The Members of the Jury have completed their very intense deliberations and debates and have reached agreement on the winners of the Guyana Prize for Literature and the Guyana Prize Caribbean Awards. They will announce their decisions tonight at the Awards Presentation Ceremony to be held at the Pegasus Hotel starting at 7.
Awards will be presented to the winners in Fiction, Poetry and Drama as well as First Books of Poetry and Fiction for the Guyana Prize, which is exclusively for Guyanese citizens. Winners will also receive awards in Fiction, Poetry and Drama for the Caribbean Prize, which is open to citizens of all the Caribbean countries.
The Jury is an independent panel with sole responsibility for making all decisions about the shortlists and the winners. Its members were assembled from the international community of writers, experts and specialists of high repute from a variety of different countries in the fields of literature, drama, creative writing, cultural studies and criticism. They are established published poets, prose writers, playwrights, academics, literary editors, critics and theatre directors.
The Chairman of the Jury for the Caribbean Prize is artist, poet and essayist Stewart Brown and he is ably assisted by educationist and dramatist Rawle Gibbons, along with prose writer and critic Jane Bryce.
The Chairman of the Jury for the Guyana Prize is poet and writer Prof Mark McWatt. The other members are writer Louis Regis, writer and director Robert Leyshon and critic and editor Ameena Gafoor.
The Jury released the shortlists for both the Guyana Prize and the Caribbean Awards, and the following is what they had to say about each of the shortlisted works:
Best Book of Fiction:
David Dabydeen (Guyana/UK) Johnson’s Dictionary (Peepal Tree)
In a novel set in 18th century London and Demerara, that might be dreamed or remembered by Manu, a revenant from Dabydeen’s epic poem, Turner, we meet slaves, lowly women on the make, lustful overseers, sodomites and pious Jews – characters who have somehow come alive from engravings by Hogarth and others. Hogarth himself turns up as a drunkard official artist in Demerara, from whom the slave Cato steals his skills and discovers a way of remaking his world. David Dabydeen’s novel revels in the connections of Empire, Art, Literature and human desire in ways that are comic, salutary and redemptive.
Barbara Jenkins (Trinidad & Tobago) Sic Transit Wagon (Peepal Tree)
The stories in Sic Transit Wagon move from the all-seeing naivete of a child narrator trying to make sense of the world of adults, through the consciousness of the child-become mother, to the mature perceptions of the older woman taking stock of her life. Set over a time-span from colonial era Trinidad to the hazards and alarms of its postcolonial present, at the core of these stories is the experience of uncomfortable change, but seen with a developing sense of its constancy as part of life, and the need for acceptance.
Sharon Leach (Jamaica) Love It When You Come, Hate It When You Go (Peepal Tree)
The stories in Sharon Leach’s Love It… occupy new territory in Caribbean writing. Her characters are aspirational working people struggling for their place in the world, eager for entry into the middle class but always anxious that their hold on security is precarious. These are people wondering who they are – Jamaicans, of course, but part of a global cultural world dominated by American material and celebrity culture. Sharon Leach brings a cool, unsentimental eye to the follies, misjudgements and self-deceptions of her characters without ever losing sight of their humanity or losing interest in their individual natures.
Ingrid Persaud (Trinidad & Tobago) If I Never Went Home (Blue China Press)
Ingrid Persaud’s debut novel explores the idea that sometimes the only way to find your real home is to leave the one that you know. Written in two distinct, alternating voices, If I Never Went Home follows ten years in the turbulent lives of two narrators – 30-something Bea, an immigrant in Boston, and ten-year-old Tina in Trinidad – as they separately navigate devastating losses, illness and betrayal in their quest to belong. Moving back and forth from the present to the past through flashbacks, this is the powerful story of how these women unearth family secrets that go beyond anything they could have imagined.
Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw (Trinidad & Tobago) Mrs B (Peepal Tree)
Loosely inspired by Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Mrs B focuses on the life of an upper middle-class family in contemporary Trinidad, who have, in response to the island’s crime and violence, retreated to a gated community. Mrs B (she hates the name of Butcher) is fast approaching fifty and her daughter Ruthie’s return from university and the state of her marriage provoke her to some unaccustomed self-reflection. Like Flaubert’s heroine Mrs B’s desires are often tied to the expectations of her social circle. Walcott-Hackshaw writes with wit, insight and warmth for her characters but is also brutally honest about their foibles and delusions.
Best Book of Poetry:
John Agard (Guyana/UK) Travel Light Travel Dark (BloodAxe Books)
In Travel Light Travel Dark John Agard investigates the intermingling strands of Caribbean and British history. Cross-cultural connections are played out in a variety of voices and cadences. Prospero and Caliban have a cricket match encounter, recounted in calypso-inspired rhythms, and in the long poem, “Water Music of a Different Kind,” the incantatory orchestration of the Atlantic’s middle passage becomes a moving counterpoint to Handel’s Water Music.
Edward Baugh (Jamaica) Black Sand (Peepal Tree)
Black Sand brings together poems selected from Baugh’s two previous collections, with a collection’s worth of new poems. Baugh’s subject matter ranges wide: race, history, cricket, love, the academic life, the consolations of natural beauty and shrewdly analytical eye for a Jamaica that includes the worlds of urbane polish, gated communities, religious enthusiasm and a black majority still struggling to overcome the wrongs inflicted in the past.
Vladimir Lucien (St Lucia) Sounding Ground (Peepal Tree)
Sounding Ground is a collection that is alive with tensions: between divergent family visions of respectability and revolt, tradition and modernity. It is enriched with stories of ancestors, immediate family, the history embedded in the language choices of a St Lucian writer, reflections on the submerged belief system of Tjenbwa, and heroes such as Walter Rodney, CLR James and a local steel bands man.
Jennifer Rahim (Trinidad & Tobago) Ground Level (Peepal Tree)
In 2011 the Government of Trinidad & Tobago declared a state of emergency to counter the violent crime associated with the drugs trade. The poems in Ground Level confront the roots of the madness and chaos seething under the surface of this “crude season of curfew from ourselves” when the state becomes a jail. Engaging in dialogue with other regional writers who confronted the Janus face of Caribbean creativity and nihilism the poems speak in both a prophetic and a literary, intertextual voice, which combines the personal and the public in mutually enriching ways.
Tanya Shirley (Jamaica) The Merchant of Feathers (Peepal Tree)
Tanya Shirley’s poems have their finger on the pulse of contemporary Jamaica in all its exuberance and brokenness. She tells these tales with an elegant mixture of acute observation, outrage, outrageousness, tenderness and understanding. There is joy in the energy and delights of the body but also a keen awareness of ageing and the body’s derelictions. If there is one overarching vision, it is that love is “larger than the space we live in.”
Best Book of Drama:
Harold A Bascom (Guyana) Desperate for Relevance: A Surreal Drama of Dead Caribbean Writers Bound in a Curious Hereafter
In Desperate for Relevance… Harold A. Bascom sets out to keep alive the little known and even less appreciated literary heritage of the Caribbean. By imaginative development of a conflict and its resolution the play offers a pragmatic solution to a contemporary Caribbean problem.
David Edgecombe (Montserrat) Lady of Parham (Caribbean Reads)
Lady of Parham is a ghost-story-treasure-hunt legend drawn from Caribbean plantation history. The legend is told mainly through narration and role-play with the play’s immediate conflict as sub-plot.
The Guyana Prize
Best First Book of Fiction:
Rueben Latchmansingh A Dip at the Sangam (Westbow Press)
A Dip at the Sangam by Reuben Latchmansingh: A work of historical fiction about the abduction of the protagonist, Raja, from his Indian home and wife, his transportation to the cane fields of Guyana, his experiences and success in Guyana and his eventual return to India.
Keisha McCammon, Dancehall Lyrics: Top of the Charts
Dancehall Lyrics by Keisha McCammon: A fast-moving contemporary work of fiction centered around a much-acclaimed Dancehall singer, Aaron Mills (known as AM). The fiction casts interesting light on the Dancehall music scene in Guyana.
Subraj Singh, Rebelle and Other Stories
Rebelle by Subraj Singh A first collection of wonderfully written short stories, rich with the flavour, culture and folklore of coastal Guyana. An enjoyable read.
Best First Book of Poetry:
Cedric Castello, Rasta Lyrics (Caribbean Press)
Rasta Lyrics by Cedric Castello: A first collection by a Rastafarian teacher/singer/songwriter: these rich and very readable poems range over the author’s many interests and activities and celebrate Rastafarianism and its founder, Haile Selassie I.
Stanley Niamatali, The Hinterlands (Caribbean Press)
The Hinterlands by Stanley Niamatali: A wonderful debut collection of poems centered around the author’s haunting memories of life on a sawmill in the Berbice river. The poet, now living in the US, straddles two cultures and his poems depict and question the values of both
Best Book of Fiction:
David Dabydeen, Johnson’s Dictionary (Peepal Tree)
Johnson’s Dictionary by David Dabydeen: This novel depicts and juxtaposes, in Dabydeen’s richly textured and sensuous prose, the two worlds of 18th century London and British Guyana (Demerara). It also contains several echoes of previous Dabydeen literary and scholarly works that depict the 18th century: William Hogarth, William Turner, Samuel Johnson, Adam Smith. The novel transforms past and present into the sensuous, imaginative world(s) of the author and is a tour de force of imperial will, art, literature and human sensuality—a compelling read.
Jan Lowe Shinebourne, The Last Ship (Peepal Tree)
The Last Ship by Jan Lowe Shinebourne: A historically and culturally important novel about three generations of a Chinese family in Guyana. The physical conditions, the family myths and the invented traditions are powerfully evoked in a simple and direct language. A novel that will resonate strongly with the Guyanese reader.
Oonya Kempadoo, All Decent Animals (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
All Decent Animals by Oonya Kempadoo: Kempadoo’s fast-moving third novel is about a variety of characters and interests woven into the complex fabric of Trinidadian life and culture—prominently including Carnival. The language is rich and sensuous and will remind readers of their pleasure in the earlier Kempadoo novels, Buxton Spice and Tide Running.
Best Book of Poetry:
Cyril Dabydeen, God’s Spider (Peepal Tree)
God’s Spider by Cyril Dabydeen: A collection of carefully-wrought and polished poems that celebrate the many places and cultures that have shaped the poet’s consciousness—including his native Guyana, Canada (where he now lives) and India. These physical/mental/cultural landscapes breathe extraordinary life and feeling into the poems.
Maggie Harris,60 Years of Loving (Cane Arrow Press)
60 Years of Loving by Maggie Harris: This is Harris’s sixth collection of poetry and it evokes her 60 years of life in Guyana and the UK. These 74 richly textured, mature and celebratory poems sparkle and impress with a language that resonates with original imagery and insight.
Sasenarine Persaud, Love in the Time of Technology (Tsar Publications)
Love in the Time of Technology by Sasenarine Persaud: A fine collection of brief, succinct poems. The imagery is emotionally charged and reverberates with cultural memories: the references to the language, traditions and cultures of India are particularly poignant and interesting.
Best Book of Drama:
Harold Bascom, Desperate for Relevance
Desperate for Relevance by Harold Bascom: An interesting drama script in which most of the characters are dead Caribbean writers. Funny in parts, it is also in parts a sad and poignant commentary on the plight of our writers and societies. The writing makes the reader long to see it powerfully enacted on the local stage.
Milton Bruce, New York New York of Pieces of Dreams
New York, New York…by Milton Bruce: A carefully contrived and interesting play about the lives, the dreams and the disappointments of Guyanese immigrants in New York.