Bocas Lit Fest

funso aiyejina and merle hodge

The 2022 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award

The 2022 recipients of the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters are Funso Aiyejina and Merle Hodge.

They are being recognised for their work over more than two decades as creative writing teachers and mentors, in particular through the influential Cropper Foundation Writers’ Workshop. Aiyejina and Hodge led the residential workshop from its founding in 2000, guiding and mentoring participants from across the Caribbean, many of whom have gone on not only to be published, but acclaimed for their books. In addition, Aiyejina was the founder of the creative writing MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programme at the University of the West Indies’ St. Augustine campus, the first degree-granting programme in creative writing in the Anglophone Caribbean.

Born in Nigeria and resident in Trinidad and Tobago since 1989, Funso Aiyejina is a celebrated poet, short story writer, playwright, and scholar — a former Dean of Humanities and Education, and current professor emeritus at UWI, St. Augustine. He started his teaching career at Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, and was lecturer and later professor at UWI from 1990 to 2014. Aiyejina won the 2000 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Africa region for his short fiction collection The Legend of the Rockhills and Other Stories. As a scholar, he is especially well known for his work on Earl Lovelace, including a biography and film.

A founding board member and former deputy festival director of the Bocas Lit Fest, Aiyejina retired from this role in 2020. He did anything and everything he could, as a director of Bocas Lit Fest, to ensure the NGO succeeded in its task of developing and promoting Caribbean writers, and for ten years he also remained a steadfast and much-loved member of Team Bocas, giving advice, judging our development awards, and — as deputy festival director — taking joint responsibility for the successful development of the annual National Poetry Slam.

Lauded as one of the first Black Caribbean women to publish a major work of fiction — her classic 1970 novel Crick Crack, Monkey — Merle Hodge is a beloved fiction writer, literary critic, social and cultural activist, and retired lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities and Education at UWI, St Augustine. During her UWI career across two campuses, she taught French, West Indian and African Diaspora Literature, and Creative Writing even before the founding of the MFA programme.

Both Aiyejina and Hodge continue to write and publish — each has published a new book in the past two years — but the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award recognises their crucial parallel work as teachers and mentors of younger authors, and their dedication to nurturing a generation of writers grounded in Caribbean literary tradition and language, exploring the region’s social complexities.

Their influence can be gauged not only in the testimony of their former students and mentees, but in the catalogue of works published and prizes won. Alumni of the Cropper Foundation Writers’ Workshop include no fewer than four winners of the OCM Bocas Prize alone — Tiphanie Yanique for fiction and poetry, Kei Miller for fiction and non-fiction, Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné for poetry, and Andre Bagoo for non-fiction — in addition to other regional and international awards.

Funso Aiyejina and Merle Hodge’s exemplary guidance, and their dedication as teachers, mentors, and champions of fresh talent, continue to fuel the Caribbean’s literary potential.

The 2022 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award will be formally presented to Funso Aiyejina and Merle Hodge in a virtual event on 30 April, part of the 2022 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 World Service 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;  scholar and editor Kamau Brathwaite in 2020; and literary critics Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris in 2021.

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.

Scroll to Top