Bocas Lit Fest

Three books, two of them by first-time authors, have been shortlisted for the twelfth annual OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Debut authors Jason Allen-Paisant, a Jamaican based in the UK, and Trinidadian Celeste Mohammed are joined on the list by Kei Miller, a former winner of the OCM Bocas Prize, considered the most prestigious award for Caribbean writing. The Prize, sponsored by One Caribbean Media, recognises books in three genre categories — poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction — published by authors of Caribbean birth or citizenship in the preceding year.

The poetry category winner is Thinking with Trees, the debut book by Jason Allen-Paisant, described by the judges as “original, masterful, and beautiful.” This collection of poems “explores nature as a sacred palace for recollection in another tranquillity, far from the one proposed by Wordsworth, a recollection that makes memory present, that heals from the past of marginalisation.” Allen-Paisant, who grew up in rural Jamaica and now lives in Leeds in Britain, “invites us to think about a perpetual condition of ‘marronage’ for the Caribbean writer.”

Pleasantview, Celeste Mohammed’s “novel in stories,” has been named the winner in the fiction category by the Prize judges, who call it “an accomplished and powerful debut …. In Mohammed, we have found an exciting new talent.” Set in a fictional but immediately recognisable community in contemporary Trinidad, Pleasantview “has found a daring new way to paint the portrait of a community” through a series of interlocking stories and repeating characters, remark the judges. “Pleasantview is a gripping read, written with a deep sense of connection to people and place, both affectionate and loving, while clear-eyed and critical.”

In the non-fiction category, the judges have chosen the “elegant, poetic, and arrestingly sobering” essay collection Things I Have Withheldby Miami-based Jamaican Kei Miller, who was previously the overall winner of the OCM Bocas Prize in 2017. The book is “a deep and stirring excursion into the taboo,” say the judges — “the ‘dark’ places where truth and reality reside, often unrecognised and silent because of fear of discrimination, hatred, and prejudice … Miller summons up his courage and narrative voice as a Black Jamaican gay man to explore these unspoken truths in an unforgettable, layered and moving way.”

The three category winners will now contend for the overall OCM Bocas Prize for the best book of 2021, which comes with a cash award of US$10,000, to be announced on Saturday 30 April during the 12th annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Each category winner receives US$3,000. The overall chair of the 2022 judges is Trinidadian-British writer Roger Robinson, winner of the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize. He is joined on the final judging panel by Mayra Santos-Febres, Puerto Rican poet, academic, and executive director of Puerto Rico’s Festival de la Palabra; British academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari; and Godfrey Smith, a Belizean jurist, biographer, and himself a former winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Nonfiction

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