For the first time in its nine-year history, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature has been won by a work of non-fiction.
Kevin Adonis Browne claimed the literary prize for his book High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture during the award ceremony held at the Old Fire Station in Port-of Spain on Saturday night.
Browne was announced as the winner by chief judge Dame Marina Warner.
Speaking to the media following the event, Browne, who is a lecturer at the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine Campus’ Department of Literary, Cultural, and Communication Studies, said the victory was for his students.
“It feels wonderful to be validated, to have the work that you have done over the past few years to be recognised in this kind of way is, of course, going to be exciting and humbling and all of that,” Browne said.
“But I think it is less for me personally than for the work that I do. I see myself primarily as a teacher so I am thinking about how my students are going to benefit from the work that I do,” he said.
High Mas is Browne’s second book.
The first was Tropic Tendencies: Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean.
“High Mas is a book that involves four series photographs that have accompanying essays so the photographic series are Blue Devils, Moko Jumbies, the La Diablesse that Tracy Sankar played in 2015, and Jouvay Ayiti performing their mas on Emancipation Day,” Browne said.
Browne said the book was finished back in January 2017 and published last year by the University Press of Mississippi. Browne said it was an “immense honour” to be recognised the same year Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance turned 40 years old since he wrote his dissertation on it when he was doing his doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University.
“I read The Dragon Can’t Dance as theory, not just fiction or art, theory that challenged me to do this kind of work,” he said.
Warner described Browne’s book as “hugely energetic.”
“This is a hugely energetic, original, multi-faceted, deeply engaged action in book form, which takes up what he calls the magic of perishable things,” Warner said.
“Kevin Adonis Browne moves between memoir and history, aesthetics and gender politics, visual imagery, poetry and prose to think about Carnival and mas as a highly original and personal depth,” she said.
“He is troubled and his material is troubling but the book took me and the other judges to unexpected dimensions of understanding and awe at human complexity and depth,” Warner said.
Journalist and editor Gary Younge who was part of the judging panel for non-fiction work said High Mas was “impressive, lyrical and innovative.”
“Impressive in scope, lyrical in style, and innovative in form, High Mas is impactful both as literature and art,” Younge said.
“Kevin Adonis Browne’s exceptional exploration of mas blends photographic essay, memoir, poetry, polemic, prose, poetry and prose, to transformative effect.
The gimlet style photography forms an integral part of the action demonstrating the inseparability between mask and mas, going beyond the history and narrative Browne peers into the soul of the people with whom he feels a deep kinship, the result is a radical genre-defying tribute to a cherished legacy in the finest tradition of literary non-fiction,” he said.
Browne earned US$10,000 for his win.