Authors from five territories have made the longlist for the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
The Prize longlist, announced by the judges on 8 March, 2015, includes three genre categories: poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction. The winners in each category will be announced on 1 April, and the Prize will be presented on Saturday 2 May, during the fifth annual NGC Bocas Lit fest in Port of Spain. The overall winner will receive a US$10,000 award with smaller awards for the other winners.
The poetry category includes three collections by younger Caribbean poets, all under the age of forty. St. Lucian Vladimir Lucien’s debut book Sounding Ground demonstrates considerable emotional and stylistic range, and makes inspired use of various kinds and registers of Creole. Jamaican Kei Miller’s The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion offers the reader a multiplicity of narrative pathways that intersect with, enhance, and contradict each other, skillfully evoking the natural world to comment on the human condition. Fellow Jamaican Tanya Shirley’s collection The Merchant of Feathers is brash, courageous, moving, and extremely funny. Hers are exuberant poems in which the poet is utterly present and entirely irresistible.
The fiction category of the Prize longlist assembles novels by three writers whose previous books are no strangers to awards. Jamaican Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, far from brief, is an epic account of Jamaica in the 1970s, hinged on the historical failed assassination attempt on Bob Marley, and encompassing local and international politics, violence and trauma, through a multiplicity of arresting voices. House of Ashes, by the Trinidadian writer Monique Roffey, similarly centres on an event of tragic, recent history, the attempted coup of 1990 that unleashed a spasm of violence in Trinidad and Tobago — fictionalised here in an attempt to investigate the causes and effects of social trauma. Meanwhile, Land of Love and Drowning by the US Virgin Islander Tiphanie Yanique tells a gripping three-generation family story, overflowing with secrets and touches of magical realism, set against the evolution of a small island society from one form of colonial domination to another.
In the non-fiction category, the longlist brings together books of social and personal history. Not for Everyday Use is a family memoir by Trinidadian Elizabeth Nunez, which begins with news of the death of the author’s mother. It contemplates the ways and means of parental love and ambition, the price of migration, and the consequences of distance. King Short Shirt: Nobody Go Run Me, by Dorbrene E. O’Marde of Antigua and Barbuda, is both a carefully researched biography of Antigua’s most celebrated calypsonian and a history of Antiguan society and culture in the crucial decades after independence. Jamaican Olive Senior’s Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal, is its own kind of epic, capturing the voices of the 19th and early 20th century Caribbean migrants to Panama who contributed mightily to one of the modern world’s great feats of engineering.
The 2015 judges for the OCM Bocas Prize include a distinguished range of Caribbean and international writers, academics, and publishing professionals. Scholar Laurence A. Breiner chairs the poetry panel, joined by Canada-based Jamaican poet Pamela Mordecai and Patience Agbabi, British poet of Nigerian heritage. The fiction panel, chaired by eminent British literary agent Clare Alexander, includes writer Nalo Hopkinson, who has roots in Guyana, Trinidad, and Jamaica, and New York-based Trinidadian agent Ria Julien. The non-fiction panel, chaired by Jamaican scholar Carolyn Cooper, also brings together academic Silvio Torres-Saillant, born in the Dominican Republic, and Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of the New York–based politics magazine Jacobin.
The final cross-genre judging panel, headed by celebrated Barbadian writer Austin Clarke, will also include permanent Prize vice-chair Marjorie Thorpe.
The 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature longlist
Sounding Ground, by Vladimir Lucien (Peepal Tree Press)
The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, by Kei Miller (Carcanet)
The Merchant of Feathers, by Tanya Shirley (Peepal Tree Press)
A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James (Riverhead)
House of Ashes, by Monique Roffey (Simon and Schuster)
Land of Love and Drowning, by Tiphanie Yanique (Riverhead)
Not for Everyday Use, by Elizabeth Nunez (Akashic)
King Short Shirt: Nobody Go Run Me, by Dorbrene E. O’Marde (Hansib)
Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal, by Olive Senior (UWI Press)