Jamaican writer A-dZiko Gegele, recipient of the 2013 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, said the Caribbean has a culture of reading for academia and not pleasure. She also said there was not much of a reading public since publishers were only willing to publish textbooks.
Gegele made these comments on Saturday during the NGC Children’s Bocas Lit Fest at Nalis Children’s Library, at Abercromby Street, Port of Spain.
It was a special programme of events for young readers. The festival founder is Marina Salandy-Brown.
Earlier on, she entertained the children with Read It, Write It, and Wow! Wow! Wow!
Gegele is also a poet and playwright. Her first novel All Over Again copped the Burt Award. The Burt Award was established by CODE, a Canadian charitable organisation that has been supporting literature and literacy for over 50 years. The award aims to provide culturally relevant books for young people and children across the Caribbean.
Asked to share her sentiments on Caribbean literature, Gegele said: “We don’t have a culture of reading for pleasure. We have a culture of reading for academia. People read to pass exams. Reading is just intended to get you to another point. We don’t read because we want to relax. You don’t read for entertainment. You only read to advance yourself.”
On the issue of marketing, Gegele said: “Because of the culture, publishers only want to publish textbooks. We need to do more marketing to get people reading. We need to make books sexy. For example, Usain Bolt (Olympic sprinter) running across a textbook to the finish line. We need to find creative ways to get people and children to read. The literacy rate is low. And there is not enough purchasing power in the region. It is very tough in the region.”
Gegele added: “How do we use social media to make books sexy. There are ways to use a tablet to read and write. How do you get children interested in reading?”
She said the industry needed to decide on how books were given on consignment and ensure it took care of the publishers who were willing to go out on a limb.
She paid kudos to Bocas for “making books sexy”.
Asked what advice she would give to budding writers, she said: “Write. Keep on writing. Write your stories. Never give up. Hone your craft.”
Jamaica has produced famous writers, including Rachel Manley, Lorna Goodison and Claude McKay.
Later that day, visiting Jamaican writer Kellie Magnus said Caribbean writers need to write stories that will appeal to a broad cross-section of people. She also said reading must be converted into a pleasurable experience for children.
Among those present were Children’s Festival director Daniel Delon, coordinator Natasha Jones and publisher Donna Lyndersay. They were joined by storytellers, including Jamaica’s A-dZiko Gegele, who is also the 2014 winner of the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, Lylah Persad and Jared Hosein. During the countdown, storyteller Thea Ulerie also entertained the receptive children.
Before Magnus read Little Lion On The Ball, and Happy Harry and the Hah Hah Song.
Asked to share her sentiments on Caribbean literature, Magnus said: “We need to build on the work of the other Caribbean writers. And to take advantage of the market. I try to use stories that will interest a broad cross-section of people. It is enough to build a market. Focus on what is out there. And what we can do with it.”
Magnus added: “I think the bigger challenge is to figure out how to make readers aware of the stories and the development of Caribbean literature. We have to find ways to build a market of Caribbean readers.”
Linking it to children and the move to court a younger generation of readers and writers, Magnus said: “You have to keep the children interested. That’s why I like the Bocas. It is important to give the children a pleasure filled experience in order to enjoy reading. It is about touching parents. A parent who did not buy a book today, might be tempted to go out at another time and write a book. If you are building a market, it will help build a generation of readers.”
Persad did a dramatic reading and presentation of a town that had lost its tales.
Delon said the focus was Only On Caribbean Books Today.
Along with the children, Delon and Jones worked on creating a story, “How Kevon and Aurora won the poetry competition.”
Jones told the children the stories will be published in the Express children’s magazine.
Asked to share her sentiments, Delon said:”I am getting positive feedback from the children and their parents. I advise them to keep a journal. The children’s segment has been well-received.”
Aftet the formalities, the children were given T-shirts, refreshments and Children’s Storytelling Caravan colouring books.
Celebrated Caribbean writers include Earl Lovelace, Derek Walcott and George Lamming.