Marina Salandy-Brown, founder of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, wondered at the launch of this year's festival last week why the other arts, music, film and fashion had state agencies established to support them with infrastructure and funding but there was nothing for literature.
It’s not strictly accurate to describe the literary festival as unsupported. Indeed, the lead sponsor for several years has been the National Gas Company, a state agency, and other supporters exist at different levels of contribution, all the way down to the interns who provide the human engine that helps the event run so smoothly. The answer to the Lit Fest founder’s question is likely to be constituency.
Nine years’ worth of the Bocas Lit Fest has had an outsize impact on local literature, encouraging and nurturing a new generation of authors and readers. The Bocas Lit Fest has also punched above its weight globally, placing the Caribbean more firmly on the radar of the world’s literary communities, but it is not an undertaking that's likely to be seen as appealing to the voter core of either major political party.
Literature’s creative core in TT remains shockingly small, barely able to fill, as a collective, one of the smaller rooms that the festival programs for each year. Even its appreciative supporters barely move the political needle. But books and their readers have a larger role.
Literature provides us with a bridge between widely disconnected worlds, lifestyles and ideas, broadening individual and collective horizons and deepening our understanding of cultures and people we may never meet. In so doing, we may gain empathy for other perspectives and understand the most important lesson of all, that our story is not the only story and that the unknown can, with effort, become known.
We know the facts of Victorian England from its histories, we know the feel, the mood and the tenor of those times from the works of authors like Charles Dickens. It is that marriage of fact, found in histories and biographies and emotion and meaning, found in fiction that teaches us where we have been and where we might go. Locally produced literature that speaks directly to our citizens about their lives with insight, craft and beauty is a catalyst for inspiration and engagement, providing a reflection in words of our nation's evolution as well as its possible futures.
The best of these works encourage critical thinking and a clearer appreciation of our national circumstances, which are many faceted and complex. They also lead to more sophisticated and informed voters, who will challenge governance more eloquently.
That's ultimately a major win for our country, but politicians must demonstrate the courage to support this growing effort at broadening and deepening our cultural understanding.