Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters

In 2013, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest inaugurated a new annual lifetime achievement award to recognise service to Caribbean literature by editors, publishers, critics, broadcasters, and others. The Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters is named for the late BBC radio producer (1915–2004) who created a landmark platform for Caribbean writing in the 1940s and 50s through the Caribbean Voices programme, which broadcast fiction and poems by West Indian writers across the region.

Each year the NGC Bocas Lit Fest will honour Swanzy’s memory and recognise the achievements of other editors, broadcasters, and critics via the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award. Recipients will be chosen by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest organising committee, and awardees will be invited to attend the festival, speak about their work, and receive the award at a special event.

The 2016 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Recipient

Jeremy Poynting

Jeremy Poynting, is the founder, publisher, and chief editor of UK-based Peepal Tree Press, which over the past thirty years has grown into the leading publishing house focused on contemporary Caribbean writing. With more than three hundred books on its list, ranging from works by debut authors to resurrected classics, Peepal Tree has arguably done more to nourish contemporary Caribbean literature than any other publisher.

Peepal Tree’s roots go back to Poynting’s previous career as an academic, when his PhD research into Indo-Caribbean literature took him to Guyana. The plight of talented writers there with no outlet for publication inspired him to found a literary imprint. His first book, Rooplall Monar’s Backdam People, was published with the most basic of equipment: “‘typeset’ on a daisywheel printer,” Poynting recalls, “and printed in the evenings at the college where I worked.”

In the early days, Poynting ran Peepal Tree out of his garage, printing the books himself and managing two or three titles per year. Its growth into a powerhouse of Caribbean publishing was slow, often difficult, and even more often debt-incurring. But gradual support from the Arts Council of England, the introduction of more affordable digital printing technology, and the arrival in 1994 of Hannah Bannister as the second key member of the Peepal Tree team all helped overcome the substantial challenges involved in running a small publishing house.

Today, Peepal Tree is the publisher of first choice for many emerging Caribbean writers. It has published more winners of the three genre categories of the OCM Bocas Prize than any other publisher, including the 2015 overall winner, Vladimir Lucien’s poetry collection Sounding Ground. Poynting’s achievements have been recognised by the University of the West Indies, which granted him an honorary doctorate in 2014.

Past awardees

The 2015 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to publisher, editor, and broadcaster Margaret Busby, OBE, co-founder of the publishing house Allison & Busby, in recognition of her decades-long work promoting Caribbean, African, and Black British writers and publishers in the United Kingdom.

The 2014 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to literary critics Kenneth Ramchand and Gordon Rohlehr, both professors emeriti of the University of the West Indies, in recognition of their role in establishing West Indian literature as an academic discipline, and their groundbreaking critical work on the writings of Caribbean authors.

The 2013 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to John La Rose (posthumously) and Sarah White of New Beacon Books. Founded in London in 1966, New Beacon is both a pioneering publishing house and a specialist bookshop focusing on writers and writing from the Caribbean. Over the past four decades, New Beacon has published works by writers such as Wilson Harris, Andrew Salkey, Errol Hill, Dennis Scott, Erna Brodber, Mervyn Morris, and numerous others, and the bookshop in Stroud Green, North London is an epicentre of Caribbean literary and intellectual life in the United Kingdom.