Celeste Rita Baker

Celeste Rita Baker

Virgin Islands author Celeste Rita Baker has been awarded the 2021 World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction for her story “Glass Bottle Dancer.”

Baker bested four other finalists to earn the award for her submission, which was published by Lightspeed in April 2020. Her story is also on the Locus Recommended Reading List 2020 and is included in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2021.

Organized and overseen by the World Fantasy Convention, the awards have been given each year since 1975. They are one of the three most prestigious fantasy awards, along with the Hugo and Nebula Awards, which cover both fantasy and science fiction.

The win was announced at the World Fantasy Awards and Convention, which was held in Montreal earlier this month.

Other categories included novel, novella, anthology, collection, artist and the lifetime achievement.

“I was shocked to win because of the nature of the story,” said Baker. “It’s a cute little story. It’s not an important story, it’s not a political, social or let’s talk about dystopia and how we’re going to fix it story. To me, it’s just a cute little story. I was fascinated when it was nominated and I did the dance of joy. I never, ever, ever thought it would win. I’m just pleased that so many people got moments of joy out it.”

“Glass Bottle Dancer” is about a middle-aged woman from the Virgin Islands who decides to teach herself how to dance on glass bottles. She practices outside in the backyard at night, while the roaches in the yard, who are also characters in the story, watch and practice a little routine of their own.

When the woman gets a chance to perform at the Calypso Tent, the roaches, unbeknownst to her, join her on stage to dance. In the end, she is able to quit her job at Consumer Affairs and becomes the Roach Lady, who leads roaches out of homes and into the hills, where they can do their job in nature and people can avoid getting sick from pesticides.

“It was written in a very lighthearted tone,” Baker said. “It was fun to write because I wanted the readers to like the roach characters, so I had to research roaches myself and look at pictures. I was able to create lovable roach characters.”

Originally from St. Thomas, Baker spent 30 years in New York. She moved back to St. Thomas a year and a half ago and is a recently retired bookkeeper.

Writing has been something she has always enjoyed.

“I’m a very slow writer and real life gets in the way,” she said. “It was just a hobby, so I thought I’d better do all the things that I should do first and it just gets pushed aside. So that stack of stories is a way to remind ourselves, particularly us women, who always have so much on our plate, to do things that are just for joy.”

Baker’s first short story was published in the University of the Virgin Islands’ “The Caribbean Writer, Volume 7,” in 1993. Her collection of short stories, “Back, Belly and Side,” is available on amazon.com and her work is also featured locally at Bookstore 340 in Crown Bay.