Welcome to the latest issue of Bocas Book Bulletin, a monthly summary of Caribbean literary news, hosted by NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival, and published in the Sunday Express.
Preview of publication 2022
This year promises another bumper crop of new Caribbean books, from the long-awaited debuts to the career synthesis collections of some of the region’s most iconic authors. Here are some highlights coming up in the Caribbean edition for 2022, to note in your reading journal (dates are subject to changes in publisher schedules).
Hurricane Watch: New and Collected Poems (Carcanet Press), a new volume by Jamaican poet laureate Olive Senior, brings together her four previous poetry books – Talking of Trees, Gardening in the Tropics, Over the Roofs of the World and Shell – with a sequence of new work.
One Day One Day Congotay (Peepal Tree Press), the long-awaited third novel by Merle Hodge, a novel set in the pre-independence period in Cayeri, a fictional Caribbean island inspired by Trinidad. This “richly feminist” story delves into community and struggle, and relationships that offer new ways of thinking about family.
Velorio (HarperVia), Xavier Navarro Aquino’s debut novel, is set in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as disaster survivors grapple with human violence, authoritarian abuses and the corruption of power .
When We Were Birds (Hamish Hamilton, UK; Doubleday, USA), perhaps the most anticipated Caribbean debut of 2022, by British Trinidadian Ayanna Lloyd Banwo – a ‘haunting’ story of love, family and fate taking place in the fictional city of Port-Angeles.
Moon Witch, Spider King (Riverhead), the second volume in Jamaican Marlon James’ Dark Star trilogy, gives an alternate account of the events recounted in his Black Leopard predecessor, Red Wolf, this time from the perspective of Sogolon the Lunar Witch.
We Must Learn to Sit Together and Talk About a Little Culture: Decolonizing Essays, 1967-1984 (Peepal Tree Press), an urgent collection of writings by Jamaican cultural theorist Sylvia Wynter. A leading contemporary Caribbean thinker, whose influence is newly resurgent in the academy, Wynter ranges from literary criticism to Spanish Jamaican history, from CLR James to Bob Marley and the nature of humanism itself.
Black American Refugee: Escaping the Narcissism of the American Dream (Viking), a deeply introspective memoir of Tiffanie Drayton, born in T&T and raised in the United States, returning to Tobago as an adult. The author uses personal experiences to investigate the toll of systemic racism and what the “American Dream” might actually mean to black people.
Living on Islands Not Found on Maps (FlowerSong Press), a new collection of poems by Luivette Resto, born in Puerto Rico and based in the United States. Childhood, motherhood, memory, desire, love and revolution collide in these poems which combine candor and lyrical art.
The Mystic Masseur’s Wife (Peepal Tree Press), the debut novel by Trinidadian Vijay Maharaj, is an “inventive and humorous” rewrite of VS Naipaul’s debut novel The Mystic Masseur, which centers on Leila, the wife of Naipaul’s protagonist, finally giving his side of the story.
A Revolutionary for Our Time: The Walter Rodney Story (Haymarket), by Leo Zeilig, the first book study on the revolutionary Guyanese scholar and activist, explores Rodney’s life and research, his revolutionary thought and action, and its importance for today’s political struggles. .
Border Zone (Bloodaxe), the ninth collection of poems by John Agard, born in Guyana, crosses centuries and oceans. It includes a love story in verse about a Barbadian photographer and Welsh librarian, a Cassanova-inspired sonnet sequence, poems exploring the calypso form, and poems addressing the Covid lockdown.
A Fierce Green Place: New and Selected Poems (New Directions), a collection of ‘rebellious and innovative’ poems by Jamaican based Pamela Mordecai, spans her three decades of literary career, spanning topics as diverse as history biblical and colonial, family tragedy and the challenge of Caribbean vernacular culture.
Neruda on the Park (Ballantyne), the first novel by Dominican American Cleyvis Natera tells the story of the Dominican-American Guerrero family grappling with issues of community and ambition, and articulating intrigues concerning both the romance and gentrification of the neighborhood in New York.
The Drowned Forest (Peepal Tree Press), a novel by Bermudan Angela Barry, addresses cultural conflicts and climate change in Bermuda’s evolving social order, told through the startling voices of five different characters.
What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You (Virago), the debut novel by Jamaican Sharma Taylor, begins with an 18-year-old Jamaican woman giving up her newborn son for adoption – sparking a decades-long family story, d identity, and heritage, anchored in contemporary Jamaica.
Love the Dark Days (Peepal Tree Press), a ‘fearless’ memoir by India-born and Trinidadian-based journalist Ira Mathur, reflects on family history, the struggle to adjust to a new life in the multiethnic Caribbean, the author’s development as a journalist, and his relationship to Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott.
Devotion (Bloomsbury), a novel by Trinidadian Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner Kevin Jared Hosein, is a gripping dark tale set in Trinidad in the 1940s, investigating the ‘interwoven hellish’ stories of two families linked by mysterious deeds of violence.
The Dreaming (Peepal Tree Press), a collection of short stories by Trinidadian Andre Bagoo, his first fictional book after several volumes of poems and a famous collection of essays. Set primarily in the Port of Spain neighborhood of Woodbrook, these stories explore the life and loves of a group of gay men, with wit, psychological insight, and a hint of possible danger.
Song of My Softening (Alice James Books), the debut collection by UK-born Trinidadian-Nigerian-American Omotara James, explores love and sexuality, friendship and brotherhood through bold and innovative lyrics which “remind us of our physical and sensual selves”. .
The Stranger Who Was Myself (Peepal Tree Press), a memoir by fiction writer Barbara Jenkins, spans her childhood in Colonial Trinity to her university studies in Wales and returning to her home country newly independent to make a living and raise a family – all said with “an inside / outside keenness of perception”.
Awards and prizes
Grace Nichols, the famous Guyana-born writer, based in the UK since 1977, has been named the recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2021. The annual award recognizes the distinguished work of a British poet or of the Commonwealth, and has already been won by St Lucian Derek Walcott, Jamaican Lorna Goodison, as well as John Agard, born in Guyana, Nichols’ husband.
Jamaican-British writer Hannah Lowe’s The Kids won the 2021 Costa Book Award for Poetry. The annual Costa Book Awards, open only to authors residing in the UK and Ireland, carry a prize of £ 5,000 in each of the five gender categories. The big winner of the Costa Book of the Year will be announced on February 1.
Born in Trinidad and based in the UK, Marchelle Farrell is the recipient of the 2021 Nan Shepherd Award. The biennial “Champions of Under-Represented Voices in Nature Writing” award will be released by Canongate in 2023. The Farrell’s manuscript, Uproot, tells the story of his search for a sense of place in his new home through an English country garden,
The first Bocas Lit Fest workshop for 2022, scheduled for January 29, is led by writer Sharma Taylor and covers the process of expanding a fictional story From Short Story to Novel – the sequel to Taylor’s previous Bocas workshop. in October 2021. For more information and registration, visit www.bocaslitfest.com/workshops.
Submissions are invited for the upcoming anthology Unstitching Silence: Fiction and Poetry by Caribbean Writers on Gender-Based Violence, which will be co-edited by Shivanee Ramlochan and Lucy Evans, and published by Peekash Press in 2023. Writers by birth or citizenship Caribbean can submit unpublished work for review, and selected writers will have the opportunity to participate in a virtual workshop in May 2022. For more information, visit www.le.ac.uk/anglophone-caribbean/outputs.
Caribbean Best Sellers
The independent Paper Based bookstore (paperbased.org) shares its best-selling Caribbean titles for 2021, sorted by genre:
1. The Mermaid of the Black Conch, by Monique Roffey
2. Pleasantview, by Celeste Mohammed
3. Fortune, by Amanda Smyth
4. The bread that the devil kneads, by Lisa Allen-Agostini
5. Love after love, by Ingrid Persaud
1. In the law, by Michael de la Bastide (as told to Kathy Ann Waterman-Latchoo)
2. The Murders of Boysie Singh, by Derek Bickerton
3. The Things I Remembered, by Kei Miller
4. The Unknown Country, by Andre Bagoo
5. Deep Indigo, by Elizabeth Cadiz Topp
1. The Dyzgraph * st, by Canisia Lubrin
2. Like a tree, walking, by Vahni Capildeo
3. Everyone knows I’m an obsession, by Shivanee Ramlochan
4. In the nearby bushes, by Kei Miller
5. What a noise against the cane, by Desiree C. Bailey