polar vortex

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, and published in the Sunday Express.

New releases

The sixth novel by Trinidadian-Canadian Shani Mootoo, Polar Vortex (Akashic Books) is a suspenseful story of desire, secrets, and an unexpected love triangle. Priya and Alex, a lesbian couple who have moved to rural Canada, find their trust and expectations disrupted by the arrival of a visitor from Priya’s past, forcing all three into a confrontation with truth and identity.

Daylight Come (Peepal Tree Press), the most recent novel by Jamaican author Diana McCaulay, is a tense, dystopian work of speculative fiction tackling issues of climate change and ecological peril. Set in the year 2084 in the fictional Caribbean island of Bajacu, the novel portrays a society devastated by rising temperatures, feral animals, and heartless inequality, and a mother and daughter on a quest for sanctuary.

Country of Warm Snow (Shearsman), a collection of poems by Mervyn Taylor, “seeks to represent the duality of a life lived in two places at once”—those two places being Trinidad, the island of the poet’s birth, and the United States, where he has lived for most of the past five decades. “To combat the geographical dislocation,” writes the publisher, “there arises the invention of an impossible land, a country of the imagination, a snow that is beautiful and warm.” The book was chosen as an official recommendation by the UK Poetry Society.

The Assassination of Maurice Bishop (Ian Randle Publishers), a gripping and chilling book by Belizean author Godfrey Smith, is a detailed account of the final days of the charismatic leader of the Grenada Revolution, killed in October 1983 under circumstances that traumatised a generation of Caribbean activists. Drawing on archival research and extensive interviews, some with witnesses who had never before told their stories, Smith offers an elegantly written and much-needed history of one of the post-Independence Caribbean’s pivotal events.

Awards and prizes

The Academy of American Poets’ annual Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, which recognises a published translation of poetry from any language into English, was given to I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara by Lalbihari Sharma, translated by Guyanese-American poet Rajiv Mohabir. Originally published in 1916, and forgotten for decades, Holi Songs of Demerara is the only known literary work published by an indentured worker in the Anglophone Caribbean.

The longlist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious award for fiction, includes both the novel Polar Vortex by Trinidadian-Canadian Shani Mootoo (see above) and the short story collection Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough, a Canadian writer with roots in Guyana. The shortlist will be announced on 5 October, and the winner on 9 November. Last year the Giller Prize was won by Trinidad-born Ian Williams for his novel Reproduction.

The Montreal International Poetry Prize, a biennial competition which awards CD$20,000 to the author of a single poem, announced its 2020 shortlist in September. Poets in the running included Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné of Trinidad and Tobago, Sonia Farmer of the Bahamas, and Jamaica-born Safiya Sinclair.

The longlists for the US National Book Awards, announced in September, include, in the Young People’s Literature category, the novel King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender, an author from the US Virgin Islands, currently based in Philadelphia.

The 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, an international competition for fiction writers across the Commonwealth, is open for submissions until 1 November, 2020. The prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2,000 to 5,000 words), in several regional categories including one for the Caribbean. For details, visit www.commonwealthwriters.org/cssp-2021

The 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the region’s most important literary award, is now open for submissions. Books may be entered in three genre categories—poetry, fiction, and non-fiction—and must be written by an author of Caribbean birth or citizenship and published in the calendar year 2020, among other requirements. For details, visit www.bocaslitfest.com/2021/awards/ocm-bocas-prize-entry.

Other news

Trinidadian-Scottish writer Vahni Capildeo has been named as a contributing editor to the UK journal PN Review, for a two-year term. Capildeo “will write for the journal, introduce new critical voices and, as well, advise the editors on new books and areas of interest which should be brought to the attention of PN Review readers.”

Caribbean bestsellers

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

1. One Year of Ugly, by Caroline Mackenzie

2. Book of the Little Axe, by Lauren Francis-Sharma

3. The Undiscovered Country, by Andre Bagoo

4. Shame on Me, by Tessa McWatt

5. Everything Inside, by Edwidge Danticat


VACCINES are on everyone’s minds these days; a simple Google search of “Covid-19 vaccine” will yield more than one billion results. But how many among us gave much thought to vaccines before the coronavirus pandemic? And yet, vaccines have been our best defence against infectious and deadly diseases here in the Caribbean for more than 60 years.

Features/Entertainment Editor “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” James Keller.

Possibly Jamie Thomas’ final post on Instagram, Jamie would succumb to a heart attack later that night, leaving all who knew him in shock and grief.

Jamie lived that Keller statement, being the proverbial candle that lit hundreds of lives in the 46 years he lived. And live he did.

Fans of the sweet, melodic sounds of legendary New Orleans vocalist Aaron Neville won’t have many opportunities to hear him live from now on.

In posts Thursday on his official website and via social media, Neville announced his official retirement from touring.

“I had the best childhood any child could ever ask for.”

The genuineness of those words from soca star Nailah Blackman shone through the phone screen like a determined ray of sunlight on a gloomy overcast Thursday afternoon, last week.

“My mother is a powerhouse and an empress.”

Those heartfelt words from calypso bassist Corey Wallace left Paris, France on Friday journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean and sweetly lands in the pages of this paper, for his mother Greta Eugene Wallace to read in the safety of her Tacarigua home this morning.

“I want to be close again...”

The lyrics of Sammy Jo’s latest release ‘Close Again’ echo what all of us are thinking, especially now that we’re in the grip of a second lockdown. The soca track which features infectious vibes, Sammy Jo’s melodious vocals and her eclectic style is another feather in the singer’s cap—and a reminder of her versatility as a music artiste.

It was only a matter of time before fans finally got a taste of soca courtesy Sammy Jo; after all, soca is our music, she says.