More Than A Literary Festival

Winning young adult books by Caribbean authors


If you did not have the opportunity or the inkling to attend the recently-concluded Bocas Lit Fest, then let me assure you that you have deprived yourself of one of the most pleasurable literary experiences imaginable in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Bocas Lit Fest was packed with opportunities to develop the craft of writing in writing workshops. There were opportunities to learn from well-known writers who are making their mark on the world. This year, Bocas Lit Fest featured two stalwarts in the literary world: Jamaican writers Olive Senior and Marlon James.

Every year Caribbean writers vie for the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, which recognises outstanding writing for young adults by Caribbean authors. First, second and third place winners are chosen.

Last year, I was Head Judge for this Award, and the three books we chose blew me away. They’re dope, as everyone likes to say today for the highest form of praise.  Each book is distinctly different, and each book could have been the first prize winner.

My fellow judges and I did not have an easy time last year deciding the order of the winners. We decided in the end on Children of the Spider simply because it was distinctly different, and it took the most creative chances. It reminded me of the magical realism novels by Guyanese writer Wilson Harris. Wilson’s writing is often difficult for many readers to decipher because they are so far left on the magical spectrum of magical realism. Children of the Spider interpreted Harris’s theory of magical realism in a very reader-friendly, Young Adult (YA) way.

So, here is some more on the winners from 2015. They are now available in local book stores.

Children of the Spider - CoverlrChildren of the Spider by Guyanese writer Imam Baksh is a hearty combination of folklore, myth adventure and sic/fi.  It fits comfortably within dystopian literature as well. This is the story of Magali, who leaves behind her home in another world, Zolpash, as she journeys to Guyana where she meets Joseph, a boy who cannot speak. In many ways this YA West Indian novel is a dystopian takeoff on traditional anancy tales. It has an important message about communication, packaged in a riveting read.  There’s nothing quite like this book.  If you liked Lisa Allen-Agostini’s sci/fi novel The Chalice Project, you’ll love this book.


Gone to Drift CoverGone to Drift by Jamaican writer Diana McCaulay is a beautifully written mystery/adventure set on the island of Jamaica.  Here, Lloyd, a poor boy from a fishing village, is devastated when he learns that his grandfather is missing at sea.  Everyone wants Lloyd to accept that his beloved grandfather is gone, but Lloyd refuses to give up.  Instead, he enlists the help of a girl who studies dolphins, his best friend Dwight, and a mad man called Slowly to find his grandfather.  This novel addresses the problem of boys growing up without a father. A fast-moving plot, beautiful imagery and compelling characters make this book a winner.


Dancing in the Rain CoverDancing in the Rain by Trinidadian writer Lynn Joseph is a touching story of a 12-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic. Elizabeth’s life changes when a family member dies after terrorists bring down the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11.  Determined to find happiness – even when those around her unhappy – Elizabeth finds new meaning for her life when two boys arrive on the island.  This too is a beautifully written story of faith, friendship, happiness and loss.  It is a special story that transcends Caribbean boundaries and becomes international literature.

Ask your favourite book store for these books. When you support Caribbean literature, you keep Caribbean books in print.

This article was first published in the Trinidad Newsday on Monday, May 16 2016. 

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