More Than A Literary Festival

Bocas Book Bulletin: May 2024

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.

New Releases

Village Weavers (Tin House), by Haitian-Canadian-American Myriam J.A. Chancy, intertwines the lives and fates of two diametrically opposed girls, Gertrude and Sisi, beginning in 1940s Port-au-Prince and wending through their growth into adulthood. When their separate yet enmeshed journeys reconnect some six decades later, the narrative reveals several shocking secrets.

The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh (Faber & Faber), by Trinidadian Ingrid Persaud pivots on the lives of four women who loved and feared Boysie Singh. Popo, Mana Lala, Doris, and Rosie contend with their sequestered and less hidden feelings for the notorious criminal, while striving to survive him.

Popa Singer (University of Virginia Press) by Haitian René Depestre, translated from the French by Kaiama L. Glover, renders an account of Haiti’s tumultuous 1950s history, told from the perspective of a resourceful seamstress, Dianira Fontoriol, also known as “Popa Singer”. The work blends satire and fantasy to achieve its portrait of a dissonant time.

A Trace of Sun (Legend Press) by Pam Williams, longlisted for the 2024 Women’s Prize for Fiction, is a semi-autobiographical novel of mother-son estrangement and reunion, moving between Grenada and England. Williams, of Grenadian parentage, presents Raef and Cilla through compassionate frameworks, involving mental health concerns to tell their story.

Reinbou (Astra House) by Puerto Rican-born, Dominican Republic-based Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell, frames the Dominican Civil War of 1965 through a child’s memories and frenetic misadventures. Cabiya portrays a society governed by misrule, punctured by bloody conflict, still in the minds of those who endured this era of political instability.

Awards and Prizes

Safiya Sinclair’s How to Say Babylon (Fourth Estate, UK; Simon & Schuster; US) won the overall 2024 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, announced at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest on 27 April 27. The prize confers a cash award of US$10,000, sponsored by One Caribbean Media. How to Say Babylon was described by the prize judges as “a moving work of intense power … demonstrating a remarkable command of narrative, from the minute level of the sentence to the seemingly effortless management of a story arc of epic scope.”

Fiction winner Kevin Jared Hosein and poetry winner Nicole Sealey received US$3,000 each from One Caribbean Media for their category wins.

Shakirah Burton has claimed first place in the 2024 First Citizens National Poetry Slam, receiving a $50,000 cash award from title sponsors First Citizens for her win. She accepted the prize at a sold-out audience at Queen’s Hall on 28 April, during the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Draped in a jacket emblazoned with $100 bills and the defiant declaration “Voice of 99%”, Burton personified the voiceless, the marginalised, and the overlooked in her winning performance. Second and third place winners Alexandra C. Stewart and Seth Sylvester were awarded $20,000 and $10,000, respectively. 

Other News

Paper Based Bookshop announces their first Evening of Tea and Readings of 2024, to be held on Saturday 1 June, 2024, 5.30 pm, at The Chancellor Hotel. Five authors of fiction and non-fiction — Vaneisa Baksh (Son of Grace); Kevin Jared Hosein (Hungry Ghosts); Andy Johnson (From Los Bajos to the World); Barbara Lalla (By Such a Parting Light); and Celeste Mohammed (A Different Energy) — will share from their books, which encompass biography, autobiography, journalism, intergenerational relationships, 1940s historical barracks living, oil and gas histories, and more. Bookings are essential. Tickets, priced at $160, can be purchased in-store at Paper Based Bookshop, The Writers Centre, 14 Alcazar Street, St. Clair, or via email at [email protected].

The Cropper Foundation has opened a call for submissions for a climate justice anthology, Writing for Our Lives, edited by Funso Aiyejina, Co-Facilitator of the Cropper Foundation Residential Writers Workshop from its inception in 2000 through 2019. Administered under The Cropper Foundation’s Today Today, Congotay! Project, Writing for Our Lives will accept entries in fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry by Caribbean nationals and residents that respond to the urgency of the climate crisis for people and communities of Caribbean states.

Submissions close on 7 June, 2024. Full submission guidelines and criteria are available at https://thecropperfoundation.org/writingforourlives/.

Caribbean Bestsellers

Independent bookshop Paper Based (Instagram: @paperbasedbookshop) shares its top-selling Caribbean titles for the past month:

  • 1. The Lost Love Songs of Boysie Singh, by Ingrid Persaud
  • 2. How to Say Babylon, by Safiya Sinclair
  • 3. A Literary Friendship, by Gordon Rohlehr
  • 4. Uprooting, by Marchelle Farrell
  • 5. Hungry Ghosts, by Kevin Jared Hosein

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