These poems,” said chief judge Vahni Capildeo, “take apart our individual personal pronoun, the ‘I’, questioning and finding new ways to feel and think and know what we suppose to be our ‘self’.” • Also announced during the festival was the winner of the 2021 Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize, which is dedicated to advancing the work of emerging Caribbean writers. T&T’s Desiree Seebaran won the award for her poetry collection in progress. The prize is sponsored by philanthropist and medical practitioner Dr Kongshiek Achong Low in memory of his parents, and administered by the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago and the literary charitable trust Arvon in the UK.
The 2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters was awarded jointly to Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris of Jamaica, professors emeriti of The University of the West Indies, recognising their longtime careers and achievements as teachers, scholars, editors, and mentors of Caribbean writers. Named for the late BBC radio Caribbean Voices producer Henry Swanzy, the award honours editors, publishers, critics, and others who work to support Caribbean writing and writers.
Canisia Lubrin’s book The Dyzgraphxst was also named on the shortlist for the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize, Canada’s major award for poetry. The judges called the book “a spectacular feat of architecture called a poem”.
The 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction — awarded annually to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom in the preceding year — has announced a shortlist of six books, including the novel How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Barbadian author Cherie Jones. The winner will be announced on July 7.
Already the winner of the 2020 Costa Book Award for Best Novel and Book of the Year, and a finalist for several other awards, the novel The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey was longlisted for the 2021 RSL Ondaatje Prize, awarded annually for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place”.
Judged by US poet Major Jackson, the 2020 Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry has announced a shortlist of 19 books, including two from the Caribbean: The Errors of the Rendering, by Nigeria-born, Trinidad-based Funso Aiyejina, and The Dyzgraphxst, by Cansia Lubrin.
The 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, awarded annually for the best piece of unpublished short fiction from any Commonwealth member state, has announced a shortlist of 25 entries, including five stories by writers from the Caribbean region: Heather Barker of Barbados, Sharma Taylor and Roland Watson-Grant of Jamaica, and Andre Bagoo and Rashad Hosein of Trinidad and Tobago. Regional winners will be announced on May 12, and the overall winner on June 30.
The Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival has opened its 2021 BCLF Short Fiction Story Contest, with a call for stories that resonate with the theme “A Tapestry of Words and Worlds”. The contest awards two prizes, the BCLF Elizabeth Nunez Caribbean American Writers’ Prize and the BCLF Elizabeth Nunez Award for Writers in the Caribbean, both named for the celebrated US-based Trinidad-born author. The submission deadline is 9 July, 2021, and details are available at the BCLF website: www.bklyncbeanlitfest.com/writing-contest.
Launched during the 2021 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Friends of Bocas Lit Fest gives fans of the festival an opportunity to support its work directly while enjoying a range of benefits, including exclusive events, access to an online library of archival video and audio content, discounts on books and events, and priority access to workshops. For more information, visit www.bocaslitfest.com/friends.
Independent bookshop Paper Based (paperbased.org) shares its top-selling Caribbean titles for the past month:
1. These Ghosts Are Family, by Maisy Card
2. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her house, by Cherie Jones
3. The Dyzgraphxst, by Canisia Lubrin
4. The Illustrated Story of Pan: Second Edition, by Kim Johnson
5. Love After Love, by Ingrid Persaud