Fifty years ago, an impressive, sensational and sometimes scandalous group of writers descended into the midst of the Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama. For five days they argued, accused and entertained each other and a packed audience. That's how the Edinburgh World Writers Conference (EWWC) started. For their 50th anniversary, celebrated from August 2012 to August 2013, they've decided to take a bit of a jaunt: 14 cities outside of Scotland will host EWWC events as part of a local festival. In April, The NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, will join the party.
"A National Literature?" Yes? No? Maybe? Is it real? Who wants it? Does it do any good? Or try this one: "Should Literature be Political?" Is that a conversation you even want to start without proper supervision and maybe a riot squad?
These were two of the themes put to writers at the seminal 1962 conference in Scotland. They are also the issues that will be discussed by two international panels of writers at this year's Lit Fest. By going back to these ideas 50 years later, we have the chance to see if and how these concepts are still relevant—and how they've evolved—both as literary fodder and in the wider community.
The panels feature Jamaican writers Marlon James and Olive Senior, and Trinidadians Earl Lovelace and Vahni Capildeo. Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, wrote a book called Trainspotting, which became the movie Trainspotting, which, if you've neither read nor seen one or the other you've certainly heard of. He'll be here. Marina Warner, Courttia Newland, Pankaj Mishra, Hannah Lowe and Ifeona Fulani, all highly esteemed writers, come from diverse backgrounds and possibly even more varied interests.
Bocas organisers are, not to put too fine a point on it, exceedingly excited to be hosting these local events. Apart from Port of Spain, Toronto is the only other city in all of the Americas to have the honour of making it onto the EWWC tour. That's right. There isn't going to be one in Boston or Brazil or Alaska or Mexico. Just us. And the Canadians. The other participating cites are Berlin, Cape Town, Krasnoyarsk (Russia), Cairo, Jaipur, Izmir (Turkey), Beijing, Brussels, Lisbon, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, St Malo. And, of course, Edinburgh, where it all began 50 years ago and where they kicked off the programme last year. All told, it's no small honour for the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, now only in its third year.
The travelling World Writers events have been made possible through the partnership of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council. The NGC Bocas Lit Fest runs from 25 to 28 April at the National Library, Port of Spain. The National Gas Company is the title sponsor and main sponsors are One Caribbean Media (OCM) and KFC.
Have a look at what's already happening around the world at http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org.
Olive Senior was born and brought up in Jamaica and educated in Jamaica and Canada. She is a graduate of Montego Bay High School and Carleton University, Ottawa. She started her career as a journalist with the Daily Gleaner and later entered the world of publishing. She was editor of two of the Caribbean's leading journals - Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies and Jamaica Journal, published by Institute of Jamaica Publications of which she was also Managing Director. She left Jamaica in 1989, spent some years in Europe and since 1993 has been based in Toronto.
The Caribbean nevertheless remains the focus of her work, starting with her prizewinning collection of stories, Summer Lightning which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize followed by Arrival of the Snake-Woman and Discerner of Hearts. Her novel, Dancing Lessons was published by Cormorant Books in Canada 2011 and an illustrated children's book, Birthday Suit by Annick Press in 2012.
Senior's poetry books are Shell, (shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award), Over the roofs of the world (shortlisted for Canada's Governor-General's Literary Award and Cuba's Casa de las Americas Prize), Gardening in the Tropics (winner of the F.J. Bressani Literary Prize), and Talking of Trees. Senior's non-fiction works on Caribbean culture include the A-Z of Jamaican Heritage, Working Miracles: Women's Lives in the English-Speaking Caribbean and The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage.
Earl Lovelace was born in Toco, Trinidad in 1935 and spent his childhood in Tobago and Port of Spain. His first job was as a proofreader with the Trinidad Publishing Company. Later, he joined the Civil Service, serving first in the Forestry Department and then in the Department of Agriculture. Lovelace's first novel, While Gods Are Falling, won him the BP Independence Literary Award which enabled him to study in the United States as visiting novelist at Howard University. His second novel, The Schoolmaster (1968), drew on his experiences in rural Trinidad. Forty years later The Schoolmaster still resonated with young people as the 2008 NALIS One Book One Community selection.
The promise evident in these novels of the sixties was fulfilled in The Dragon Can't Dance (1979) and the Wine of Astonishment (1983) which a West African magazine argued "put him in the front rank of Caribbean writers". The Dragon Can't Dance has been translated into five languages and is one of the most widely recognized Caribbean novels. This was followed by a collection of plays, Jestina's Calypso, published in 1984, and a short story collection, A Brief Conversation & Other Stories, published in 1988.
Lovelace was awarded the 1997 Commonwealth Writer's Prize for his novel Salt. His novel Is Just a Movie (2011), was the winner of the 2011 Grand Prize for Caribbean Literature by the Regional Council of Guadeloupe and the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Lovelace has worked as a lecturer at UWI and a visiting novelist and writer-in-residence at universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. In 1980, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has been recognized nationally with a Trinidad and Tobago Chaconia Medal (Gold) and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago. In 2012, Lovelace received a NALIS Lifetime Literary Achievement Award.
Irvine Welsh was born in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Welsh left Ainslie Park Secondary School when he was16-years-old and had various jobs, but didn't really like work any more than he did school. However, he was very fortunate to meet some exceptionally decent people at both, most of whom tolerated him. London called in the late seventies and he tried to catch up on some of education he'd missed on while daydreaming about more interesting things, as enjoyed the London punk scene. Welsh eventually returned to Edinburgh where he worked for the city council in the housing department. He went on to study for an MBA at Heriot Watt University.
Welsh regards himself as very fortunate to be back in his home town when Kevin Williamson, Duncan McLean, Barry Graham, Alan Warner, Paul Reekie and Rodney Relax were all doing their thing. Energised by the rave scene, he started to write and his paths crossed with the above. Digging out some old diaries, Welsh did a draft of what would become Trainspotting. Welsh published parts this from 1991 onwards in DOG, the West Coast Magazine, and New Writing Scotland. Duncan McLean published parts of the novel in two Clocktower pamphlets, A Parcel of Rogues and Past Tense: Four Stories from a Novel. Meanwhile Kevin Williamson, a member of Duncan McLean's Muirhouse writers' group, published sections of Trainspotting in the literary magazine, Rebel Inc. Duncan McLean recommended Welsh to Robin Robertson, then editorial director of Secker & Warburg, who decided to publish Trainspotting, despite believing that it was unlikely to sell.
When Trainspotting was published in 1993 Irvine Welsh shot to fame. According to Lord Gowrie, the chairman of the panel, the novel was rejected for the Booker Prize shortlist after offending the sensibilities of two female judges. Despite this unease from the critical establishment, Welsh's novel received as many good reviews as ones swathed in disgust and outrage - establishing a tradition that continues to this day. Harry Gibson's stage adaptation of the novel was premiered at the Glasgow Mayfest in April 1994 and went on to be staged at the Edinburgh Festival and in London before touring the UK. In August 1995, Irvine Welsh gave up his day job.
Since Danny Boyle's film adaptation of Trainspotting was released in February 1996 Irvine Welsh has remained a controversial figure, whose novels, stage and screen plays, novellas and short stories have proved difficult for literary critics to assimilate, a difficulty made only more noticeable by Welsh's continued commercial success. More books have followed, Ecstasy becoming the first paperback original to go straight in at No1 on the Sunday Times best-sellers list, a feat emulated by Filth, which became Welsh's highest selling book after Trainspotting. His first novel has now sold almost 1 million copies in the UK alone and is a worldwide phenomenon. Books such as Glue, Porno and recent The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs have seen him increase his profile in America and Canada.
Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1970. He graduated from the University of the West Indies in 1991 with a degree in literature. His first novel, John Crow's Devil, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book The Book of Night Women , released in 2009, was a new york times best seller. Marlon James currently lives in Minneapolis.