St Lucian-born poet wins OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature

St. Lucia-born poet Canisia Lubrin is the 2021 winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Lubrin’s book-length poem The Dyzgraphxst earned her the US$10,000 prize, courtesy One Caribbean Media.

It is the second consecutive year that a poet has won the most prestigious international annual award for Caribbean writing, and the fourth work of poetry to win in the eleven-year history of the prize. Lubrin is the third St. Lucia-born writer to win the overall prize, all for poetry.

Vahni Capildeo, also an outstanding poet from Trinidad and Tobago, winner of the Forward Poetry Prize, and chief judge of this year’s OCM Bocas Prize, made the announcement online via the Bocas Lit Fest website, Facebook, and YouTube in a virtual presentation on Saturday.

Joining her on the final judging panel for the prize were Jamaican poet and academic Opal Palmer Adisa, Trinidadian-American writer and scholar Rosamond S. King, and Malachi McIntosh, editor of the UK-based literary journal Wasafiri.

The Dyzgraphxst, published by Penguin Random House Canada, was chosen by the judges from a shortlist of the three books previously selected as category winners, which included Jamaica-born Maisy Card’s debut novel These Ghosts Are Family — the best book of fiction by a Caribbean writer in 2020 — and Trinidadian Andre Bagoo’s wide-ranging collection of essays The Undiscovered Country — the best non-fiction book of 2020 by a Caribbean author.

Card and Bagoo will receive awards of US$3,000 each.

In her judge’s remarks, Vahni Capildeo said The Dyzgraphxst “is exciting, experimental, and maintains integrity from beginning to end…. Aware of and alive with the impulses and innovations of Aimé Césaire, Dionne Brand, and so many more revolutionary thinkers with whom we have been blessed.”

“These poems take apart our individual personal pronoun, the ‘I’,” said Capildeo, “questioning and finding new ways to feel and think and know what we suppose to be our ‘self’. Some books use language to keep running smoothly. This book shifts what language can be and do. It is thrilling to read it and to relish giving up the illusion of mastery of meaning; to revel in not fully understanding, like swimming beyond the breakers in a sea full of flotsam and jetsam.”

Lubrin is a writer, editor, teacher and critic.

Frequently anthologised, her work has been translated into Spanish and Italian.

She is the author of the awards-nominated poetry collection Voodoo Hypothesis, and The Dyzgraphxst is her latest book. In addition to winning the OCM Bocas Prize, the book was recently shortlisted for Canada’s Griffin Poetry Prize, and in March 2021 Lubrin was also named a winner of a 2021 Windham Campbell Prize.

She teaches at the University of Toronto and is soon to become an editor at Penguin Random House.

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