Nine writers announced on long list for Caribbean literature award

OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean literature

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Writers from five different Caribbean territories have been longlisted for the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.

The OCM Bocas prize, now in its eleventh year, is internationally considered the leading literary award for Caribbean writers.

The prize recognises books in three genres — poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction — published by authors of Caribbean birth or citizenship in the preceding year.

Of the nine books longlisted for the 2021 prize, five are by writers born in Trinidad and Tobago, with the other longlisted authors representing Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, and St Lucia.

In the poetry category, the longlist brings together three writers ranging from a literary veteran to a debut author.

Canisia Lubrin with her book cover

The Dyzgraphxst, the second book by Canada-based St Lucian Canisia Lubrin, is described by the judges as “a journey where meaning is often an unpaved road, but the ride is richly satisfying.”

Guabancex is the first poetry collection by Celia Sorhaindo of Dominica. Named for a Taíno storm deity, the book was inspired by the impact of 2017’s Hurricane Maria on the author’s home country.

Country of Warm Snow by Trinidadian Mervyn Taylor — the author’s sixth book of poems — tackles the experience of living between two countries over five decades.

The fiction category includes two debut novels and the latest book by a former winner of the OCM Bocas Prize. These Ghosts Are Family, the first book by US-based Jamaican Maisy Card, portrays a family and its entanglements over multiple generations.

It is joined by Love After Love, by UK-based, Trinidad-born Ingrid Persaud — a story of deep love, deep violence, and the meaning of family.

The third book in the category is The Mermaid of Black Conch by UK-based, Trinidad-born Monique Roffey, who previously won the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Archipelago.

“Caribbean non-fiction is in excellent hands,” write the judges for this genre, including books ranging from personal essay to memoir to cultural criticism. The “boldly experimental” memoir of colour by US-based Trinidadian Katherine Agyemaa Agard, which incorporates visual material into its narrative, “does not hide shame or confusion as the author comes to terms with how others interpret her colour, race, sexuality, and art — and how she thinks about herself.”

The Undiscovered Country, a “wonderfully intelligent” collection of diverse essays on literary, artistic, and political topics by Trinidadian Andre Bagoo, “is full of insights and surprises,” write the judges.

Formal innovation continues in the final nonfiction book, the memoir Musings, Mazes, Muses, Margins by Gordon Rohlehr, the eminent Guyanese literary scholar based in Trinidad since the late 1960s. Including autobiography told through a split personality and a playful dream diary, the book shows “at turns, the dark wit of Jouvay, the gleeful frenzy of the Savannah stage, and the contemplation of an Ash Wednesday service,” the judges report.

In the next stage of judging, the judges will announce the winners in the three genres on March 28.

These will then go on to compete for the overall prize of US$10,000, which will be announced on April 24, during the annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest.