Nine books by writers with roots in seven Caribbean territories have been longlisted for the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
Now in its tenth year, and internationally regarded as the leading literary award for Caribbean writers, the OCM Bocas Prize recognises books in three genre categories — poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction — published by Caribbean authors in the preceding year. Women writers dominate the 2020 Prize, accounting for seven of the nine listed books.
In the poetry category, the longlist brings together three writers of the contemporary generation. Honeyfish by US-based Trinidadian Lauren K. Alleyne is commended by the judges for “the refusal of silence this book issues with its references to the dangers faced by the Black body in ‘America.’ These urgent poems consider legacy, inheritance, and survival in verses that feel spontaneous, accurate, and mysterious (to quote Elizabeth Bishop) simultaneously — a feat not often accomplished.”
Skin Can Hold by Trinidadian-Scottish poet Vahni Capildeo — a former winner of the Forward Prize — “is compelling, dazzling; the book constructs a world in which speakers react to writers and thinkers ranging from Walter Benjamin to Martin Carter to Shakespeare. Its intertextuality is textured by irony and polyvocality, and its inherent hybridity raises the bar for what poetry can formally achieve.”
And Epiphaneia, the third collection by Richard Georges of the British Virgin Islands, set in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, “takes a deep breath and presents us with poems that outlast the storm, but sound the depths of survival and resilience, rather than being content to take refuge in them. Here we are enabled to comprehend disaster with an alertness to complexity that carries us beyond the usual triad of narrative, lamentation, and outrage.”
The fiction category brings together books by three women writers, ranging from a debut author to a contemporary icon. In The Confessions of Frannie Langton — winner of the 2019 Costa Book Award for First Novel — UK-based Caymanian Sara Collins “delivers a thriller that does not slacken pace,” say the judges, “the psychological tension of the Caribbean Gothic heightened rather than tempered by Frannie’s methodical and scholarly turn of mind … and by a doomed love drama that inescapably shocks its early nineteenth century audience in the Old Bailey.”
Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat’s Everything Inside “comprises profoundly resonant short stories about characters caught between two worlds, their painful pasts all the more moving for being subtly delivered, so the full weight of their experience gathers in the reader’s consciousness.”
In A Tall History of Sugar, US-based Jamaican Curdella Forbes “delivers an innovative and poignant novel where unexpected — almost magical — events and circumstances convince through sensitive and vivid language and through precise evocation of setting. Her expert construction of fragile and robust characters, among whom even the most delicate is vibrant, compels the reader until the end.”
The books longlisted in the non-fiction category all explore questions of history, whether communal, intellectual, or personal. In Moments of Cooperation and Incorporation, Jamaican Erna Brodber offers six connected essays that study links between African-Americans and Jamaica between 1782 and 1996, based on the creative use of archival research, genealogical investigations, and oral history. “As we would expect from an acclaimed novelist who is also an academic sociologist and social historian,” write the judges, “it is beautifully written in a literary style.”
Barbadian Aaron Kamigusha’s Beyond Coloniality is a study of the radical intellectual tradition of the twentieth-century Caribbean, with special reference to C.L.R. James and Sylvia Wynter. “It is an erudite work which combines compelling and deeply researched academic analysis with creative and sophisticated literary criticism … often underscored with a thoughtful and poetic tone.”
Shame on Me by Guyanese-Canadian Tessa McWatt “is a meditation on race, belonging, identity, family, and migration, organized as an ‘anatomy of race and belonging’ … This is a beautifully written, profoundly moving, and deeply reflective book.”
The winner of the overall Prize of US$10,000 will be announced in May 2020.
The 2020 judging panels for the OCM Bocas Prize bring together Caribbean and international writers, academics, and critics. Laurence A. Breiner, literary scholar based at Boston University, chairs the poetry panel, which also includes poets Rajiv Mohabir and Sandeep Parmar. On the fiction panel, chair Barbara Lalla — linguist, novelist, and professor emerita at the University of the West Indies — is joined by UK publisher Candida Lacey and Jamaican fiction writer and literary journalist Sharon Leach. Trinidadian historian and UWI professor emerita Bridget Brereton chairs the non-fiction panel, joined by Guyanese-American scholar and editor Grace Aneiza Ali and UK editor and publisher Ursula Owen.
The overall chair of the 2020 cross-judging panel is the eminent novelist Earl Lovelace, himself a former winner of the OCM Bocas Prize, among numerous other honours.
Honeyfish, by Lauren K. Alleyne (Peepal Tree Press)
Skin Can Hold, by Vahni Capildeo (Carcanet Press)
Epiphaneia, by Richard Georges (Out-spoken Press)
The Confessions of Frannie Langton, by Sara Collins (Viking UK)
Everything Inside, by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)
A Tall History of Sugar, by Curdella Forbes (Akashic)
Moments of Cooperation and Incorporation: African American and African Jamaican Connections, 1782–1996, by Erna Brodber (University of the West Indies Press)
Beyond Coloniality: Citizenship and Freedom in the Caribbean Intellectual Tradition, by Aaron Kamugisha (Indiana University Press)
Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging, by Tessa McWatt (Scribe)