Bocas Lit Fest

The recent announcement that two Trinidad and Tobago writers Monique Roffey and Ingrid Persaud have been shortlisted for the 2020 Costa Book Awards rounds off an impressive year for TT and Caribbean writers and writing on the world stage.

Monique Roffey’s sixth novel The Mermaid of Black Conch (Peepal Tree Press), has been shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award, while Ingrid Persaud’s Love After Love (Faber) has made the Costa First Novel Award shortlist. Both written by award-winning writers, the titles have already won significant international critical acclaim since their releases earlier this year.

This is Roffey’s second time on the Costa Novel Award shortlist. She first made it six years ago with her third book House of Ashes (2014), drawn from the events of the 1990 attempted coup.

Roffey’s newest work weaves together myth and magical realism to tell a story of a cursed woman denied a rite of passage, surrendering to romantic and erotic love. Aycayia, a centuries old mermaid, is drawn to the singing of a fisherman, David. But her curiosity is her undoing when she is caught by American tourists. David rescues her and hides her away, where she slowly, painfully turns into a woman.

Ingrid Persaud’s Love After Love was hotly anticipated ever since the March 2019 revelation by Faber & Faber publishing house that they had acquired the debut novel by the winner of the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and the 2018 BBC Short Story Award.

It is the story of an unconventional family unit – Betty Ramdin, a widow, her son Solo and their lodger Mr Chetan – loving and depending on one another until a secret mistakenly overheard drives them apart and forces them to breaking point.

In an interview with journalist Janine Mendes-Franco, who makes a subtle reference to the book’s title which it shares with a classic Walcott poem, Persaud discloses, “I borrow the title of Walcott’s poem with deference and gratitude. In the act of loving another, do we not often carelessly lose sight of ourselves? I’m sure everyone can identify with that challenge…We should all heed that famous last line where the poet directs: ‘Sit. Feast on your life.’”

Excited by the stellar showing of the region’s writers in 2020, Bocas Lit Fest founder and director Marina Salandy-Brown says, “We started the year with Roger Robinson winning the distinguished TS Eliot prize for his poetry collection A Portable Paradise, which then goes on to pick up the Ondaajte Prize in May. In July, we get news of Ayanna Lloyd’s massive book deal with Hamish Hamilton for her debut The Gatekeepers (due for release in 2022), plus a further novel. Enter October, Malika Booker’s The Little Miracles cops the Best Single Poem in the Forward Prizes for Poetry.”

She adds, “And this is just some of what our Caribbean writers have been up to this year. I think it’s also worth recognising the ascendance of 2020 Man Booker chair Maragret Busby and 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction chair Bernadine Evaristo, as women of colour with their own record of firsts. This marks a move toward an unprecedented measure of diversity in the deliberation of these hallowed literary prizes. Along with Monique and Ingrid, these are all writers who’ve been involved with and continue to support the annual literary festival and the Bocas community.”

The Costa Book Awards is one of the UK’s most eminent and popular book prizes and celebrates the most enjoyable books of the year by writers resident in the UK and Ireland. Both Roffey and Persaud live between the UK and the Caribbean.

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