The influence of Trinidad-born, US-based Caribbeanist scholar Sandra Pouchet Paquet in shaping decades of intellectual and critical thought is impossible to understate. This year, the Bocas Lit Fest is awarding her the 2023 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters, in recognition of her pioneering contributions to the fields of academia, literature, and cultural studies.
Founded in 2013, the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award is named for Anglo-Irish radio producer Henry Swanzy, whose tenure at the Caribbean Voices programme from 1946 to 1954 engaged the work of West Indian writers with insight and depth. Following in the footsteps of Jamaican Una Marson, who founded Caribbean Voices, Swanzy’s role in foregrounding Caribbean literature to an international audience was without parallel.
Created by the Bocas Lit Fest in Swanzy’s memory, this award celebrates the contributions of editors, broadcasters, publishers, critics, and others who have devoted their careers to developing Caribbean literature. These champions of Caribbean letters often worked behind the scenes and without fanfare. Bocas Henry Swanzy Awardees are chosen by the festival’s organising committee and honoured annually at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
In conferring this award on Pouchet Paquet, the Bocas Lit Fest recognises her generous innovations in the field of Caribbean literary studies. One of the first Caribbeanist scholars at a US university, Pouchet Paquet entered a field that was in flux, and committed herself to its transformation. In the 1990s, in addition to educating and mentoring students, she directed the University of Miami’s Caribbean Writers Summer Institute, a groundbreaking initiative that shaped the careers of a generation of authors who soon became leading figures in Caribbean literature.
With her founding in 2003 of Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal, Pouchet Paquet established an early born-digital journal that would swiftly be regarded as a rich repository for peer-reviewed scholarship of both academic and creative foundations.
Born in Trinidad, Sandra Pouchet Paquet pursued undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the United States. After a transformational three-year period of teaching at the University of the West Indies, Mona (1974–77), Pouchet Paquet took on Assistant Professorships at the Universities of Hartford and Pennsylvania before her developmental journey with the University of Miami began. Her advocacy for the study, inclusion, and interweaving of Caribbean scholarship into the wider academic community characterised her pedagogy at its earliest levels, and strengthened upon each appointment.
Powerful and generative connections with Derek Walcott and George Lamming would keenly impact Pouchet Paquet’s career and its directions. Crediting Lamming with being her first true educator in Caribbean literature, Pouchet Paquet’s own critical writings on Lamming’s work have been prolific, sustained, and vigorous: her book The Novels of George Lamming (Heinemann, 1980) remains a seminal text.
The range of interests across her other books and journal publications is testament to a keenly engaged critical consciousness, one committed to exploring Caribbean feminisms, Afro-Caribbean studies, and studies of the diaspora, among numerous areas of interest.
In its decade-long history, the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award has been presented to a distinguished and diverse line-up of Caribbean literary professionals and advocates: John La Rose and Sarah White of New Beacon Books in 2013; literary critics Kenneth Ramchand and Gordon Rohlehr in 2014; editor Margaret Busby in 2015; publisher Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press in 2016; bookseller Joan Dayal of Paper Based Bookshop in 2017; editor Anne Walmsley in 2018; publisher Ian Randle in 2019; scholar and editor Kamau Brathwaite in 2020; literary critics Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris in 2021; and educators and scholars Funso Aiyejina and Merle Hodge in 2022.
The Bocas Henry Swanzy Award will be formally presented to Sandra Pouchet Paquet on Saturday 29 April as part of the 2023 NGC Bocas Lit Fest’s prize ceremony.
The 2023 NGC Bocas Lit Fest runs from 28 to 30 April.
The National Gas Company is title sponsor of the festival; OCM, First Citizens, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, NLCB, and the British Council are main sponsors; Massy Foundation and UWI are sponsors.