Nine books by writers from four Caribbean countries have been announced on the longlist for the 2019 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
Widely recognised as 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.
In the poetry category, the longlist brings together three writers considered part of a new wave of talent pushing Caribbean poetry in fresh directions. Doe Songs, the debut book by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné of Trinidad and Tobago, “investigates the personal and the political, deploying a stunning range of imagery and themes,” write the judges. “Mothers and daughters, hunters and the hunted, metal and fire meet in this dazzling constellation of archetypes that moves us to a new understanding of the Caribbean landscape.” Loretta Collins Klobah of Puerto Rico is longlisted for her second poetry collection, Ricantations: “richly observed stories told by a poet with an acute eye. We are made to see the extraordinary within the ordinary, to find music and richly varied textures in the penumbra between languages and societies.” And Giant by Richard Georges of the British Virgin Islands — another sophomore collection — is “a work of great economy and beauty, that builds steadily like a wave, to moments of the sublime,” write the judges. “This is a book that knows ‘here’ and ‘home’ are not the same thing.”
In the fiction category, all three longlisted books are by writers from Trinidad and Tobago living in the diaspora. The books, write the judges, are “all characterised by new and provocative approaches to form.” Cut Guavas, by US-based Robert Antoni (a former OCM Bocas Prizewinner) “adopts the form of a mock film script to dramatise the story of a Trinidadian movie star who can’t quite remember which role he’s playing.” It is joined by Theory, a novel by Canada-based Dionne Brand. “Its motivating energy,” write the judges, “can be boiled down to the question the protagonist asks herself: ‘Why am I here now and what is my next move?’ . . . challenging not only academic theorisations, but the very idea of identity itself.” The third longlisted work of fiction is Kitch, by UK-based Anthony Joseph. The novel “projects a kaleidoscopic picture of calypsonian Lord Kitchener in the voices of those who knew him. Using Creole as a multi-stringed poetic instrument, Joseph gives us a musician’s tribute to a musician, a wordsmith’s tale of another wordsmith.”
In addition to the longlisted books, the fiction judges also named two honourable mentions: Mouths Don’t Speak, a novel by the US-based Haitian writer Katia Ulysse, and Free, a novel by Canada-based Jamaican writer Martin Mordecai.
The 2019 OCM Bocas Prize non-fiction category assembles books by three professional scholars who seek in their writing to engage with a broader audience outside the academy. High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture, by Trinidadian Kevin Adonis Browne, combines the author’s own photography with a series of essays, ranging in form from memoir to prose poem, on T&T’s indigenous masquerade traditions. Going beyond history and narrative,” the judges write, “Browne peers into the soul of a people with whom he feels a deep kinship.” In The Slave Master of Trinidad: William Hardin Burnley and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World, US-based Trinidadian historian Selwyn R. Cudjoe writes the biography of a “founding father” of T&T who was a slave-owner, racist, and staunch imperialist. “The result is a tour de force that shifts effortlessly from the personal to the political and the local to the global,” write the judges. And in A Response to Enslavement: Playing Their Way to Virtue, Barbadian linguist Peter A. Roberts offers “a vital scholastic contribution to our understanding of the lived experience of slavery across the Caribbean and how it relates to contemporary culture . . . Its depictions of how enslaved people used song, dance, mime, and carousing to live and love through their subjugation are a crucial contribution to the restoration of their humanity in the public imagination.”
The winner of the overall Prize of US$10,000 will be announced on Saturday 4 May, during the ninth annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, running from 1 to 5 May.
The 2019 judging panels for the OCM Bocas Prize bring together Caribbean and international writers, academics, and critics. Geoffrey Philp, Jamaican poet and fiction writer, chairs the poetry panel, which also includes poets Andre Bagoo of Trinidad and Tobago and Nicole Sealey of the US Virgin Islands. On the fiction panel, chair Jane Bryce, literary scholar at UWI, Cave Hill, and a fiction writer herself, is joined by US-based Jamaican writer Marcia Douglas and scholar Schuyler Esprit of Dominica. British journalist Gary Younge, editor at large at the UK Guardian, chairs the non-fiction panel, which also includes literary scholar and editor Ivette Romero of Puerto Rico and the United States, and Trinidadian historian Brinsley Samaroo.
The overall chair of the 2018 cross-judging panel is the award-winning British fiction writer and scholar Marina Warner, who has family roots in both Trinidad and St. Kitts.
The nine longlisted books are:
Doe Songs, by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné (Peepal Tree Press)
Ricantations, by Loretta Collins Klobah (Peepal Tree Press)
Giant, by Richard Georges (Platypus Press)
Cut Guavas, by Robert Antoni (Peepal Tree Press)
Theory, by Dionne Brand (Penguin Random House Canada)
Kitch, by Anthony Joseph (Peepal Tree Press)
High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture, by Kevin Adonis Browne (University Press of Mississippi)
The Slave Master of Trinidad: William Hardin Burnley and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World, by Selwyn R. Cudjoe (University of Massachusetts Press)
A Response to Enslavement: Playing Their Way to Virtue, by Peter A. Roberts (University of the West Indies Press)