Caribbean books

Welcome to the latest instalment 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

The latest novel from France-based Jamaican writer Alecia McKenzie, A Million Aunties (Blouse & Skirt Books/Akashic) follows an American-born artist as he travels back to Jamaica, his mother’s home island, in the aftermath of a personal tragedy. There “he discovers a new extended and complicated ‘family,’” in this often surprising novel about love and friendship and the unexpected ways and places they are rooted.

Motherland and Other Stories, the debut book of short fiction by US-based Jamaican Wandeka Gayle (Peepal Tree Press), gives us a series of young black women who “win our hearts as risk-taking, adventurous explorers of the white world, away from home, which at some point has been Jamaica”. With settings ranging from Britain to the US and back to Jamaica, these moving stories delve into matters of family, love, and the drive to make a life for oneself in a bigger world, despite risks and setbacks.

The two latest titles in the UWI Press Caribbean Biography Series examine the lives of influential Jamaican scholars. Verene Shepherd’s Lucille Mathurin Mair traces the career and evolving ideology of a woman who was a “professional historian, wife, mother, mentor, diplomat, national and international civil servant, legislator, and women’s rights activist,” always concerned with principles of justice and equality.

Annie Paul’s Stuart Hall tackles the world-renowned pioneer in the field of cultural studies, whose “contributions to critical theory and the study of politics, culture, communication, media, race, diaspora and postcolonialism made him one of the great public intellectuals of the late twentieth century”. The Caribbean Biography Series offers short, accessible stories of the lives of key Caribbean figures across all fields.

Awards and prizes

Novels by two Trinidad-born writers have been shortlisted for the UK’s annual Costa Book Awards, which recognise “the most enjoyable books of the year by writers resident in the UK and Ireland”. The 2020 Costa Novel Award shortlist includes The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey, previously shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2020, while the Costa First Novel Award shortlist recognises Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud. Category winners will be announced on 4 January, 2021.

Writer Stephen Narain — a US-based Bahamian with Guyanese roots — was named the winner of the 2020 Bristol Short Story Prize, for his story “What in Me Is Dark Illumine”. Founded in 2007, the prize, based in Bristol, UK aims to discover new talent around the world and promote the short story as a genre.

To mark its 200th anniversary, the Royal Society of Literature — “the UK’s charity for the advancement of literature” — has named 29 new fellows, including several with Caribbean ancestry: Jamaican-British poet Raymond Antrobus, Jamaican-British biographer Colin Grant, and Trinidadian-British Roger Robinson.

The RSL has also named 15 new honorary fellows, recognising individuals who have contributed to the advancement of literature as publishers, organisers, and booksellers.

Among the new honorary fellows are Melanie Abrahams, a literature promoter with Trinidadian and Jamaican roots, and Marina Salandy-Brown, founder and festival director of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. As part of their bicentenary celebrations, the RSL has also announced a new International Writers lifetime achievement honour, to “recognise the contribution of writers from across the globe to literature in English, and the power of literature to transcend borders”. Members of the public may nominate writers who are not citizens of or resident in the UK by a deadline of 12 April, 2021.

Marina Salandy-Brown was also the recipient of an award from the Chilean government commemorating “500 Years of the Strait of Magellan”. The award recognises “innovation and exploration with global impact,” with 18 recipients named from around the world.

Other news

The third season of Bios & Bookmarks, a weekly literary interview series presented by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, continues for two more episodes. Livestreamed via Facebook and hosted by poet Shivanee Ramlochan, the series features Caribbean and diaspora authors of recent books reading and discussing their work.

The final two featured writers for season three are Jamaica-born Donna Hemans, author of the novel Tea by the Sea, on 6 December, and UK writer Bernardine Evaristo (Man, Woman Other), winner of the 2019 Man Booker Prize, for the finale on 13 December. Bios & Bookmarks livestreams at facebook.com/bocaslitfest on Sunday afternoons.

Caribbean bestsellers

Independent bookshop Paper Based (paperbased.org) shares their top-selling Caribbean titles for the past month:

1. Love After Love, by Ingrid Persaud

2. The Assassination of Maurice Bishop, by Godfrey P Smith

3. Deep Indigo: Lady Dorothy D’Oyly Carte and St Yves de Verteuil in Tobago, 1933-1978, by Elizabeth Cadiz Topp

4. The Mermaid of Black Conch, by Monique Roffey

5. One Year Of Ugly, by Caroline Mackenzie

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“If you go ah party and you eh hear ‘Meh Lover’ de DJ eh cool. If you doh hear ‘King Liar’ you eh laugh. And if you eh hear ‘We like it’ and ‘Disco Daddy’ you eh party yet!”

Deep, roaring, confident laughter followed that “boasty” declaration from calypso icon Lord Nelson (Robert Nelson) on Friday morning.

JUDGING from the kudos director and producer Willie Singh has received from international film festivals for his short film Temptation, he is well on his way to making a name for himself in the local film industry. Singh was the only Trinidadian filmmaker honoured at last year’s Engage Art Contest where his film won honourable mention. Temptation also made the rounds at 13 international film festivals where it won Most Powerful Film, Best Cinematographer, Best Covid-19 Lockdown Film, Best Visual Effects and Best Religious Short Film.