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Edward Baugh, Vladimir Lucien, Tanya Shirley, Sharon Leach and Barbara Jenkins Make the Guyana Prize Caribbean Shortlist

2014 Shortlist for the Guyana Prize for Caribbean Literature

The shortlist for the 2014 Guyana Prize for Literature Caribbean Award has been announced. It is an intriguing cache of writers presenting a mix of the Caribbean’s literary establishment as well as younger writers who are now carving their names on the region’s literary landscape. 

The list which includes Edward Baugh, David Dabydeen, Tanya Shirley, Vladimir Lucien, Sharon Leach and Barbara Jenkins features twelve (12) writers from Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago vying for the three categories of prizes: fiction, poetry and drama. 

The shortlist for Best Book of Fiction is dominated by writers from the twin republic with Barbara Jenkins (Sic Transit Wagon, Peepal Tree Press), Ingrid Persaud (If I Never Went Home, Blue China Press), and Elizabeth Walcott-Hacksaw (Mrs. B, Peepal Tree Press) all hailing from Trinidad and Tobago. The list is rounded out by Guyana’s David Dabydeen (Johnson’s Dictionary, Peepal Tree Press) and Jamaica’s Sharon Leach (Love it when you come, hate it when you go, Peepal Tree Press).

The poetry sees a stronger regional mix, although interestingly, four of the five books shortlisted for poetry have been published by Peepal Tree Press, highlighting the publisher’s dominance in producing the island’s literary works. 

Two of the poets Edward Baugh (Black Sands, Peepal Tree Press) and Tanya Shirley (The Merchant of Feathers, Peepal Tree Press) hail from Jamaica. The shortlist also includes Guyanese poet John Agard’s Travel Light Travel Dark (BlookAxe Books), St. Lucian Vladimir Lucien’s Sounding Ground (Peepal Tree Press) as well as Trinidadian Jennifer Rahim’s Ground Level (Peepal Tree Press).

The drama category features only two titles: Harold A Bascom’s Desperate for Relevance: A Surreal Drama of Dead Caribbean Writers Bound in a Curious Hereafter (Guyana) and David Edgecombe’s Lady of Parham (Montserrat).

The 2014 Guyana Prize for Caribbean Literature was adjudicated by a panel chaired by Dr Stewart Brown (Chairman), Reader in the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham, UK. He was accompanied by Rawle Gibbons playwright, theatre director, researcher in cultural studies and traditions, drama anthologist and Prof Jane Bryce, published prose writer, Professor of Film and Literature, UWI, Cave Hill, Editor of Poui Cave Hill Journal of the Arts, lecturer in Creative Writing, and critic. 

The winner will be announced at an Awards Ceremony in Georgetown on November 29, 2015.

The Full Shortlist With Descriptions Provided by the Judges:

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 when you come, hate it when you go 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 – thirty-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. Elizabeth 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 nihilis 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 

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.