A monthly round-up of news about

Caribbean books and writers,

presented by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest

Welcome to the latest instalment of the Bocas Book Bulletin, a monthly round-up of Caribbean literary news, curated by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival.

2023 publishing preview

Caribbean books continue to be prominently on the radar of international publishers’ trends, with much-awaited releases in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction scheduled for publication throughout the year. Smaller, dedicated Caribbean presses, such as Peepal Tree, have also unveiled a promising roster of titles, from well-established and emerging talents alike.

January

I’m Black So You Don’t Have to Be (Jonathan Cape), a provocative, enthralling memoir by Colin Grant, author of Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation, weaves intergenerational voices across the span of the narrative, in writing Bernardine Evaristo calls “compelling and charming.”

River Sing Me Home (Penguin Random House), by the granddaughter of Windrush-era immigrants Eleanor Shearer, is set in slavery’s immediate aftermath on a Barbadian plantation, chronicling the desperate search of a mother seeking her stolen children.

February

Hungry Ghosts (Bloomsbury, UK; Ecco, US) is arguably 2023’s most avidly anticipated Caribbean fiction release. This bleakly elegiac novel by Kevin Jared Hosein probes the lives and sorrows of two 1940s Trinidadian East Indian families of wildly differing fortunes.

Blackgirl on Mars (HarperCollins Canada) follows in the stylistic and emotional vein of Lesley-Ann Brown’s debut, Decolonial Daughter, as it traces the memoirist’s journey across the United States and back to Trinidad in search of her most authentically charged self.

March

Self-Portrait as Othello (Carcanet), the second poetry collection by 2022 OCM Bocas Poetry Prize winner Jason Allen-Paisant, lyrically reconfigures the tragic figure of Shakespeare’s Moor, asking critical and confronting questions about Blackness, immigration, and identity.

Fire Rush (Jonathan Cape, UK; Viking, US) by Jacqueline Crooks, a debut novel “16 years in the making,” submerges its reader in the dub reggae scene of 1970s and 80s Britain, while offering profound meditations on feminist uprisings and police brutality.

The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts (Catapult) by Soraya Palmer presents two Brooklynite Jamaican-Trinidadian sisters grappling with the spectres of infidelity, trauma, and suppressed secrets lingering in their family’s bloodline.

April

Suite as Sugar (Dundurn) by Camille Hernández-Ramdwar presents short stories set in Toronto, Havana, and Trinidad, steeped in superstition and folklore, in which characters grapple with the liminal space between the living and the dead, with dire consequences.

May

The God of Good Looks (Fig Tree, UK; William Morrow, US), Breanne McIvor’s debut novel, plunges the reader into the capricious, image-obsessed milieu of T&T’s fashion industry, while weaving a romance between two of its seemingly star-crossed inhabitants.

When the Vibe is Right (Balzer + Bray), the sophomore young adult romance novel by Sarah Dass, brings the spectacle of Trinidad Carnival to the romantic entanglements of an aspiring costume designer and popular social media influencer: sparks fly amidst the sequins.

June

Patterflash (Peepal Tree Press), the debut full-length poetry collection by Adam Lowe, faces notions of sexuality, belonging, masculinity, and desire in poems that honour drag culture, performance, and the coded gay language of Polari.

July

Bath of Herbs (Peepal Tree) by Emily Zobel Marshall engages with the literary legacy of the poet’s grandfather, celebrated author Joseph Zobel, but embodies a fearless voice of its own in poems that address mixed-race identity, corporeal desire, and the trickster figure Anansi.

August

Uprooting (Canongate), winner of the 2021 Nan Shepherd Prize, is Trinidad-born, UK-based Marchelle Farrell’s debut, delving into the author’s discovery of belonging in her British country garden, while invoking ruminations on the escalating global climate crisis.

River Mumma (Penguin Canada), Zalika Reid-Benta’s debut novel, combines coming of age narratives with Jamaican folklore to produce a charged exploration of youth, duppies, and intergenerational ties to the traditions of one’s homeland.

How to Say Babylon (Simon & Schuster) by 2017 OCM Bocas Poetry Prize winner Safiya Sinclair marks the writer’s official non-fiction debut: candidly revealing her struggles to emancipate herself from a rigid Rastafarian upbringing, the memoir explores the collision that emerges at the crossroads of modernity and antiquity.

Awards and prizes

Rashad Hosein emerged the winner of the 2022 NGC Bocas Youth Writer Award, announced at a ceremony at The Writers Centre, home of the Bocas Lit Fest, on January 7. The award, which confers a cash prize of $5,000, is sponsored by the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago Ltd. Describing Hosein’s success, head judge Lisa Allen-Agostini remarked, “Unanimously, we found [Rashad Hosein’s] writing on par with the work of writers of much greater age. His accomplished résumé is a testament to both his talent and his tenacity…. I guarantee this is not the last time you will hear his name calling in a forum like this.” Launched in 2021, the NGC Bocas Youth Writer Award recognises and celebrates young authors of T&T birth or citizenship, aged 25 and younger. Hosein, 24, will appear in the official author line-up for the 2023 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, which returns to its in-person format, April 28 to 30.

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