Welcome to the latest installment of the Bocas Book Bulletin, a monthly roundup of Caribbean literary news, curated by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival, and published in the Sunday Express.
Black Light Void: Dark Visions of the Caribbean (Hansib Publications), edited by Marsha Pearce, assembles six short stories by prizewinning T&T writers in response to the art of Edward Bowen. These new pieces, by Kevin Jared Hosein, Barbara Jenkins, Sharon Millar, Amílcar Sanatan, Portia Subran and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw, use ekphrasis to examine and comment on society. Emphasis is placed on how navigations of Caribbean “darkness” become not only possible, but preferable, when we deepen our understandings of the dark itself.
The House of Plain Truth (Zibby Media), the second novel by Jamaican Donna Hemans, treads the ruptured ground of family dislocations. Traversing Jamaica, Brooklyn, and Cuba, the plot focuses on a patriarch’s final dying wish, and the ensuing actions of his daughter Pearline to see it done. Uncovering more shocking domestic situations than several of the book’s characters bargain for, The House of Plain Truth employs suspense and drama in the investigation of its deepest traumas, and its hard-won joys.
Naniki (Dundurn Press) by Oonya Kempadoo channels First People’s knowledge, presenting an elemental world in which protagonists Amana and Skelele contend with environmental devastation on their quest towards a spirit-infused Caribbean. Kempadoo, born in the United Kingdom to Guyanese parents, incorporates Taíno and African ancestries into the building of her characters, portraying a world that is dissimilar to our own while retaining certain undeniable affinities. The novel contemplates the nature of changefulness and shape-shifting, parallel to a threatened ecosystem.
Broughtupsy (House of Anansi, Canada; Catapult, US) by Christina Cooke spotlights a burgeoning intimate relationship between Akúa and Jayda, in a Jamaica where attitudes towards LGBTQ+ identities are emotionally mercurial, often carrying hidden consequences. This debut layers self-awakenings against a fraught sociopolitical backdrop, exploring a kaleidoscope of attitudes towards class, gender, desire, and autonomy. Grief and mourning also play pivotal roles in the novel, as siblings Akua and Tamika must navigate life in the wake of their brother’s Bryson’s passing.
Santa Tarantula (University of Notre Dame Press) by Jordan Pérez, is the winner of the tenth Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. Anchoring themselves in Cuban history and identity, the poems range from covering minorities abuse in Camagüey’s forced labour camps of the 1960s, to women striving to live fearlessly in the aftermath of sexual assault. Tracking systemic violence, Pérez’s poems focus on the patterns of generational unwellness governing families and communities. This debut combines coming-of-age narratives with historical significance.
Awards and Prizes
Self-Portrait as Othello, the sophomore book of poems by Jamaican Jason Allen-Paisant, was named the winner of the 2023 T.S. Eliot Prize at a ceremony in January, taking a cash award of £25,000. The book previously won the 2023 Forward Prize for Best Book of Poems. The judges called it “a book with large ambitions that are met with great imaginative capacity, freshness, and technical flair.” Allen-Paisant won the 2022 OCM Bocas Prize for Poetry with his debut book, Thinking with Trees.
Kevin Jared Hosein’s Hungry Ghosts has been longlisted for the 2024 Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize. The award, which carries a cash prize of £20,000, is open to writers aged 39 and under, and is named after Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas, who died at 39. The prize shortlist will be announced on 21 March; Hungry Ghosts is the only Caribbean contender.
Breanne Mc Ivor’s novel The God of Good Looks has earned a longlist spot in the 55th NAACP Image Awards, in the category of “Outstanding Literary Work — Debut Author”. Presented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the awards celebrate achievements in film, television, theatre, music, and literature. Award winners will be announced on 16 March.
The 2024 NGC Bocas Lit Fest will run from Thursday 25 to Sunday 28 April, with a packed programme of readings, discussions, performances, workshops and more, plus a full programme of events for children. The festival — the largest annual literary event in the Anglophone Caribbean — returns once more to its traditional home at the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago, with satellite events at other venues. The programme, launching in March, will include the announcement ceremony for the 2024 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, on Saturday 27 April.
Online registrations are now open for all contenders keen to enter the 2024 First Citizens National Poetry Slam. Auditions will be held live and in-person at the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) branches in San Fernando, Port of Spain, and Scarborough, on 17, 18, and 25 February, respectively. The theme of this year’s competition is Enter the Dragon’s Mouth, with the grand finale of the Slam set for 28 April. Kyle Hernandez, the reigning champion, won the $50,000 grand prize in 2023, with second and third places going to Derron Sandy and Alexandra Stewart. For further details and to register, visit www.bocaslitfest.com/youth/poetry-slam/.
Independent bookshop Paper Based (paperbased.org) shares its top-selling Caribbean titles for the past month:
1. Pay As You Go, by Eskor David Johnson
2. Goodbye Bay, by Jennifer Rahim
3. Masman, by Peter Minshall
4. Curfew Chronicles, by Jennifer Rahim
5. How to Say Babylon, by Safiya Sinclair