Books by authors from Jamaica and St Lucia have made the shortlist for the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
From a longlist of nine books in the categories of poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction, the Prize judges have chosen three genre winners. Announced on 1 April, 2015, these three books now form the shortlist for the final award. Sounding Ground, by the St. Lucian writer Vladimir Lucien, is the poetry winner. Jamaican Marlon James’s novel A Brief History of Seven Killings is the winner in the fiction category, and fellow Jamaican Olive Senior’s Dying to Better Themselves was chosen from the non-fiction list.
Sounding Ground — Vladimir Lucien’s debut book — explores social and cultural boundaries in the poet’s home island, moving between considerations of bloodlines both familial and linguistic. “His poems have the kind of life-energy to be found hidden in any cubic metre of fertile soil,” write the Prize judges. “His language makes inspired use of various kinds and registers of creole, which are always clearly distinguishable, and crucial to the purposes of the individual poem. In his hands, creole is a primary tool for enabling the local immediacy of a poem’s content to address much larger questions.”
Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings — not, despite the title, a small book — is an epic account of Jamaican society and politics in the 1970s, hinged on a failed assassination attempt on “the Singer” (Bob Marley). It encompasses local and international politics, violence and trauma, through a multiplicity of arresting voices. “To experience the visceral power of reading this novel,” write the judges, “is to see, smell, and feel what great literature can do. Like all great literature, it is both about a specific time and place and yet also universal.”
In her historical work Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal, Olive Senior creates her own kind of epic narrative, drawing on both official accounts and personal documents to capture the voices of the early 20th century Caribbean migrants to Panama who contributed mightily to one of the modern world’s great feats of engineering. The book “exemplifies both rigorous scholarship and literary sophistication,” write the judges, who note that Senior “elegantly achieves the requisite balance between the demands of factuality and the permissiveness of creativity, craftily deploying her creative writing skills to animate historical data.”
In the final round of judging, the three books will now vie for the overall award of US$10,000, to be presented on Saturday 2 May during the 2015 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain.
In recent years, the Prize was won by novelists Robert Antoni for As Flies to Whatless Boys (2014); Monique Roffey for Archipelago (2013); and Earl Lovelace for Is Just a Movie (2012). Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott was winner of the inaugural prize in 2011, for his poetry collection White Egrets.
The final cross-genre judging panel, headed by celebrated Barbadian writer Austin Clarke, will include literary agent Clare Alexander, poetry critic Laurence A. Breiner, scholar Carolyn Cooper, and permanent Prize vice-chair Marjorie Thorpe.