CSA Gordon K. & Sybil Lewis Book Award 2018


Finally received information on the winners of the Caribbean Studies Association Gordon K. & Sybil Lewis Book Award 2018. Many thanks to Emilio Jorge Rodríguez for bringing this information to our attention, and, of course, our warmest congratulations to all! This year’s award is shared between two winners: Lomarsh Roopnarine for The Indian Caribbean: Migration and Identity in the Diaspora and Katherine Zien for Sovereign Acts: performing race, space and belonging in Panama and the Panama Canal Zone. For more information, see the Caribbean Studies Association page. [Also see our previous post CSA Honorable Mention.]

GKSL 2018 Book Award Winners


Lomarsh Roopnarine. 2018. The Indian Caribbean. University of Mississippi Press.

Lomarsh Roopnarine’s The Indian Caribbean: Migration and Identity in the Diaspora, makes an important contribution to an understanding of the arrival, settlement, and eventual intra- and extra-regional movement of people of Indo-Caribbean descent.  The cast of the author’s new is wide and encompasses the conviction of both Gordon K. and Sybil Farrell Lewis that the Caribbean is one and indivisible. The book addresses the key question areas of Caribbean scholarship and identifies relevant theory, methods and history, and it also includes several countries within the Caribbean and Caribbean diasporas outside the region. Roopnarine is clear not to homogenize the Indians, whether back in India or in the Caribbean and extra-Caribbean diasporas. There are very informative tables and great questions raised throughout the text which make it useful both as a monograph and as a text for classroom adoption. The author sees indentureship as a complex and multifaceted process and places the big question of identity creation, re-creation and transformation at the heart of his analysis.

The strength of the book is the framing of indenture, as an important historical event in the lives and continuing drama of adjustment of Indians in the Caribbean. There is much new insight here about the participation in indenture, the hazards of the voyage from India, the physical and the psychological state of the indentured worker, that is not often accounted for in the literature. Another important contribution of the book is the movement away from a discussion of the Indian community in the familiar countries such as Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname.  Roopnarine’s focus is broad and includes the question of identity and creolization in such places as St. Vincent, Grenada, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, and the Virgin Islands. Beyond the Caribbean, the author also provides important insights on the movement of Indians from the Caribbean to England, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States. The author also roots his observations in important archival data on colonial policy, which attended the transplanting of Indian people in the British Commonwealth. The author was also able to connect the migratory movements of Indians, to the Diaspora’s concerns with the challenges of adjustment of those in other areas of Indian settlements such as Fiji, Mauritius.


Katherine Zien.  2017. Sovereign Acts: performing race, space and belonging in Panama and the Panama Canal Zone. Rutgers University Press.

This is an excellent study of sovereign acts in the Panama Canal Zone, and while its immediate spatial context is of course Panama, the book also provokes comparisons to and discussion of, embodied sovereign acts in other liminal frontier zones, such as México and Puerto Rico. Thus, in keeping with Gordon K. and Sybil Farrell Lewis’ pan-Caribbean vision, the volume offers a view of the region from the heart of the mainland Caribbean, no longer marking the mainland area as marginal or peripheral, but as a place from which to examine the rest of the region. Liminality, borders, and language cross-overs are therefore all central issues here, and the Canal Zone becomes a microcosm of a multiracial Caribbean, that is ideally suited to the study of the performance of identity.

Sovereign Acts is a study of the cultural and political history of the Canal Zone that uses the lens of performance theory and relies on archival and ethnographic research to offer insight into a place and its peoples during the near century-long US occupation. The subjects of the book are US citizens, Panamanians, and multinational labor migrants.  The author employs J.A. Austin’s speech-act theory to read the political implications of the Panama Canal Treaty and argues that because of its ambiguous phrasing, the treaty allowed for Panama to retain sovereign “titular” power during the US occupation.  The text goes on to analyse the many rituals, pageants, parades, plays and performances enacted in the Canal Zone as diverse expressions of sovereignty, nationalism and imperialism.  Using a theoretical framework of performance studies and anchored also to language, Zein explores the enactment and representation of sovereignty in Panama’s Canal Zone during the US occupation and offers a theoretical framework drawn from theatre and performance.


Rodríguez, Emilio Jorge. 2017. Una suave, tierna línea de montañas azules. Nicolás Guillen y Haití. Cuba: Casa de las Américas.

This is an excellent book that tells the apparently simple story of the brief visit of Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén to Haiti during 57 days in 1942.  But the visit of the Afro Cuban poet to Haiti generated 97 references in local newspapers (editorials, articles, press notes, reviews, poems, chronicles and more): this narrative is certainly not a simple story. Following extensive research in archives in Haiti and in Cuba, Emilio Jorge Rodriguez recreates the history of political, social and cultural relations between Cuba and Haiti, focusing on the representation of race and identity, and on discussions between Cuban and Haitian intellectuals. In this framework, the second half of the book details the presence of Guillen en Haiti, closely analyzing his speeches and casting new light on readings of negritud, mulataje, and mestizaje, and their connections to anti-fascist, as well as early civil rights movements in the US at the height of the Second World War.

The book closes with an exploration of cultural projects and collaborations between Guillen and Haitian intellectuals, Jacques Roumain, Roussan Camille and Philippe Thoby-Marcelin. The organization of the book reveals the excellently crafted theoretical and methodological framework of this comparative study, that develops two central themes –displacement and migration, and the exchange of artists and writers – through which to study the trans-Caribbean and transnational movements, that developed out of the Haitian Revolution, thus making this moment “uno de los núcleos forjadores de nuestra peculiaridad hemisférica.” The discussion of negritude becomes one of the most significant contributions of this book as the author revises and analyses many of the speeches Guillén gave in Haiti (and previously in Cuba) as well as studying the reception of these (through the press releases mentioned above) in diverse sectors of Haitian and Cuban society. This volume is of interest to anyone invested in understanding the complexity of Caribbean cultural movements.  It is beautifully written and extensively documented and is an important contribution to cross-cultural Caribbean Studies.

Source: http://www.caribbeanstudiesassociation.org/awards-grants/gordon-k-and-sybil-lewis-award/2018-gksl-award-winners/

For purchasing information on The Indian Caribbean, see https://www.amazon.com/Indian-Caribbean-Migration-Identity-Diaspora/dp/149681438X

For purchasing information on Sovereign Acts, see https://www.amazon.com/Sovereign-Acts-Performing-Belonging-Caribbean/dp/0813584108


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