J’can Kei Miller wins OCM Bocas prize

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A report from Trinidad’s Express.

AUGUSTOWN, the third novel by Jamaican writer Kei Miller, has been named the winner of the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the most prestigious international award for Caribbean writing.

The announcement was made by the chief judge of the prize, Prof Edward Baugh, at a ceremony last night in Port of Spain’s Old Fire Station.

The OCM Bocas Prize event was a highlight of the 2017 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the largest literary festival in the Anglophone Caribbean.

Sponsored by One Caribbean Media (OCM), the prize comes with an award of US$10,000, a statement said.

OCM is the parent company of Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), which publishes the Express newspapers and operates TV6.

This was Miller’s second time at the OCM Bocas Prize ceremony, as he was previously named the non-fiction category winner and shortlisted for the overall prize in 2014, with his essay collection Writing Down the Vision.

Miller’s novel Augustown was chosen by the judges from a shortlist of three books, made up of the genre category winners of the 2017 prize.

The poetry winner was Jamaican Safiya Sinclair, for her debut book Cannibal, and the non-fiction winner was the late Trinidadian writer Angelo Bissessarsingh, for his twin volumes Virtual Glimpses into the Past/A Walk Back in Time: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago.

They each received an award of US$3,000.

Bissessarsingh’s award was accepted by his mother, Carmen.

Youngest winner

Based in the United Kingdom, where he is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Exeter, Miller is the youngest winner of the OCM Bocas Prize to date, and the second Jamaican, the statement from the organisers said.

A prolific author, he has previously published two other novels, a collection of short stories, and four collections of poems, most recently The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, winner of the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Poetry Collection.

Augustown is a historical epic set in a deprived community on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica’s capital.

Jumping between the 1980s and the early 20th century, it tackles complexities of class, ethnicity, religion, and language.

The OCM Bocas Prize judges describe it as “a spell-binding novel written in simple, well-limned, imagistic prose. It’s a novel that’s realistic—a realism grounded in history—and magic-realist.”

2017 is the seventh year of the OCM Bocas Prize.

In 2016, the prize was won by Jamaican writer Olive Senior for her short fiction collection The Pain Tree.

Other past winners are Vladimir Lucien for his debut poetry collection Sounding Ground (2015), Robert Antoni for his novel As Flies to Whatless Boys (2014), Monique Roffey for Archipelago (2013), and Earl Lovelace for Is Just a Movie (2012).

The late Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott was winner of the inaugural prize in 2011, for his poetry collection White Egrets.

In addition to Prof Baugh, the final judging panel for the prize included UK-based Guyanese writer David Dabydeen, academic Susheila Nasta and Jamaican editor Kim Robinson-Walcott.

The title sponsor of the 2017 festival is the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago, First Citizens is the lead sponsor, and OCM and the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts are main sponsors.

Other sponsors are the Massy Foundation and The UWI.

The 2017 NGC Bocas Lit Fest ran from Wednesday to today.

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