First T&T Author Shortlisted for Top Prize | Local features

Three books, two of them by junior authors, have been shortlisted for the 12th annual CMO Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Trinidadian newcomer Celeste Mohammed is joined by the first Jamaican writer Jason Allen-Paisant on the list, alongside Kei Miller, former winner of the OCM Bocas Prize, considered the most prestigious award for Caribbean writing.

The award is sponsored by One Caribbean Media, owner of the Trinidad Express newspaper, TV6, and OCM radio network. It recognizes books in three genre categories – poetry, fiction and literary non-fiction – published by authors of Caribbean birth or citizenship within the previous year.

Pleasantview, Celeste Mohammed’s ‘stories novel’, was named winner in the fiction category by the judges of the Prize, who called it ‘an accomplished and powerful debut…. In Mohammed, we have found an exciting new talent.” Set in a fictional but instantly recognizable community in contemporary Trinity, Pleasantview “found a bold new way to paint the portrait of a community” through a series of interlocking stories and repeating characters, the judges note. “Pleasantview is a captivating read, written with a deep sense of connection to people and place, both affectionate and loving, yet lucid and critical.”

The winner in the poetry category is Thinking with Trees, the debut book by Jason Allen-Paisant, described by the judges as “quirky, masterful and beautiful.” This collection of poems “explores nature as a sacred palace of remembrance in another tranquility, far from that proposed by Wordsworth, a remembrance that makes memory present, that heals from the past of marginalization”. Allen-Paisant, who grew up in rural Jamaica and now lives in Leeds, Britain, “invites us to reflect on a perpetual condition of ‘marronage’ for the Caribbean writer”.

In the non-fiction category, the judges chose Miami-based Jamaican Kei Miller’s “elegant, poetic and gripping” essay collection Things I Have Withheld, which won the OCM Bocas Award in 2017.

The book is “a deep and moving excursion into the taboo”, say the judges – “the ‘dark’ places where truth and reality reside, often unrecognized and silent because of fear of discrimination, hatred and prejudice…Miller musters his courage and narrative voice as a black gay Jamaican man to explore these unspoken truths in an unforgettable, layered and moving way.

The winners of the three categories will now compete for the OCM Bocas Overall Prize for Best Book of 2021, which comes with a cash prize of US$10,000, to be announced on April 30 at the 12th annual NGC Bocas. Bed Fest. Each category winner receives US$3,000.

The 2022 Judges General Chairman is Trinidadian-British writer Roger Robinson, winner of the 2019 TS Eliot Prize.

He is joined in the final jury by Mayra Santos-Febres, Puerto Rican poet, scholar and executive director of the Festival de la Palabra de Puerto Rico; British academic and animator Shahidha Bari; and Godfrey Smith, Belizean jurist, biographer and himself a former winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Non-Fiction

NGC is the title sponsor of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, OCM, First Citizens and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts are the main sponsors, the Massy Foundation and the UWI are the sponsors. The festival runs from April 28 to May 1.

Lola R. McClure