For the first time in the six-year history of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, books by women authors have been named as winners of all three genre categories of the Caribbean’s top writers’ award, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
From the longlist of nine books, the Prize judges have chosen Wife, by US Virgin Islands writer Tiphanie Yanique, as the poetry winner; The Pain Tree, by Jamaican Olive Senior, as fiction winner; and The Gymnast and Other Positions, by Jamaican Jacqueline Bishop, as non-fiction winner.
The three books will now enter the final round of judging, and vie for the overall award of US$10,000, to be presented on 30 April during the 2016 NGC Bocas Lit Fest (running 23 April to 1 May) in Port of Spain.
In Wife, Tiphanie Yanique’s unflinching first book of poems, the writer looks sharply at relationships and the language we use to make and shape them. The result, write the judges, “is a collection suspended between the definitional and provisional, between criticism and comedy…. Working within the territories of family, race, sex, inequality, and love,” the judges go on, “Yanique always challenges our sense of the self, the lyrical, and asks how feeling might look and sound in poetry.” Born in the US Virgin Islands and based in New York City, Yanique won the fiction category of the inaugural OCM Bocas Prize in 2011 for her short story collection How To Escape from a Leper Colony, and was longlisted for the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for her debut novel Land of Love and Drowning.
The fiction category judges commend Olive Senior’s prose in The Pain Tree for its “command of linguistic usage that is at home in every register of Jamaican patwah.” The short stories in this collection, write the judges, “hover around a persistent question: What lies just below the skin of everyday life? Lifting the veil — the caul, the face customised to the world’s demands — leads to surprising discoveries about apparently ordinary lives. Cruelty, manipulation, Jamaican lore, all blend seamlessly into charting a parallel world view that is anchored in its own legitimacy.” Based in Canada, Senior is also a past honoree of the OCM Bocas Prize, wining the non-fiction category in 2015 for her book Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal.
The Gymnast and Other Positions by NYC-based Jamaican Jacqueline Bishop is a hybrid collection of essays, stories, and interviews. “In a category where autobiographies abound,” write the judges, “Bishop’s mosaic of fragmented narratives is as original as it is insightful. Modern, spontaneous and formally innovative, it blurs the boundaries between the real and the imagined in a journey of self-discovery through the arts of the imagination in the Caribbean and elsewhere. The reader’s pleasure is in negotiating the surprising detours and revealing digressions that the gymnast invites us to follow.”
The final cross-genre judging panel for the Prize, headed by lauded Trinidadian-Canadian writer Dionne Brand, includes writer Ramabai Espinet and scholars Gemma Robinson and J. Michael Dash, joined by permanent Prize vice-chair Marjorie Thorpe.