Six books by writers from five Caribbean countries have been announced on the longlist for the 2018 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
Considered the leading literary award for Caribbean writers, the Prize recognises books in three genre categories — poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction — published by Caribbean authors in the preceding year. The writers on the 2018 longlist range from internationally celebrated prizewinners to debut authors.
In the poetry category, the longlist brings together writers at different career stages. Barbadian Kamau Brathwaite’s Liviticus, a troubling account of what the poet calls his “cultural lynching,” has been described as “a monument to sorrow that cherishes our origins.” Brathwaite, recently honoured internationally with the PEN/Voelcker Award, has long been considered one of the Caribbean’s leading poets. Bahamian Sonia Farmer is a debut poet whose first full-length book, Infidelities, is also named to the Prize longlist. Inspired by the life of the eighteenth-century Irish-born pirate Anne Bonny, Farmer’s poems explore female independence, trauma, and desire, interweaving historical and contemporary perspectives. The final longlisted book in the poetry category, Madwoman, by Shara McCallum, similarly charts female perspectives from girlhood to motherhood, asking how our identities are shaped over time. This is the fifth book by the US-based Jamaican author.
In shortlisting these three books, the judges noted, “we were thinking of the representation of the materiality of the book itself and book art traditions in the Caribbean as part of the books’ meaning, as well as the fusion of local themes with international experimental approaches to form and voice, and the voices for our point in history going forward.”
In addition to the three longlisted books, the poetry judges have named Pitch Lake, by Trinidadian Andre Bagoo, for honourable mention.
In the fiction category, all three longlisted books are collections of short fiction, for the first time in the history of the OCM Bocas Prize. “Perhaps the short story is enjoying a new flowering,” suggest the judges. If I Had the Wings, the debut book by US-based Bahamian Helen Klonaris, collects powerful, lyrical stories about queer coming-of-age and family relationships in the contemporary Bahamas. Curfew Chronicles, by Trinidadian Jennifer Rahim, is a series of linked short stories unfolding over a period of twenty-four hours, with a cast of interconnected characters from all levels of society. The book offers a vivid portrait of a society at a moment of crisis, and the interpersonal bonds that shape and are shaped by public events. And Tell No-One About This, by Jacob Ross, ranges from the author’s native Grenada to Britain, where he settled later in life, and over a forty-year sweep of Caribbean history. From stories of childhood self-discovery to intimate accounts of the lives of resilient women, Ross’s short fictions share a poetic grounding in their landscapes.
Notably and also for the first time, all three longlisted books in the fiction category are from a single publisher, UK-based Peepal Tree Press.
In addition to the longlisted books, the fiction judges also named an honourable mention: Come Let Us Sing Anyway, by Jamaican-British Leone Ross.
The 2018 OCM Bocas Prize non-fiction judges have made an unprecedented decision to name no titles to the longlist. “While a few books stood head and shoulders above the rest,” write the judges, “even those had obvious shortcomings, and we believe that this prize ought to be awarded for achievement, not for effort.” None of the eligible books, the judges continue, “could be held to represent the best of regional writing.”
“We welcome this rigour,” says Marina Salandy-Brown, director of the Bocas Lit Fest, which administers the Prize. “We rely on the expertise of a panel of distinguished judges, who do their deliberations in complete independence. In declaring that no non-fiction books published in the past year meet the level of the prize, the judges uphold the standard that our writers must aim for.”
The winners in the poetry and fiction genre categories will be announced on 2 April, 2018, and the Prize of US$10,000 will be presented to the overall winner on Saturday 28 April, during the eighth annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, 25–29 April.
The 2018 judging panels for the OCM Bocas Prize bring together Caribbean and international writers, academics, and critics. Vahni Capildeo, the Forward Prize–winning Trinidadian writer based in the UK, chairs the poetry panel, which also includes Puerto Rican Loretta Collins Klobah and Haitian-American Danielle Legros Georges. On the fiction panel, chair Evelyn O’Callaghan, Jamaican professor of West Indian literature at UWI, Cave Hill, is joined by British literary critic Maya Jaggi and UK-based Jamaican writer Kei Miller. Trinidadian writer Judy Raymond, editor in chief of Newsday, chairs the non-fiction panel, which also includes Barbadian writer and editor Robert Edison Sandiford and UK-born, Trinidad-based writer and editor Jeremy Taylor.
The overall chair of the 2018 cross-judging panel is the celebrated Jamaican poet, memoirist, and fiction writer Lorna Goodison, who has just won a Windham Campbell Prize.
The six longlisted books are:
Liviticus, by Kamau Brathwaite (House of Nehesi)
Infidelities, by Sonia Farmer (Poinciana Paper Press)
Madwoman, by Shara McCallum (Peepal Tree Press/Alice James Books)
If I Had the Wings, by Helen Klonaris (Peepal Tree Press)
Curfew Chronicles, by Jennifer Rahim (Peepal Tree Press)
Tell No-One About This, by Jacob Ross (Peepal Tree Press)