Friday, February 23, 2018

Over 100 writers in 2014 Bocas line-up

Festival begins on Wednesday


In charge: Mavis John sings during Saturday’s third instalment of the Women in Jazz 2014 series at MovieTowne, Invaders Bay, Port of Spain. The event was dedicated to Billie Holiday, aka “Lady Day”, the American jazz singer/songwriter who had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing. From Holiday’s repertoire, John sang “God Bless The Child” and “Strange Fruit”. In addition, she sang a number of her own hits and songs of other local singers. —Photo: GARY CARDINEZ

Mark Fraser

The action-packed programme of the 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest includes more than 100 writers, performers and speakers—the festival’s biggest line-up yet.

Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival begins this Wednesday and runs for five days, closing on Sunday. The schedule of readings, discussions, performances, workshops and film screenings follows a month of pre-festival events aro­und the country.

“We have so much in store this year that we’ve even added an extra day to the festival,” say the organisers. They continue: “The NGC Bocas Lit Fest has a special focus on Caribbean writers—which automatically makes us international, as our region is and has always been a global space.

“We’re proud to showcase some of our best writers from T&T, but we’re equally proud to feature extraordinary writers from across the whole Caribbean.”

The 2014 festival has a special focus on poetry. The “Festival Warmup” on Wednesday, a lunchtime session in the Old Fire Station in downtown Port of Spain, features UK-based Trinidadian poet and musician Anthony Joseph and British poet Malika Booker, whose roots are in Grenada and Guyana. They will perform their work alongside singer/songwriter Gillian Moor.

And one of the festival’s main highlights is a performance on Friday billed as The Living Word.

Described as “a celebration of the Caribbean’s poetry and performance traditions”, it also com­memorates the 60th birthyear of the late Jamaican dub poet Mikey Smith.

The free event, to be held at the backyard performance space Bohemia in Woodbrook, boasts a line-up of poets, including the iconic Linton Kwesi Johnson, fellow Jamaicans Lorna Goodison, Mervyn Morris and Kwame Dawes, Trinidadians Anthony Joseph, Vahni Capildeo, and Lauren K Alleyne, St Lucian newcomer Vladimir Lucien, and a guest performance by Freetown Collective.

Elsewhere in the programme, the eminent UK-based Guyanese poets John Agard and Grace Nichols will read from and discuss their work, as will the US-based Trinidadian poet Mervyn Taylor.

And on Saturday morning, an array of Guyanese writers will mark the centenary of AJ Seymour, the late poet and editor.

Trinida­dian Jennifer Rahim and Vincentian Philip Nanton will also launch new books of poems during the fes­tival.

At Bocas 2014’s grand conclusion on Sunday, T&T’s best spoken-word poets will contest the finals of the VERSES Bocas Poetry Slam.

The Thursday- and Friday-lunchtime open-mike sessions on the Brian Lara Promenade, Port of Spain, will be the prelude.

The focus on poe­try doesn’t mean an absence of fiction wri­ters.

Canada-based Trinidadian novelist Neil Bissoondath will appear at a special event at the Naipaul House Museum, former home of his grandparents; and St Kitts-born Caryl Phillips, Belizean Zee Edgell and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo—whose debut novel, We Need New Names, was recently shortlisted for the Booker Prizer—will also read from their works.

Robert Antoni, Bernardine Evaristo and Gerard Besson will all participate in a special event looking at how post-colonial writers are reinventing the historical novel, while Jamaican Esther Figueroa and Barbados-based Trinidadian Ingrid Persaud will discuss how fiction can tackle social issues.

Books of fiction making their debut at the festival include Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw’s Mrs B, and Vashti Bowlah’s short story collection, Under the Peepal Tree.

As usual, the festival also makes room for lively, serious discussion of pressing social issues. The programme includes a number of events addressing T&T’s widespread concern with crime and vio­lence.

An event called Bloody Friday will bring together Irish-Trinidadian novelist Amanda Smyth, Scottish crime writers Denise Mina and Allan Guthrie, and US editor Johnny Temple for a discussion on how writing of different genres can deal with social violence.

An innovative extempo debate featuring Short Pants and Black Sage will ask, “Are there more criminals in jail or in public office?” And the Bocas Debate on Saturday will bring together a high-level panel of opinion-makers for a frank discussion on “Breaking the Circle” of crime, chaired by UK High Commissioner Arthur Snell.

Several dozen other writers and speakers will complete the programme. And, as in previous years, the 2014 festival will include seve­ral events focused on budding and emer­ging writers.

A new festival event, called Who’s Next?, will present a line-up of eight emerging writers from T&T; and the Stand and Deliver open mic series will give prose and poetry writers a chance to present their work to an audience.

The festival’s film series will offer documentaries on major Caribbean authors such as Derek Walcott, VS Naipaul and Earl Lovelace; a survey of recent Indian writing in English; and a special showcase of the films made by British director Anthony Wall for the BBC’s Arena programme in the 1980s. These include docu­mentaries on Mikey Smith’s visit to London, Carifesta 1981 in Barbados, and the West Indian community of coastal Nicaragua, as well as the first feature-length documentary ever made on Bob Marley, originally released in 1986.

And on Sunday 28 April, a special programme of films and talks will pay tribute to William Shakespeare on the occasion of his 450th birthday, which falls during the festival.

Look out for adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, each introduced by NGC Bocas Lit Fest programme director Nicholas Laughlin, as well as a discussion on “Shakespeare, our contemporary”.

The festival is also the occasion for the announcement of the winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Lite­rature, a major regional award recognising Carib­bean writers of poe­try, fiction and nonfiction; the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, supporting an emerging Caribbean writer in completing a book; and the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean Literature for Young Adult readers.

Parallel to the main festival, the NGC Children’s Bocas Lit Fest will include dozens of readings, performances, and workshops for young readers and wri­ters.

For more information on the 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest programme, a full list of participants and information on how to register for workshops, visit

The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago is the title sponsor of the festival. The Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development and One Caribbean Media (OCM) are main sponsors. Flow, Courts and First Citizens are supporting sponsors of the festival.