Bocas Lit Fest

The 2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award

The 2021 recipients of the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters are Jamaicans Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris — both professors emeriti of the University of the West Indies. Baugh and Morris are widely considered pioneers of the study of West Indian literature, over careers that each span half a century.

Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris, the joint awardees for 2021, are both alumni of what was originally called the University College of the West Indies, and spent their careers teaching at UWI.

Based at the Cave Hill, Barbados, campus from 1965 to 1967, then at Mona, Jamaica, Baugh is best known as a scholar of Caribbean poetry, in particular the poetry of Derek Walcott, having written several books devoted to the work of the St Lucian Nobel Laureate. He also edited Walcott’s 2007 Selected Poems. In his book West Indian Poetry 1900–1970: A Study in Cultural Decolonisation, and in his broad-ranging scholarly essays — such as the groundbreaking “Towards a West Indian Criticism” and “The West Indian Writer and his Quarrel with History” — Baugh helped shape a distinctly Caribbean approach to criticism of the region’s literature, grounded in the Caribbean’s unique historical experiences.

Mervyn Morris, a lecturer at Mona since 1966, championed Caribbean oral poetry traditions from early in his career. His 1964 essay “On Reading Louise Bennett, Seriously”, was a landmark in scholarly attention to the literature of Jamaican Patwa, which Morris extended in the 1970s to the growing number of Jamaican dub poets. Many of his key earlier essays are collected in the book Is English We Speaking. Morris also mentored several generations of Jamaican poets, editing and anthologising their work. In 2014 he was appointed Poet Laureate of Jamaica — the first since Independence — in which role he worked to raise the profile of poetry across the country, highlighting the work of younger writers.

Five decades ago, the introduction of West Indian literature as a subject of formal academic study at UWI’s Mona campus was considered a bold and unprecedented development. Baugh and Morris, alongside other UWI colleagues, through their research, writing, teaching, and generous mentorship, were instrumental in decisively establishing a Caribbean school of literary scholarship which has contributed to the flowering of contemporary Caribbean writing and literary studies.

Baugh and Morris are also accomplished and lauded poets, whose creative practice has inevitably informed and enriched their research. But it is their achievements as scholars, teachers, editors, mentors, and advocates which the 2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award recognises and honours.

The 2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award will be formally presented to Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris in a virtual event on 24 April, part of the 2021 NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

About the Award

 

In 2013, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest inaugurated a new annual lifetime achievement award to recognise service to Caribbean literature by editors, publishers, critics, broadcasters, and others. The Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters is named for the late BBC radio producer (1915–2004) who created a landmark platform for Caribbean writing in the 1940s and 50s through the Caribbean Voices programme, which broadcast fiction and poems by West Indian writers across the region.

The Bocas Lit Fest founded the award to honour and celebrate the contributions of the editors, broadcasters, publishers, critics, and others who have shaped the evolution of Caribbean literature behind the scenes. Recipients are chosen by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest organising committee.

In previous years, the Award was presented to publishers John La Rose and Sarah White of New Beacon Books, in 2013; literary critics Kenneth Ramchand and Gordon Rohlehr, in 2014; editor and broadcaster Margaret Busby in 2015; publisher Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press in 2016; bookseller Joan Dayal of Paper Based Bookshop, in 2017; editor and scholar Anne Walmsley in 2018; publisher Ian Randle in 2019; and scholar and editor Kamau Brathwaite in 2020.

Past Awardees

Edward Baugh

Author

2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award recipients are Mervyn Morris and Edward Baugh for their instrumental role in decisively establishing a Caribbean school of literary scholarship. They are widely considered pioneers of the study of West Indian literature, over careers that each span half a century.

Mervyn Morris

Author

2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2021 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award recipients are Mervyn Morris and Edward Baugh for their instrumental role in decisively establishing a Caribbean school of literary scholarship. They are widely considered pioneers of the study of West Indian literature, over careers that each span half a century.

Kamau Brathwaite

Author

2020 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2020 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to Kamau Brathwaite for his landmark work as a literary activist, critic and editor.

Ian Randle

Publisher

2019 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2019 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to publishing pioneer Ian Randle of Jamaica, founder and chairman of Ian Randle Publishers Limited, which he founded in 1990 as the Caribbean’s first commercial scholarly publishing company.

Anne Walmsley

Publisher

2018 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2018 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to Anne Walmsley, writer, editor, and researcher, the former publisher of Longman Caribbean, editor of the landmark anthologies The Sun’s Eye and Facing the Sea, and historian of the Caribbean Artists’ Movement (CAM).

Joan Dayal

Bookseller

2017 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2017 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to bookseller Joan Dayal, proprietor of Paper Based Books, one of Trinidad and Tobago’s and the Caribbean’s leading independent bookshops.

Jeremy Poynting

Publisher

2016 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2016 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to publisher and editor Jeremy Poynting, founder of Peepal Tree Press, which over the past thirty years has become the leading publisher of Caribbean poetry and fiction.

Margaret Busby

Publisher

2015 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2015 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to publisher, editor, and broadcaster Margaret Busby, OBE, co-founder of the publishing house Allison & Busby, in recognition of her decades-long work promoting Caribbean, African, and Black British writers and publishers in the United Kingdom.

Gordon Rohlehr

Author

2014 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2014 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to literary critics Kenneth Ramchand and Gordon Rohlehr, both professors emeriti of the University of the West Indies, in recognition of their role in establishing West Indian literature as an academic discipline, and their groundbreaking critical work on the writings of Caribbean authors.

Ken Ramchand

Author

2014 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2014 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to literary critics Kenneth Ramchand and Gordon Rohlehr, both professors emeriti of the University of the West Indies, in recognition of their role in establishing West Indian literature as an academic discipline, and their groundbreaking critical work on the writings of Caribbean authors.

Sarah White

Speaker

2013 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Winner

The 2013 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award was presented to John La Rose (posthumously) and Sarah White of New Beacon Books. Founded in London in 1966, New Beacon is both a pioneering publishing house and a specialist bookshop focusing on writers and writing from the Caribbean. Over the past four decades, New Beacon has published works by writers such as Wilson Harris, Andrew Salkey, Errol Hill, Dennis Scott, Erna Brodber, Mervyn Morris, and numerous others, and the bookshop in Stroud Green, North London is an epicentre of Caribbean literary and intellectual life in the United Kingdom.

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