by nine writers, the majority under the age of forty, have been
announced on the longlist for the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean
Literature, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.
in its seventh year, the Prize recognises books in three genre
categories — poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction — published by
Caribbean authors in 2016.
In the poetry category, the judges have named books by three younger Jamaican writers. Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons is
a meditation on home and abroad, personal and communal history, with a
rich verbal register and intense engagement with the past literary
canon. Ann-Margaret Lim’s lyrical Kingston Buttercup has a deep
grounding in the landscape of Jamaica, whether the penetrating poems
address the persistent legacy of slavery, Lim’s relationship with her
mother, or the complications of contemporary Kingston. And Safiya
Sinclair’s debut Cannibal is haunted by the character of Caliban from The Tempest,
as it explores Jamaican childhood and womanhood, and otherness in a
strange place that may be the United States where the poet now lives, or
language itself. “We were delighted to read a set of poetry collections
remarkable for their range of focus and poetic method,” write the prize
judges. “Each entry made its own claims on us in terms of originality,
appeal, and ambition. Throughout our discussions, all the collections
impressed upon us the vitality of today’s voices in contemporary
The fiction category includes novels by two Jamaicans and one Trinidadian. Marcia Douglas’s magical realist novel The Marvellous Equations of the Dread is
set at one of the bleakest moments of Jamaica’s recent history, after
the deaths of Bob Marley and Emperor Haile Selassie, and conveys a sense
of both history’s dread and the hope born of human creativity. In his
debut novel The Repenters, Kevin Jared Hosein tells a
transgressive, almost gothic tale of violence and punishment, exploring
the darkest side of Trinidadian society and family history. And in Augustown,
Kei Miller offers a historical epic ranging over sixty years of
Jamaican history, with its complexities of class, ethnicity, religion,
and language. “Due to the excellence and range of so many of the works,
selecting a shortlist was extremely difficult,” remark the fiction
judges. “We were impressed by the high quality of the entries drawn from
a range of new and established writers across the region and beyond.
The immediacy of their respective concerns for their culture and their
pride in the richness of its history are obvious. They’re digging deep.”
The final longlisted books, in the non-fiction category, are all historical studies. Barbadian Hilary McD. Beckles’s The First Black Slave Society: Britain’s “Barbarity Time” in Barbados, 1636–1876 is
a compelling history of the first 140 years of the colonisation of
Barbados, “with great resonances for contemporary debates about
reparatory justice for the crimes of history,” say the judges. Angelo
Bissessarsingh’s twin books Virtual Glimpses into the Past and A Walk Back in Time,
considered by the judges as two volumes of a single work, collect
vignettes from the history of Trinidad and Tobago, offering an
effortless read for those for whom the past is a forgotten country.
Bissessarsingh, a self-taught historian who passed away in early 2017,
during the judging period, won a devoted following among Trinidadian
readers for his enthusiastic style and passion for research. And in Inward Yearnings: Jamaica’s Journey to Nationhood,
Colin Palmer tells the story of Jamaica’s struggle to define an
identity that embraces both its African heritage and its Anglophone
western past. “Palmer’s prose immediately immerses you in sympathy for
the people, events, and organisations that make this history,” the
The winners in each genre category will be announced on March 27 and the Prize of US$10,000 will be presented to the overall winner on Saturday, April 29 during the seventh annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port-of-Spain.
2017 judging panels for the OCM Bocas Prize bring together
distinguished Caribbean and international writers, academics, and
publishing professionals. David Dabydeen, the celebrated Guyanese writer
based in the UK, chairs the poetry panel, which also includes Cuban
poet and translator Nancy Morejón and London-based agent Peter Straus.
On the fiction panel, chair Susheila Nasta, founder and editor of the
journal Wasafiri, is joined by New York–based agent and editor
Malaika Adero and St. Vincent-born, Canada-based writer H. Nigel Thomas.
And Jamaican Kim Robinson-Walcott, editor of Caribbean Quarterly and Jamaica Journal,
chairs the non-fiction panel, which includes scholars Aaron Kamugisha
of Barbados and Patricia Mohammed of Trinidad and Tobago.
The overall chair of the 2017 cross-judging panel is the eminent Jamaican poet and scholar Edward Baugh