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Bocas Gets a 'Senior' Moment: Olive Senior Wins 2016 Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature

Olive Senior Wins Bocas Prize 2016

Olive Senior is the first Jamaican and second woman to win the overall Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature with her most recent collection of short stories, The Pain Tree. It was, therefore, a historic win emerging from an equally historic shortlist, as it was the first time that all three category winners were women.

Tiphanie Yanique (US Virgin Islands) earned the prize for poetry with her debut collection, Wife, while Jacqueline Bishop (Jamaica) earned the 2016 prize for non-fiction with The Gymnast and Other Positions. Senior, of course, had copped the prize for fiction.

It was Senior’s second time to the Bocas prize podium, having earned the prize for non-fiction in 2015 for Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal.

In an eloquent post on Facebook, Bocas blogger and literary critic Shivanee Ramlochan wrote of the significance of the win in a seemingly male-dominated Caribbean literary canon.

“Gender isn’t the only ting. But it means something, when the cradle of your literature is bassinet-lined with the names and stations of Lovelaces, Walcotts, Brathwaites, Harrises -- all of whom have earned by hardness and heart that which is theirs.” Ramlochan wrote. “When there are less (either through perception or slant or truth) women's names in your birthing houses of words ... and you wonder, where are the women who've earned it, too?”

Indeed, the Bocas Prize was previously won by both Earl Lovelace and Derek Walcott, who are among those named by Ramlochan. 

“But it's a badass night to be a woman writer from Trelawny Parish. It's a brilliant night to be Olive,” Ramlochan said at the end of the post.

Olive Senior is the author of several works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Her works include Summer Lightning, Dancing Lessons, Over the Roofs of Our World, and Gardening in the Tropics.

The 2016 overall prize was chaired by Dionne Brand with Marjorie Thorpe as permanent vice chair. The poetry panel comprised Gemma Robinson (chair), John Robert Lee, and Vivek Narayanan. Fiction comprised Ramabai Espinet (chair), Claire Armitstead and Marlon James. The non-fiction judges were J. Michael Dash (chair), Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert and Barbara Lalla. 

The Bocas prize comes with a US$10,000 purse. The winner of each category receives a cash award of US$3,000.

Previous winners of the Bocas Prize for Caribbean literature has been Vladimir Lucien (2015) with Sounding Ground, Robert Antoni (2014) with As Flies to Whatless Boys, Monique Roffey (2013) with Archipelago, Earl Lovelace (2012) with Is Just a Movie and Derek Walcott claimed the inaugural prize in 2011 with White Egrets.