Saturday, January 04, 2003

In a spirit of complete self-indulgence — & inspired by the countless year-end best-of lists I've scrolled through these last few weeks — I'm exceedingly pleased to announce the first annual Nicholas Laughlin Book Awards, for Caribbean books (i.e. books written by Caribbean authors, set in the Caribbean, or otherwise of particular Caribbean interest) published in 2002.

For professional reasons I keep pretty well up-to-date with Caribbean literary affairs, & read (or attempt to read) everything that seems even mildly interesting. That is my sole qualification as chief judge, and my personal opinion is the only criterion for the awards. I eagerly welcome disputation. Note also that the awards are restricted to books published in English, since I don't read Spanish, French or Dutch. Omissions due to poor memory are entirely possible. Here are the winners, arranged by category:

Fiction: no award. I read no Caribbean fiction published this year that I can recommend with a clear conscience. The two possible nominees, I suppose, would have been Jamaica Kincaid's Mr. Potter & Austin Clarke's The Polished Hoe — both interesting & ambitious works, & both all but unreadable, in their own crucial ways.

Poetry: A Rough Climate, by E.A. Markham. (Read my short review here.)

Drama: Haitian Trilogy, by Derek Walcott.

Biography or autobiography: a tie between Sugar and Slate, by Charlotte Williams (read my review here), & Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana, by Isadora Tattlin. Other nominees: The Autobiography of Alfred H. Mendes, 1897–1991 — a flawed but painfully honest self-assessment by an important early West Indian writer — & Beyond the Front Page: A Caribbean Journalist Remembers, by George R. John, the dean of West Indian newspapermen (& a remarkably charming gentleman).

Other non-fiction: José Martí's Selected Writings, trans. Esther Allen, the most comprehensive Martí collection yet published in English (bravo, Penguin Classics). Other nominee: The Writer and the World, by V.S. Naipaul (unfortunately contains very little previously uncollected material, & suffers from some significant editorial flaws; no substitute for a badly needed Collected Essays). C.L.R. James's Letters from London, ed. Nicholas Laughlin, was disqualified from competition on grounds of conflicting interest.

There will be no awards ceremony & no prizes. Authors or their representatives will not be contacted to inform them of their awards. Readers are free to submit nominations for the 2003 Nicholas Laughlin Book Awards, but the chief judge does not guarantee that these will be considered or even acknowledged.

Addendum: I make very little effort to keep up with contemporary literature outside the Caribbean, & also have the lamentable habit of buying books, misplacing them in the dusty stacks, & thus not reading them till months or years later. But based on what I actually did manage to read, the (non-Caribbean) highlights of 2002 for me were Everything Is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer; Gould's Book of Fish, by Richard Flanagan; Without End, by Adam Zagajewski; & Nobody's Perfect, by the divine Anthony Lane. Everyone tells me Atonement was the book of the year, but I'm yet to read it. I read The Autograph Man (Zadie Smith; read my review here), Life of Pi (Yann Martel; read my review here), & the first three quarters of Prague (Arthur Phillips) with much pleasure, but they all fell short of my hopes.

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