Welcome to the latest issue of Bocas Book Bulletin, a monthly roundup of Caribbean literary news, organized by NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival, and published in the Sunday Express.
The Stranger Who Was Myself (Peepal Tree Press), a candid, witty and questioning memoir by Trinidadian writer Barbara Jenkins, chronicles her childhood and youth in Trinidad before independence, her departure on August 31, 1962, thanks on a government scholarship, her experience of 1960s Britain as a university student, then young wife and mother – and culminates in her eventual return to Trinidad. This portrait of the young writer is also a portrait of her extended family, of the colonial city in which she grew up, of its class and ethnic hierarchies. Jenkins’ sense of perpetually being a stranger or “stranger”, even to herself, gives her memories a unique psychological insight. His patient and flexible prose propels the reader into a story that is both unique and representative of a generation of Trinidadians negotiating the great questions of identity and belonging in the era of Independence.
The Dreaming (Peepal Tree Press), the first fiction book by Trinidadian Andre Bagoo (author of several poetry collections and an essay), revolves around a group of queer men from contemporary Trinidad, in search of love, sex, family, and security. The comic and the sinister are never far apart in these tales, which hark back to VS Naipaul’s close social observation, but are also unafraid to delve into the dark places of loneliness, longing and grief. .
Radical Normalization (Carcanet Press), the first comprehensive book of poetry by Dominican writer Celia Sorhaindo, ranges in her concerns from family life to mental health, from the aftermath of a natural disaster – particularly the hurricane Maria, who devastated Dominica in 2017 — as a writer in a literary tradition, and what poetry can and cannot do to help us through personal and collective crises. Curious and restless on the page, Sorhaindo’s quintessentially Caribbean voice connects the everyday to the timeless.
If I Survive You (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the first fiction book by Jamaican-American Jonathan Escoffery, features a sequence of linked short stories about a Jamaican family that emigrated to Miami in the 1970s, and the aftermath over the following decades of this uprooting on the protagonist Trelawny. Born in the United States, surrounded but also in some ways excluded from the Jamaican culture of his parents, Trelawny’s story is one of survival striving to make a home for himself in an often hostile society, with a spirited attitude to luck and circumstance.
Writers of Dominica, 1920–2020 (Emmanuel Publishing House), compiled by Alick Lazare, offers a broad and rich overview of Dominica’s literature over the past century, combining a critical study of Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea with selections from 44 other writers of prose and poetry hailing from the island of nature – following “the growth of a national literature from the unstable and precarious social conditions of the colonial era to a safer and more confident society that has prevailed in the post-independence period”.
Awards and prizes
The OCM Bocas Prize 2023 opened its doors in August. Sponsored by One Caribbean Media and awarded annually since 2011, the Cross-Genre Prize – for books of poetry, fiction and literary non-fiction – is considered the most prestigious prize for writers of Caribbean birth or citizenship. . The 2023 prize is open to books published in the 2022 calendar year. The overall winner is selected from three winners in the genre categories and is presented at the annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the largest literary festival in the English-speaking Caribbean. For more information, including deadlines and eligibility and submission guidelines, visit www.bocaslitfest.com/awards/ocm.
Writer H Nigel Thomas, who was born in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and emigrated to Canada in 1968, has been named the 2022 recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts’ Molson Prize for the Arts. Founded in 1964, awarded annually and open to citizens and permanent residents of Canada, the Molson Prizes are “designed to encourage continued contribution to the cultural and intellectual heritage of Canada” and come with a prize of C$50,000. Thomas is the author of many books, including novels, short stories and poetry.
Jamaican Lorna Goodison’s collection of poetry Mother Muse has been shortlisted for the 2022 Derek Walcott Prize – “offered annually for a book of poetry by a non-US citizen published anywhere in the world”. Now in its third year, the award comes with a cash award of US$1,000. The winner will be announced on October 13.
No fewer than seven writers with Caribbean ties have been made Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature (RSL), part of a cohort of almost 100 in 2022. Among them, Malika Booker, Fred D’Aguiar , Kit de Waal, Ferdinand Dennis, Hannah Lowe, Karen McCarthy Woolf and Monique Roffey – with roots in Guyana, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago. Other honorary members “who have made significant contributions to the advancement of literature as publishers, agents, librarians, booksellers or producers,” include Polly Patullo, founder of Dominica-based Papillote Press. And the winner of the RSL’s 2022 Benson Medal for Lifetime Literary Achievement is writer and storyteller Sandra Agard, who was born in Britain to Guyanese parents. Founded in 1820 and based in the UK, the RSL is a charity which works to “reward literary merit and excite literary talent”.
The First Citizens National Poetry Slam will close its tenth anniversary by returning to the physical stage for the finale. The long-awaited in-person event will be held at Naparima Bowl on October 9, with a ticket price of $200. Audiences can expect powerful performances from the Slam finalists as they challenge defending champion Derron Sandy for the grand prize of $50,000 and the coveted FCNPS winner’s title. The second and third runners-up will receive $20,000 and $10,000, respectively, courtesy of First Citizens.
NGC Bocas Lit Fest Independence Season, a month-long program commemorating the 60th anniversary of T&T’s independence, kicked off on August 31 and will run until Republic Day on September 24. It brings together recently commissioned writings by T&T authors who reflect on our past and our future, as well as a series of discussions and readings focusing on recent books asking questions about the meaning of belonging and citizenship, all available for on-demand online viewing. The full program is available at www.bocaslitfest.com/independence-2022.
Independent bookstore Paper Based (paperbased.org) shares its best-selling Caribbean titles from the past month:
1. The Bread the Devil Kneads, by Lisa Allen-Agostini
2. Pleasantview, by Celeste Mohammed
3. The Dream, by André Bagoo
4. I like dark days, by Ira Mathur
5. The Mark of the Cane, by Ken Jaikaransingh