The judges for the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature have announced the winners of the three genre categories, which now form the shortlist for the overall prize.
The late Trinidadian Angelo Bissessarsingh’s Virtual Glimpses into the Past/A Walk Back in Time: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago (Queen Bishop Publishing) was chosen along with Augustown by Jamaican novelist Kei Miller (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) and Cannibal, by Jamaican poet Safiya Sinclair (University of Nebraska Press), from a longlist of nine books.
The three shortlisted titles will now enter the final round of judging, and vie for the overall award of US$10,000, to be presented on 29 April during the 2017 NGC Bocas Lit Fest (26–30 April) in Port of Spain.
Bissessarsingh’s Virtual Glimpses into the Past and A Walk Back in Time were considered by the non-fiction judges as two volumes of a larger work. They commend “these two interconnected volumes from a ravenous self-taught historian who has delved into national and personal archives of a people to summon up the past of Trinidad and Tobago.” The books contain collected vignettes from the history of Trinidad and Tobago, which the judges describe as “a graphic reminder of the rich architecture that must be preserved.”
Bissessarsingh, who passed away in early 2017 during the judging period, won a devoted following among T&T readers for his enthusiastic style and passion for research, and for his long-running Back In Times column in the Trinidad Guardian.
In the poetry category, the judges shortlisted books by three younger Jamaican poets, but it is the debut collection by Safiya Sinclair, Cannibal, that has made it to the top of the list. The judges thought the collection marks a fresh strong voice. They comment: “Sinclair manages to imbue her writing with such strength and spirit that it gives her poems a disturbing and provocative edge — sometimes shocking, and at other times soft and sensual.” Cannibal is haunted by the character of Caliban from The Tempest, as it explores Jamaican childhood and womanhood, and otherness in a strange place that may be the United States where the poet now lives, or language itself.
The fiction category judges commend Kei Miller’s historical epic Augustown, with its complexities of class, ethnicity, religion, and language. “It is a spell-binding novel,” they note, ”written in simple, well-limned, imagistic prose. It’s a novel that’s realistic — a realism grounded in history — and magic-realist.” Based in the UK, Miller won the coveted 2014 Forward Prize for Poetry and was shortlisted for the 2014 OCM Bocas Prize (non-fiction) for his book Writing Down the Vision: Essays and Prophecies.
The final cross-genre judging panel for the Prize, headed by eminent Jamaican poet and literary scholar Edward Baugh, includes Susheila Nasta, founder and editor of the UK journal Wasafiri, Kim Robinson-Walcott, editor of Jamaica Journal and Caribbean Quarterly, and David Dabydeen, the celebrated Guyanese writer based in the UK.