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.
Although many books scheduled for publication in early 2020 have had their release dates pushed back due to the Covid-19 pandemic, titles by Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora authors continue to appear. Modern, Age, &c (Peepal Tree), the latest poetry collection from Trinidadian Raymond Ramcharitar, offers “ferociously satiric views of the Modern Caribbean, Modern Journalism, and a world inhabited by Trump and Jong Un,” according to the publisher.
Book of the Little Axe (Atlantic Monthly Press), the second historical novel by Trinidadian-American Lauren Francis-Sharma, opens in Trinidad in 1796, when the island passes from Spanish to British colonial rule, and moves to the Native American Crow Nation in Montana, as it recounts a story of family, ancestry, birthright, and freedom. These Ghosts Are Family (Simon and Schuster), the debut novel by Maisy Card — born in Jamaica and raised in the US — is also a story of family and migration, secret histories and secret connections brought to life in the present.
Loss, love, and forgiveness are key themes in Clap When You Land (HarperCollins), a verse novel by Dominican-American writer Elizabeth Acevedo. Two sisters, separated by deception—one in the Dominican Republic, the other in New York — discover their unknown bond in the aftermath of a tragedy.
My Mother’s House (Knopf), the debut novel by Haitian-born Francesca Momplaisir, is a dark, disturbing literary thriller, exploring the dangerous legacies of violence and racism through the experience of a Haitian family migrating to New York in search of refuge and prosperity. The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana (World Editions) is the latest novel by Guadeloupean Maryse Condé — winner of the 2018 “alternative Nobel” New Academy Prize in Literature — to appear in translation. Through the story of twins with a powerful and perilous bond, the novel explores racism, terrorism, and how global inequality fuels political radicalisation.
Awards and prizes
A Portable Paradise, the latest poetry collection by Trinidadian-British Roger Robinson, was named the winner of the 2020 RSL Ondaatje Prize, presented by the UK’s Royal Society of Literature. The annual award is presented for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place”. The book had already won the 2019 TS Eliot Prize, and is now shortlisted for the inaugural Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry.
Golden Child, the debut novel by Trinidadian-British writer Claire Adam, won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, announced in May. The award is for the most promising first novel of the year, written by a British author and published in the UK. Golden Child previously won the 2019 Desmond Elliot Prize and the 2019 Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, both awards for debut novels.
The 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize for Canadian Poetry was awarded to Magnetic Equator, by Kaie Kellough, a Canadian author with Guyanese roots. Moving between Canada and Guyana, the book’s poems address the collisions of history and diaspora.
Jamaican Brian S Heap is the Caribbean winner of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, awarded annually by Commonwealth Writers for unpublished short fiction from the Commonwealth. In his story “Mafootoo”, a Jamaican woman living in London confronts a crisis late in her life. Heap will now contend with the other regional winners for the overall prize, to be announced in late June.
The 18th annual St Martin Book Fair, the Caribbean’s major multilingual literary festival, ran as scheduled from June 4 to 6 with an entirely online programme. Events hosted via the Zoom platform included over two dozen writers from across the region, such as the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize winner, Richard Georges. The British Virgin Islands author of the poetry book Epiphaneia was also featured in the online programme for the 2nd annual CALIFEST Caribbean Literature Festival in Los Angeles, which similarly used digital platforms to assemble writers otherwise unable to travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many Caribbean book lovers were saddened by the demolition in early May of the historic Jean Rhys house in Roseau, Dominica. The childhood home of the author of Wide Sargasso Sea and other classic novels, which was estimated to be 150 years old, was bulldozed to build an office block.
To commemorate the 90th birthday of the late Barbadian writer Kamau Brathwaite, the online project #40NightsoftheVoice — organised by a group of Canada-based writers and scholars and hosted on Twitter @KamauRemix — is presenting nightly recorded video readings from Brathwaite’s work for 40 days, ending on June 19.