Safiya Sinclair takes Bocas top prize

Jamaican author Safiya Sinclair - Photo courtesy Beowulf Sheehan
Jamaican author Safiya Sinclair - Photo courtesy Beowulf Sheehan

SAFIYA SINCLAIR has been awarded the 2024 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Acclaimed Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, chief judge for the prize, made the announcement during the NGC Bocas Lit Fest award ceremony at Esperanza Alta in St Ann’s, on April 27.

The ceremony also honoured poetry winner Nicole Sealey for her book The Ferguson Report: An Erasure, and fiction winner Kevin Jared Hosein for his novel Hungry Ghosts.

Sinclair's memoir How to Say Babylon won the award for outstanding Caribbean book of the past year.

The Jamaican author will also receive a cash award of US$10,000, sponsored by One Caribbean Media.

She joins the list of past winners that includes Earl Lovelace with his novel Is Just a Movie and late Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott who won the inaugural prize in 2011, for the poetry collection White Egrets.

Last year's winner was Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s novel When We Were Birds.

How to Say Babylon, the novel by OCM Bocas prize winner Safiya Sinclair. -

Published in the UK by Fourth Estate and in the US by Simon & Schuster, How to Say Babylon was described by the prize judges as “a moving work of intense power…demonstrating a remarkable command of narrative, from the minute level of the sentence to the seemingly effortless management of a story arc of epic scope.”

Sinclair’s book was previously named non-fiction category winner for the OCM Bocas Prize, contending for the overall award with the poetry and fiction winners.

"It is only the second time in the 14-year history of the Prize that a non-fiction book has won the overall award," the Bocas Lit Fest stated in a news release on April 26.

The release added, "Sinclair is no stranger to the OCM Bocas Prize, having won the award for poetry in 2017 with her debut book Cannibal."

Danticat was joined on the judging panel by St Lucian writer Canisia Lubrin, Trinidad and Tobago-born novelist Rabindranath Maharaj, and Guyana-born academic D Alissa Trotz.

In their formal citation, the judges said How to Say Babylon “is a memoir that reminds us of the expansive possibilities of creative non-fiction, bringing to the fore, with unforgettable poetic verve, a voice that is fierce, courageous, deeply intelligent, and empathetic, its nerve endings vibrating out from a specific experience of Rastafarianism into the currents of the wider world. Embodying the finest traditions within Caribbean writing, yet standing on its own as a unique and astonishing work of witness, this is a work of reparation attending to both uneasy colonial legacies and difficult contemporary departures.”

How to Say Babylon was previously named winner of a US National Book Critics Circle Award, and is a finalist for The Women’s Prize for Nonfiction. Sinclair, who grew up in Montego Bay, is currently based in the US.

The ceremony also paid tribute to the winner of the 2024 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters, the Guyanese-British publisher Arif Ali, founder of Hansib Publications.

The 2024 NGC Bocas Lit Fest concludes its four-day programme on April 28. There will be events running all day at the National Library of TT, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain. The finale of the festival the 2024 First Citizens National Poetry Slam: Enter The Dragon's Mouth kicks off at 6.30 pm at Queen's Hall, St Ann's.


"Safiya Sinclair takes Bocas top prize"

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