Bocas Book Bulletin

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

Zo and the Forest of Secrets (Knights of Media), the debut book of children’s fiction by Trinidadian Alake Pilgrim, follows a young girl on a thrilling supernatural journey through the forests of her home island. This first novel in a new fantasy series brings together elements of mystery and mysticism, grounded in the very real landscape of the author’s home island.

Sonnets for Albert (Bloomsbury), the new poetry collection by Trinidad-born Anthony Joseph, is a deeply personal, deeply emotional exploration of family, masculinity, and “the impact of being the son of an absent, or mostly absent, father”. Using a form Joseph calls the calypso sonnet — an Afro-Caribbean twist on the classic 14-line model — the poems extend their meditations to questions of loss, longing, and self-making.

Now Lila Knows (Akashic Books), the latest novel by Trinidadian-American Elizabeth Nunez, tells the gripping and timely story of a Caribbean professor on her way to an academic post in a small Vermont town, where she witnesses the killing of a black man by police. Nunez’s narrative brings together urgent questions about race and violence in today’s United States and timeless questions about personal and collective responsibility, in “a page-turner with universal resonance”.

The Drowned Forest (Peepal Tree Press), the latest novel by Bermudian Angela Barry, explores issues of class, race, and religion in contemporary Bermuda, against the background of ongoing climate change and uncertainty about the future. Around the central figure of Genesis — a troubled black teenager — a cast of characters of different backgrounds and ethnicities collide and negotiate their ambitions and fears, jealousies and hang-ups, creating a rich and nuanced portrait of an island society little known to the wider Caribbean.

Greenland (Amistad), the debut novel by Bahamian-American David Santos Donaldson, features a young Black queer author, Kip, researching and writing the story of Mohammed el Adl, the Egyptian lover of the famed British author EM Forster. The novel “seamlessly conjures two distinct yet overlapping worlds where the past mirrors the present, and the artist’s journey transforms into a quest for truth that offers a world of possibility”.

The Animated Forest (Peepal Tree Press), is the long-awaited debut poetry collection by Trinidad-born, US-based Samantha Thornhill, already the author of a series of children’s books. The poems speak to Thornhill’s “core belief in the power of empathy and compassion as aesthetic markers”. The book reveals “the splendid tensions and graces of an immigrant’s imagination and language, rooted as she is in her Trinidad birthplace, and her uneasy American home”.

The Tribe: Portraits of Cuba (Graywolf Press), a collection of non-fiction pieces by Carlos Manuel Álvarez, translated by Frank Wynne, explores the last decade of Cuban history, through portraits of artists, musicians, and writers, as well as black market dealers, nurses, policeman, and a wide range of real-life characters. The form of the crónica — a genre common in Latin America, combining reportage and narrative — is perfectly suited to this survey of the “extraordinary mosaic of Cuba today,” by one of Granta magazine’s Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists.

The Che Guevara Reader: Writings on Politics and Revolution (Seven Stories Press), edited by David Deutschmann and Maria del Carmen Ari Garcia, brings together essays, speeches, and personal letters by the Argentina-born hero of the Cuban Revolution, to “highlight his principled politics and praxis in the fight against capitalism and US imperialism”. A timeline of Guevara’s life, a bibliography of his writing, and a glossary of individuals and groups offer biographical and political context.

John Humphrey: The Ideology of Partnership (Royrds), by Zorina Shah, a biography of the iconic Trinidadian politician, government minister, architect, and masman, helps fill a gap in T&T’s recent social history. Often considered a maverick or political radical, Humphrey may be best remembered for his efforts to make land — for housing and agriculture — available to a broader range of citizens, in order to tackle economic inequality.

Awards and prizes

The novel Pleasantview by T&T’s Celeste Mohammed was named the winner of the 2022 CLMP Firecracker Award for Fiction. Presented annually by the US-based Community of Literary Magazines and Presses, the annual Firecracker Awards “celebrate books and magazines that make a significant contribution to our literary culture and the publishers that strive to introduce important voices to readers far and wide”. Pleasantview was previously the winner of the 2022 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Sonnets for Albert by Anthony Joseph (see above) has been shortlisted for the 2022 Forward Prize for Best Collection of poetry published in Britain in the past year. Coming with £10,000, the Forward Prize is considered a leading award for English-language poetry, and has been won in recent years by such Caribbean authors as Kei Miller and Vahni Capildeo. The winner will be announced in October.

Children’s and YA author Malorie Blackman, born in Britain to parents from Barbados, is the winner of the 2022 PEN Pinter Prize. Established in 2009 in memory of Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, the prize “is awarded annually to a writer of outstanding literary merit resident in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, or the Commonwealth who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature speech, casts an ‘unflinching, unswerving’ gaze upon the world and shows a ‘fierce intellectual determination … to define the real truth of our lives and our societies’”.

US-based Trinidadian writer Stephanie Ramlogan has been named the winner of the 2022 Iowa Review Award for fiction. Founded in 2003 by the US literary journal Iowa Review, and given in the categories of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, the award comes with a cash prize of US$1,500 and publication in the journal.

The 2022 Bocas Lit Fest Children’s Book Prize opened for entries on 20 June, with a submission deadline of 31 August, 2022. Sponsored this year by the Wainwright Family, the prize recognises an outstanding English-language children’s book (for readers between ages 7 and 12) written by a Caribbean author. It comes with a cash award of US$1,000. For entry guidelines and more information, visit www.bocaslitfest.com/awards/childrens-book-prize.

Other news

Caribbean Literature Day, commemorated each year on July 12, is dedicated to celebrating books and writers from the whole Caribbean region, with individual readers and writers and literary organisations offering a range of activities, both digital and in person. For Caribbean Literature Day 2022, the Bocas Lit Fest will launch a special online capsule exploring the work of the late Barbadian writer George Lamming, as well as a new podcast series exploring the 100 Caribbean Books That Made Us. Further details will be announced on the Bocas Lit Fest website.

After several auditions in June, semi-finalists for the 2022 First Citizens National Poetry Slam were announced yesterday. The selected poets will participate in a special workshop in July to prepare for the semi-final round of the competition, to be held in August. 2022 marks the tenth anniversary of the slam, which offers the largest prize for spoken word poetry in the Caribbean, with the winner receiving TT$50,000.

The second year of Write Away!, the secondary schools creative writing project produced by the Bocas Lit Fest and sponsored by the Scotiabank Foundation, was recently launched. Offering valuable learning tools in the form of a series of dynamic videos, the 2022 series focuses on poetry, a core element of the CSEC English B curriculum. Over 50 secondary schools across Trinidad and Tobago have already used the Write Away! Poetry series for the 2021–2022 academic year. Students were also invited to participate in writing workshops with the Bocas Lit Fest via Zoom, and to submit original poems to be published on the Bocas Lit Fest’s website at www.bocaslitfest.com/youth/write-away.

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