Nine writers, ranging from the celebrated to the newly emerging, have been named on the longlist for the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
The Prize longlist, announced by the judges on 6 March, 2016, includes three genre categories: books of poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction.
The poetry category includes BURN, the second book by Trinidadian Andre Bagoo, alongside two books by authors better known for their fiction: Providential, by US-based Jamaican writer Colin Channer, and Wife, by Tiphanie Yanique of the US Virgin Islands (previous winner of the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize — Fiction). “We were delighted to read a set of poetry collections remarkable for their range of focus and poetic method,” write the prize judges. “Each entry made its own claims on us in terms of originality, appeal, and ambition. Throughout our discussions, all the collections impressed upon us the vitality of today’s voices in contemporary Caribbean poetry.”
The fiction category brings together books by two already prizewinning authors and the debut publication of an exciting new talent. Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis — born in Trinidad and based in Canada — is a gripping fable about intelligence, communication, and love told through a cohort of canine characters. It previously won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2015 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, two of Canada’s leading literary awards. The Whale House, by Trinidadian Sharon Millar, collects stories of contemporary T&T as lyrical as they are emotionally fierce, including the title piece, winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The Pain Tree, by Canada-based Jamaican Olive Senior (previous winner of the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize — Non-Fiction), is a collection of short fiction broad in scope, ranging over Jamaican society of the past century, deftly capturing moments of triumph and crisis in individual lives.
Apart from the three longlisted fiction titles, the judges also singled out Madinah Girl, the debut novel by Trinidadian writer Anna Levi, for special mention. Through a story of family turmoil, the book offers an unflinching picture of contemporary Trinidad and its underworld culture.
In the non-fiction category, two books of personal memoir join a work of historical scholarship. The Gymnast and Other Positions, by US-based Jamaican Jacqueline Bishop, is a hybrid collection of essays, interviews, and stories that investigate the private and creative life of a writer and artist. ’Membering, by Austin Clarke, is the memoir of the Barbados-born writer, long resident in Canada, and sometimes called the first multicultural writer of his adopted country. The book ranges from childhood reminiscences to meditations on race and politics, all told in the author’s signature lyrical style. Ties That Bind: The Black Family in Post-Slavery Jamaica, 1834–1882, by Jenny M. Jemmot, is a groundbreaking historical study focusing on family relationships and networks in the aftermath of slavery, challenging longstanding stereotypes and chronicling black Jamaicans’ attempts to reclaim autonomy and dignity.
The winners in each category will be announced on 24 March, 2016, and the Prize of US$10,000 will be presented to the overall winner on Saturday 30 April at a special ceremony during the sixth annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain (27 April–1 May). The other two genre winners are awarded US$3,000.
The 2016 judging panels for the OCM Bocas Prize gather distinguished Caribbean and international writers, scholars, and editors. Gemma Robinson, UK-based editor and biographer of Guyanese poet Martin Carter, chairs the poetry panel, which includes St. Lucian poet and cultural archivist John Robert Lee and Indian poet and translator Vivek Narayanan. The fiction panel comprises Canada-based Trinidadian writer Ramabai Espinet as chair, Claire Armitstead, Literary Editor of the UK Guardian, and Jamaican Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize and 2015 OCM Bocas Prize — Fiction.
NYU-based scholar J. Michael Dash, chair of the non-fiction panel, is joined by Barbara Lalla, Professor Emerita of Language and Literature at UWI, St. Augustine, and US-based Puerto Rican scholar Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, biographer of the Dominican writer Phyllis Shand Allfrey. The overall chair of the 2016 cross-judging panel is lauded Trinidadian-Canadian writer Dionne Brand, former Poet Laureate of Toronto, and the Prize vice-chair is literary scholar Marjorie Thorpe.