At the end of the 2011 Bocas Lit Fest, choreographer Carol La Chapelle felt imbued with a powerful spirit. She spent four days, April 28-May 1, not only in the company of a host of talented Caribbean writers, but also coming to terms with an artistic and cultural trajectory.
La Chappelle's first professional job was on the set of one of Derek Walcott's productions, many years ago. She added that in those days she frequently saw writer Earl Lovelace observing the proceedings and talking to other artistes. Lovelace was also a part of the Bocas Literature Festival.
La Chapelle has been familiar with Lovelace since then and after hearing him read from his latest work, Is Just a Movie, on the morning of April 30, she said she knew she was not the only person moved or taken aback by the brilliance, "It's just the feelings and emotions it encourages that are so deep and true. I didn't understand why I was feeling so emotional beyond the familiarity and it had to do with an attempt to understand where we are culturally. It's been a time to gauge what happened in the time of Walcott versus what is happening today".
One of the major discussions on what is happening today was the roundtable "Does Caribbean Literature Really Exist?" which posed a provocative question at an event based on the very notion of Caribbean writing. Moderated by columnist BC Pires, participants included writers Marlon James, Jane King, Nicholas Laughlin, Mark McWatt and Tanya Shirley.
The discussion moved back and forth on Caribbean identity, the perils of Caribbean authors not living in the region, and the definition of literature. Pires ended this most important discussion jokingly claiming that his final comments would make all others irrelevant, "Before we can have Caribbean literature we need a Caribbean"
Another rewarding feature of the festival was the ability to focus on the intersection between music and literature. These included a discussion on the treatment of homosexuality in calypso lead by Colin Robinson and the performance of Leos Janacek's "Kreutzer Sonata" which was inspired by Leo Tolstoy's novella of the same title.
Some of the most inspiring of these musical additions, however, included the Chibale Drumming Ensemble and the Freetown Collective displaying two halves of a cultural coin. Chibale, who played prior to the Bocas award ceremonies on Saturday night, represented an adherence to the oral tradition in historical form. The group of five youngsters—the youngest four-year-old Ire Charles and the eldest 14-year-old chantuelle, Shanya Springer—are the grandchildren of literary and cultural icon Pearl Eintou Springer.
Dressed in African garb, the children skilfully commanded recitations of Springer's poetry, Trinidadian and Yoruba folk songs and calypso classics accompanied by drums played with adult precision.
The band of poets and lyricists, Freetown Collective, who played at the Bocas Farewell on Sunday afternoon, represented a regeneration of the oral tradition. Their performance was current and engaging. Members Keegan Maharaj, Lou Lyons and Muhammad Muwakil continue to perform Trinidadian culture but have created their own lyrics inspired by tradition rather than repeating the folklore.
OCM Bocas Prize
The culminating reading featured the work of the three writers on the Bocas Prize Short List: the overall winner and poetry awardee, Derek Walcott, the non-fiction awardee, Edwidge Danticat and the only awardee present to read, fiction winner, Tiphanie Yanique.
Charlotte Williams, OBE, writer and Bocas Prize judge, and UWI Mona professor Edward Baugh gracefully tackled both Danticat's and Walcott's work with readings from Create Dangerously and White Egrets.
While the host for the afternoon, Nicholas Laughlin, felt Baugh was a better reader of Walcott's work than the author himself, this was certainly not the case for Yanique who read excerpts from her short story "Kill the Rabbits" with sincere empathy for her characters and subject matter. Before reading, Yanique shared that "Kill the Rabbits" was the name of a popular calypso in the US Virgin Islands while she was growing up, which was eventually banned due to controversy surrounding the meaning of "rabbits".
The reading certainly achieved half of what, according to Baugh, Walcott believes is the end result of literary readings: "enlightened boredom".
Looking Forward to Next Year
The Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison says she too was "blown away" by Lovelace's reading. It was the crowning moment on a first-class literary festival, "I thought it was one of the best literary festivals that I've ever been too. It was just the right balance of readings and workshops. I can't think of anything I would change about it. I feel very energised for coming".
Tanya Shirley shared similar sentiments, "It was wonderfully organized. What I like is that it wasn't just about readings, there were also workshops and it's great that they took that into consideration. As a writer I feel honoured to have been here and able to participate and I look forward to coming back next year and every year after that. At the farewell, founder Marina Salandy-Brown said Bocas Lit Fest 2012 was already in the making.