Books by three writers from Trinidad and Tobago have made the shortlist for the 2019 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
This is the first time in the history of the prize, first awarded in 2011, that writers from a single Caribbean country have won all three genre categories, forming the shortlist for the overall award.
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 4 May during the 2019 NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
Doe Songs (Peepal Tree Press), the debut book by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, is the winner in the poetry category. The collection, write the prize judges, “marks the arrival of an extraordinary voice. In poems haunted by Ovid, Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné investigates the personal and the political, deploying a stunning range of imagery and themes. 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 and its realities. An unforgettable book, as dulcet as it is ruthless.”
The winner in the fiction category is the novel Theory (Knopf Canada), by Dionne Brand, born in Trinidad and resident in Toronto. In the judges’ words, “Its motivating energy can be boiled down to the question the protagonist asks herself: ‘Why am I here now and what is my next move?’ This question is posed by an academic philosopher whose thesis, so brilliant and all-encompassing that it can never be completed, has entirely subsumed her life. Though she is a lesbian woman of Caribbean background, this playful, clever, sly, funny, honest, self-reflexive narrator takes all such identity markers entirely for granted. Brand resolutely refuses easy pieties, insisting instead on her ‘otherwise angled’ vision — a clear-eyed and unsentimental objectivity.”
And in the non-fiction category, the winner is High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture (University Press of Mississippi), by Kevin Adonis Browne. “Impressive in scope, lyrical in style, and innovative in form, High Mas impresses both as a work of literature and art,” write the judges. “Browne’s exceptional exploration of mas blends photographic essay, essay, memoir, poetry, polemic, and prose poetry to transformative effect. Going beyond the history and narrative, Browne peers into the soul of a people with whom he feels a deep kinship. The result is a radical, genre-defying tribute to a cherished tradition in the finest tradition of literary non-fiction.”
The final cross-genre judging panel for the prize, chaired by the celebrated writer Marina Warner, includes poet Geoffrey Philp, scholar and writer Jane Bryce, and journalist and editor Gary Younge.
Past winners of the OCM Bocas Prize are Jennifer Rahim, for Curfew Chronicles (2018); Kei Miller, for Augustown (2017); Olive Senior, for The Pain Tree (2016), Vladimir Lucien, for Sounding Ground (2015); Robert Antoni, for As Flies to Whatless Boys (2014); Monique Roffey, for Archipelago (2013); and Earl Lovelace for Is Just a Movie (2012). Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott was winner of the inaugural prize in 2011, for his poetry collection White Egrets.
The 2019 OCM Bocas Prize shortlist
Doe Songs, by Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné (Peepal Tree Press)
Theory, by Dionne Brand (Knopf Canada)
High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture, by Kevin Adonis Browne (University Press of Mississippi)