BEST IN POETRY: St Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte receives the 2013 OCM Bocas category prize for poetry for his book Fault Lines from judge Marion Bethel on Saturday.

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T&T writer takes top Bocas prize

By Julien Neaves

Beautiful things can be created in the wake of tragedy.

And it was the tragic circumstances of the flooding of her brother’s home in Maraval in 2008 that inspired Trinidad-born, United Kindom-based writer Monique Roffey to pen her fiction novel Archipelago.
That work won her the 2013 One Caribbean Media (OCM) Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Roffey said she “deeply honoured” after receiving the news on Saturday at an awards ceremony held Under the Trees, Hotel Normandie, St Ann’s.

“This is a response to something very tragic that happened to my family. It happened to my brother (Nigel) and it’s his birthday today. So you could just say happy birthday to my brother. So thank you (for the award) and thanks to my mum,” she told the gathering.

The prize of US$10,000 is part of the annual National Gas Company (NGC) Bocas Lit Fest and is sponsored by OCM, the holding company of the Caribbean Communications Network, parent company of the Express and TV6.

Event founder and director Marina Salandy-Brown said in three years the prize has “gained enormous prestige” internationally partly due to the “near absence” of prizes for Caribbean writing. She noted that prizes are very important to recognise the talent, skill and dedication required of writers to produce, and to help them promote their work.

She said that the 11 judges were drawn from all over the world and there were 40 titles entered. These were whittled down to three in separate categories: Roffey, who won the fiction category prize for Archipelago; St Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte won the poetry category for his collection Fault Lines; and Guyanese writer Rupert Roopnarine won the non-fiction category for his work The Sky’s Wild Noise.

Roffey, whose previous novels were Sun Dog, published in 2002, and The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, published in 2009, emerged as the overall winner.

OCM Bocas Prize chief judge, Jamaican author Olive Senior, noted in Archipelago there was “an exploration of the greater Caribbean space in which is embedded a real-life story of trauma and loss and ultimately redemption that is both contemporary and compelling”.

Archipelago tells the story of Gavin Weald, who goes on a yacht adventure with his daughter and dog after his house is destroyed by a flood.

Senior said it was an “agonising process” as they had to choose between “apples and oranges” with the different categories. She noted that all three books are “worthy additions to the Caribbean literary canon”.

NGC vice-president, human and corporate relations Cassandra Patrovani-Sylvester noted that Caribbean writers work with limited resources and need support. She encouraged writers and aspiring writers to “tell your story. Society needs you desperately”.

OCM Group Executive, Corporate Services Gregory Camejo noted that the world is taking note of the achievement of Bocas and is making Port of Spain a destination for literary tourism.
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