A book-length poem that the Prize judges consider “postcolonial poetry at its best” has triumphed in the stakes for best book by a Caribbean writer published last year.
The Dyzgraphxst by St. Lucia-born poet Canisia Lubrin is the 2021 winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, which comes with an award of US$10,000, courtesy One Caribbean Media, the region’s largest media house.
It is the second consecutive year that a poet has won the most prestigious international annual award for Caribbean writing, and the fourth poetry win in the eleven-year history of the prize. Lubrin is the third St. Lucia-born writer to win the overall prize, all for poetry.
Vahni Capildeo, also an outstanding poet from Trinidad and Tobago, winner of the Forward Poetry Prize, and chief judge of this year’s OCM Bocas Prize, made the announcement online via the Bocas Lit Fest website, Facebook, and YouTube in a virtual presentation on the evening of Saturday 24 April. Joining her on the final judging panel for the prize were Jamaican poet and academic Opal Palmer Adisa, Trinidadian-American writer and scholar Rosamond S. King, and Malachi McIntosh, editor of the UK-based literary journal Wasafiri.
The Dyzgraphxst, published by Penguin Random House Canada, was chosen by the judges from a shortlist of the three books previously selected as category winners, which included Jamaica-born Maisy Card’s debut novel These Ghosts Are Family — the best book of fiction by a Caribbean writer in 2020 — and Trinidadian Andre Bagoo’s wide-ranging collection of essays The Undiscovered Country — the best non-fiction book of 2020 by a Caribbean author. Card and Bagoo will receive awards of US$3,000 each.
In her judge’s remarks, Vahni Capildeo said The Dyzgraphxst “is exciting, experimental, and maintains integrity from beginning to end…. Aware of and alive with the impulses and innovations of Aimé Césaire, Dionne Brand, and so many more revolutionary thinkers with whom we have been blessed.”
“These poems take apart our individual personal pronoun, the ‘I’,” said Capildeo, “questioning and finding new ways to feel and think and know what we suppose to be our ‘self’. Some books use language to keep running smoothly. This book shifts what language can be and do. It is thrilling to read it and to relish giving up the illusion of mastery of meaning; to revel in not fully understanding, like swimming beyond the breakers in a sea full of flotsam and jetsam.”
About Canisia Lubrin
Canisia Lubrin is a writer, editor, teacher and critic. Frequently anthologised, her work has been translated into Spanish and Italian. She is the author of the awards-nominated poetry collection Voodoo Hypothesis, and The Dyzgraphxst is her latest book. In addition to winning the OCM Bocas Prize, the book was recently shortlisted for Canada’s Griffin Poetry Prize, and in March 2021
Lubrin was also named a winner of a 2021 Windham Campbell Prize. She teaches at the University of Toronto and is soon to become an editor at Penguin Random House.
Past winners of the OCM Bocas Prize
Prize winners in past years are: the Trinidad-born, British Virgin Islands-based Richard Georges for the memorable poetry collection Epiphaneia (2020); Kevin Adonis Browne for the essay and photography collection High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture (2019); Jennifer Rahim for the short story collection Curfew Chronicles (2018); Kei Miller for the novel Augustown (2017); Olive Senior for the short fiction collection The Pain Tree (2016); Vladimir Lucien for the debut poetry collection Sounding Ground (2015); Robert Antoni for the novel As Flies to Whatless Boys (2014); Monique Roffey for the novel Archipelago (2013); and Earl Lovelace for the novel Is Just a Movie (2012). The late Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott was winner of the inaugural prize in 2011, for the poetry collection White Egrets.
The Prize announcement was just one of the many virtual events on offer from the NGC Bocas Lit Fest team over the last weekend of April via its website www.bocaslitfest.com, and Facebook and YouTube pages.
The festival continues on Sunday 25 April with children’s programming from 9 am, followed by an in-depth discussion panel titled “The Big Idea: The Way Ahead”, asking how the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent developments may shape the Caribbean’s future. The Sunday programme also includes the latest edition of the festival’s ever-popular Extempo Debate, and a series of lively discussions and readings by authors of new fiction. It ends with the launch of The 100 Caribbean Books That Made Us, a provocative crowdsourced list of books in all genres that Caribbean readers have found most influential and inspiring.
Title sponsor of Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival is the National Gas Company, lead sponsor is First Citizens, main sponsors are the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and One Caribbean Media. The National Lotteries Control Board, Massy Foundation and UWI are sponsors.