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Wednesday 15 August 2018
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Commentary

A dazzling Bocas Lit Fest

DEBBIE JACOB

ONCE AGAIN, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest put on a world-class performance. This is not your old-fashioned concept of a literary festival where authors merely stand up and read passages from their books. The Bocas Lit Fest offers a wide array of events showcasing authors, the craft of writing and the world that Caribbean and international writers capture. This is a remarkable literature festival; a dazzling prism to the world of literature.

If you don’t believe me, check out the international acclaim it has been garnering. Google “best literary festivals in the world” and you’ll find the NGC Bocas Lit Fest has honourable mention in the British-based Guardian newspaper article titled “Fully booked: this year’s best literary festivals (2016).” The UK-based Penguin Random House Writers’ Academy included our literary festival in its “20 Best Literary Festivals Around the World That You Should Attend.”

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest stands out for many reasons. Let me list some of them:

1.
Outstanding overall organisation: From planning the festival to co-ordinating the many events, Marina Salandy-Brown, Nicholas Laughlin and their team of assistants provide a wide selection of well-planned events that run on time and in a smooth, orderly fashion.

2.
A timely theme guides many events: Many events are organised around a timely theme. This year, events explored how literature – fiction and nonfiction – deals with race, culture, immigration and deportation traditionally and in this new world of Trump and Brexit boundaries – Sri Lankan-born British writer Romesh Gunesekera, the author of Noontide Toll: Stories, who has been short-listed for the Booker Prize and Guardian Fiction Prize; British-born journalist/barrister Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish: On Race, Identity and Belonging), and New Zealander Eleanor Catton, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel Luminaries.

3.
Colourful events capture a variety of voices and formats for literature and expression: A mini Caribbean drama and film festival runs alongside literary events. This year, those who attended the festival could see 3Canal along with dramatic interpretations of VS Naipaul’s The Suffrage of Elvira and CLR James’s The Black Jacobins.

Spoken word is also an important component of this festival, reminding everyone of the role of the griot in Trinidad and Tobago’s oral literature. Bocas included an Extempo Debate between Black Sage and Myron B. Poets are widely represented here. My favourite poet, Trinidadian Mervyn Taylor, author of Voices Carry and other collections of poetry, featured in this year’s event.

4.
Stimulating writers’ workshops capture the imagination of writers: Writers’ workshops are carefully organised to capture the attention of aspiring and established writers. These workshops offer a place for aspiring writers to leap onto a page; and they offer established writers an important place of reflection to imagine new directions to take.

5.
Young Adult (YA) literature takes its rightful, lofty position in the NGC Bocas Lit Fest: YA literature for readers from the ages of 14 to 24 is among the best literature in the world right now. It tackles themes and conflicts that resonate with teens and young adults. An annual literary prize for YA lit is a focal point of the festival, but there are also YA book launches. This year, YA fans discovered Lisa Allen-Agostini’s exciting new YA novel, Home, Home hot off of Dominican-based Papillote press.

6.
The panel discussions are exceptional: Panel discussions explore important issues and offer stimulating interaction between panelists and the audience. This year featured “Secret Lives: Why Literary Archives Matter.” There was “One-on-One” with Afua Hirsch.

The event I participated in, “Beyond Boundaries – Discussing the Politics of Immigration, Ethnicity, and Migration,” featuring Hirsch, UK Professor Alison Donnel, writer Anthony Joseph, who wrote a biographical novel of Lord Kitchener, and UK writer Muli Amaye, proved to be the most interesting and important discussion I have ever participated in.

“Crossing Tongues” featured writers and translators from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Haiti for an important discussion on crossing a very important border of language.

7.
An emerging voice for nonfiction literature: Judging by the crowd spilling out of the old Fire Station at Nalis, one of this year’s most popular events was “Imagining a City: How Port of Spain Became a Modern City,” which featured Stephen Stuempfle and his book Port of Spain: The Construction of a Caribbean City, 188-1962. Moderated by Judy Raymond, this event included historian Bridget Brereton and architect Rudylynn De Four.

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest leaves book lovers and cultural enthusiasts with much to ponder long after the event. And it is getting better every year.

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