A debut novel described by the judges as “rollicking, enjoyable, and at times incredibly moving” has been named the outstanding Caribbean book of the past year.
Pleasantview, the first book by Trinidad and Tobago’s Celeste Mohammed, is the winner of the overall 2022 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, which comes with a cash award of US$10,000, sponsored by One Caribbean Media, the region’s largest media house.
This is only the second time in twelve years that a debut author has won the most prestigious international award for Caribbean writing. Pleasantview, a “novel in stories” set in contemporary Trinidad, was published in the US by Ig Publishing and in the UK by Jacaranda Books.
Trinidadian-British writer Roger Robinson, chief judge for the prize, made the announcement during the virtual award ceremony on Saturday 30 April during this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Four Days to Change the World, livestreamed via the Bocas Lit Fest website, YouTube, and Facebook.
Robinson — himself the winner of the 2019 T.S. Eliot Prize — was joined on the final judging panel by Puerto Rican poet and academic Mayra Santos Febres, British academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari, and Belizean biographer and attorney Godfrey Smith. They named Pleasantview the winner from a shortlist of the three books previously named the genre category winners of the 2022 OCM Bocas Prize. Jamaican Jason Allen-Paisant’s debut book Thinking with Trees was the poetry winner, and Jamaican Kei Miller’s essay collection Things I Have Withheld the non-fiction winner.
In his judge’s remarks, Roger Robinson commented, “Mohammed troubles our sense of an island as a place of good-time celebration. The characters seem so bound to place and class, so clearly portrayed, that it could feel like these events were real or that the book could be documentary in its scope, making the reader remind themselves that the book is a work of fiction.
“Pleasantview is also innovative in its form; the interlocking landscape of the stories giving us an overview of love, struggle, and dilemma; but never seeming forced or contrived…. Pleasantview is a great feat for any novel, far less a first novel, and the judges were unanimous in their decision.”
Celeste Mohammed is a lawyer-turned-writer. She was the recipient of a 2018 PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. She was also awarded the 2019 Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction, and the 2017 John D Gardner Memorial Prize for Fiction.