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Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Missing the list

By now, every literary blog in the English-speaking world has probably linked to the 2007 Man Booker Prize longlist. What's the buzz? There's only one really big-name writer on the list (Ian McEwan), and for a Booker longlist it's actually rather short: just thirteen books. But what stood out for me--as for others in this part of the world, no doubt--is that there are no Caribbean writers longlisted. Actually, there were none last year, nor the year before--Caryl Phillips (2003, A Distant Shore) was the last Caribbean or Caribbean-ish writer to catch the attention of the Booker judges (and the only one to ever actually win a Booker Prize was V.S. Naipaul back in 1971--but, shh, don't let him hear you call him "Caribbean"). I hope that says more about the Booker judges, and about literary prizes in general, than about the quality of fiction written by Anglophone Caribbean writers. But tell me, dear readers, which Caribbean novels of the last three or four years do you think could or should have made it to the Booker's final judging table? What have those judges up in London been overlooking?


jt said...

Well, that makes the point. After more than 48 hours, nobody has been able to think of one, either from this year or from the last three or four years. This is because there aren't any. There hasn't been a novel from the anglophone Caribbean good enough to make a Booker longlist. To keep an international competition credible, the bar has to be set high; I don't believe the Booker judges have been overlooking Caribbean novels, they just haven't seen any that are good enough. The best work has been coming from the diaspora, and Edwidge Danticat's "The Dew Breaker" could be a contender if she was eligible (I suppose she's seen as an American author). But from the region itself? Chauvinism and loyalty shouldn't blind us to the fact that the region is not producing truly world-class fiction these days. Interesting fiction, yes: prize-winners, no. No use blaming the judging system. The more interesting question is: why?

Marlon James said...

I can only speak for myself. And far be it for me to suggest that my book was good enough for a Booker nod, (even though it was good enough for a Commonwealth Regional Prize nomination and the LA Times Book Prize finals) but regardless of its quality, my book would have been shut out because there was no UK imprint. Of course, Caribbean fiction has been coasting for years, but JT can't ignore the facts—other facts that left me and others off. With a publisher in the US and not the UK I was immediately inelegible. And even if I or many of the Macmillan writers were eligible, there is still the 5000 pounds that must be contributed should the book make the shortlist, and the further 5000 pounds one must contribute should the book win. Sure, if you win there is 50,000 to enjoy but if you lose you only win 2500, half of what you spent. I don't know if my book was good enough to win, but I do know I would have not been able to afford to even enter.

Anonymous said...

Well Edwidge Danticat would no have qualified anyway since she is Haitian. As for the drying up of the well..I wish to point out that generally speaking, many of the Caribbean's premier writers have been poets, not novelists. True there was the fifties generation with Lamming and Selvon among other but that was a long time ago and many of those great reputations rest mainly on a book or two. I believe Caribbean writers are disproportionately cast in the mold of Walcott as opposed to Naipaul. At least this a something to ponder

My Chutney Garden said...

Is it that we have not found our voice? The very diversity that makes the region so unique is also paralyzing. I speak for Trinidad here but maybe we are, as Naipaul says, true mimic men. Beyond the work of the fifties with Selvon, early Naipaul and C.L.R. James, there's been no one else to fill the vacuum. And believe me, young British writers such as Zadie Smith and even Andrea Levy are rushing in to fill in the dots and the literary world is lapping in up. Obviously the lack of a viable publishing industry is one of the factors but there are so many others. Young writers like Oonya Kempadoo who jump at the deep end must be commended. Where else do we start if we have to step out of the shoes of the literary giants of the pre-independence years.