Celebrated and debut authors vie for 2023 OCM Bocas Prize

Marlon James -
Marlon James -

A collection of nine writers, ranging from those who recently made their debut to already celebrated prizewinners, have been longlisted for the 2023 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Now in its 13th year, it is considered among the most coveted award dedicated to Caribbean writing.

In a release, Bocas said the prize recognises books in three genre categories – poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction –published by authors of Caribbean birth or citizenship in the preceding year.

The authors have roots in five different Caribbean countries, which contribute to diversity of styles and voices characterising the longlisted books.

In the next stage of judging the Bocas Lit Fest said the judges will announce the winners in the three genre categories on April 2.

These authors will go on to compete for the overall prize of US$10,000, to be announced on April 29 during the 13th annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest – which returns to a fully in-person format.

The 2023 judging panels for the OCM Bocas Prize bring together Caribbean and international writers, critics, and literary organisers.

Poet and academic from the British Virgin Islands and the 2020 winner of the overall OCM Bocas Prize Richard Georges chairs the poetry panel, joined by Trinidad-born poet Desiree C Bailey and Caymanian academic Emily Greenwood.

The fiction panel is chaired by Canada-based Jamaican academic Ronald Cummings who is joined by Trinidadian-American writer Lauren Francis-Sharma and Barbadian writer Cherie Jones.

The non-fiction panel is chaired by Guyana-born editor-in-chief of the Journal of West Indian Literature Lisa Outar. The others are chair of English PEN Ruth Borthwick –English PEN is one of the first non-goverment organisations advocating for human rights – and Barbados-based Vincentian writer Philip Nanton.

Bernadine Evaristo - Photo by Jennie Scott

The overall chair of the 2023 cross-genre judging panel is the British writer and past winner of the Booker Prize, Bernardine Evaristo.

Talking about the longlisted books, Bocas in a release said judges described The Day-Breakers by Grenada-born, Canada-based Michael Fraser as “breathtakingly assured.” This collection explores the lives and legacies of black Canadian soldiers during the US Civil War.

Trinidad-born, UK-based Anthony Joseph’s Sonnets for Albert – recently named the 2022 winner of the TS Eliot Prize – was described as “a tender and beautifully rendered eulogy for the poet’s father, and a triumph of technical formality.”

Anthony Joseph - Image courtesy Anthony Joseph

The third collection of poems on the shortlist is de book of Joseph by Jamaica-born, Canada-based Pamela Mordecai. It is the third volume in a poetic trilogy that retells the biblical story of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Judges said, “This book-length poem illustrates the continual modernist project of the Caribbean to take and make the old world new... this time through reframing and respeaking the histories, cultures, and languages of antiquity via Jamaican Patwa.”

The fiction category brings together two acclaimed debut novelists and one of the most celebrated contemporary Caribbean writers – Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, Jasmine Sealy and Marlon James.

Trinidadian author Ayanna Lloyd Banwo. - Photo courtesy Penguin Books

Judges said Moon Witch, Spider King by US-based Jamaican James, a past winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for fiction, “is truly impressive in its ability to take us into and make us feel and imagine other lives and worlds.”

On the novel, When We Were Birds, by UK-based Trinidadian Ayanna Lloyd Banwo, they said it “delivers an intimate, resonant, and unforgettable narrative of love that makes the most wondrous, wild, and mystical aspects of our Caribbean feel dearly familiar to all of us.”

The third book, The Island of Forgetting, the debut novel by Barbadian-Canadian Jasmine Sealy, reimagines Ancient Greek myth in a Caribbean setting.

Bocas said the judges considered Sealy’s saga about four generations of a Barbadian family elegantly and empathetically told in a narrative that examines selfhood and sanity in a small place.

The judges for the non-fiction category chose three books that range from personal memoir to cultural studies.

Love the Dark Days, a memoir by India-born Trinidadian Ira Mathur, was described by judges as a “richly layered account of a life lived across multiple continents and spaces marked by colonialism.”

Ira Mathur -

Also vying for the prize in this category is Buyers Beware: Insurgency and Consumption in Caribbean Popular Culture by Trinidad-born, US-based Patricia Joan Saunders.

The literary work, according to judges, "examines an impressive range of contemporary cultural and embodied practices in the areas of art, music, literature, Carnival, cricket, performance, skin bleaching... to argue for the varied and complex ways that Caribbean consumers engage popular culture in local and global markets.”

The final book on the longlist is Diary of a Recovering Politician by Belizean Godfrey Smith, a past winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for non-fiction.

The judges said, “At times humorous and at others philosophical and impassioned, Smith offers us a compelling picture of a true Caribbean man who has important things to say about day-to-day courtroom work in the Eastern Caribbean, problems of regionalism, the Grenada revolution, the nature of Caribbean politics, and of the connections of the Caribbean to other parts of the globe shaped by brutal processes of colonialist extraction.”

The 2023 NGC Bocas Lit Fest will run from April 28-30 at the National Library, Old Fire Station, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, and other venues around Port of Spain.

The 2023 OCM Bocas Prize longlist:


The Day-Breakers by Michael Fraser

Sonnets for Albert by Anthony Joseph

de book of Joseph by Pamela Mordecai


Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James

When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

The Island of Forgetting by Jasmine Sealy


Love the Dark Days by Ira Mathur

Buyers Beware: Insurgency and Consumption in Caribbean Popular Culture by Patricia Joan Saunders

Diary of a Recovering Politician by Godfrey Smith

For more info visit the Bocas Lit Fest website: https://www.bocaslitfest.com/


"Celebrated and debut authors vie for 2023 OCM Bocas Prize"

More in this section