THE JUST-CONCLUDED five-day NGC Bocas Lit Fest was a timely reminder of the global reach of ideas and art, underlining the need for greater efforts to provide conditions which can sustain the work and livelihoods of creatives.
Congratulations are in order to the organisers who supplied the public, yet again, with a rich menu of literature. Countries represented included: Canada, France, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, St Kitts, St Lucia, the US, and the UK. And that’s not to mention the countries readers could travel to through featured books.
Margaret Busby invited readers to look beyond borders, launching New Daughters of Africa, a follow-up to her pioneering 1992 anthology of women from Africa and the African diaspora. The Commonwealth Foundation asked readers to look to India and its diaspora with We Mark Your Memory. And dozens of books written by featured authors asked readers to skip between countries, to embrace the reality of our multi-faceted and complex identities.
In a way, then, it was fitting the festival’s main prize, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, was awarded for a book that also crossed boundaries. High Mas by Kevin Adonis Browne mixes poetry with memoir, photography and academic writing to meditate on aspects of Trinidad society and culture.
This is a book in line with a long tradition of genre-defying Caribbean writing, a tradition which includes writers as diverse as Wilson Harris, VS Naipaul, Jean Rhys, Kamau Brathwaite and, more recently, Marlene Nourbese Philip, Vahni Capildeo and Marlon James.
Several speakers pointed to the dangerous ground we now stand on. Novelist Caryl Phillips lamented the state of race and politics in the UK; journalist Gary Younge discussed the ways in which race has affected America, and critic Marina Warner warned of the dangers of the archetype and the ways stories perpetuate representations of the other.
The festival will mark its tenth anniversary next year. In a landscape seen as largely hostile to all forms of creative industry, not only literature, the feat is extraordinary. The festival’s base at the heart of Port of Spain points to the synergies between urban landscapes and literature, synergies explored in a report published in March by the British Council, Cities of Literature.
According to Bocas founder and Newsday columnist Marina Salandy-Brown, the festival’s impact now “spreads across the waters to other islands of the region, which is unlike other festival cities, which are resolutely local or national in their focus.”
She argues for, and we think the State should consider supporting, the special designation of the capital as a city of literature. Such a move could push tourism figures up, bolster book sales, enhance writer and reader development and encourage greater dialogue and understanding.