Bocas Lit Fest 2023 returns in person with 80 events

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

From left: Bocas Lit Fest founder Marina Salandy-Brown, NGC chairman Dr Joseph Khan, journalist Ira Mathur, Newsday editing consultant Judy Raymond and writer Breanne McIvor, at the launch of the 13th edition of NGC Bocas Lit Fest 2023 at the National Library, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, on Wednesday. – ROGER JACOB

Over 80 events will take place during the 2020 NGC Bocas Lit Fest from April 28-30. The festival will be fully in-person for the first time since 2019, at the National Library in Port of Spain, although it will still be streamed online.

Speaking at the media launch at the library on Abercromby Street on Wednesday, festival director Nicholas Laughlin said the event will feature 100 writers, speakers and performers from Trinidad and Tobago and around the world. The 2023 theme is What’s Your Story?

“The three days will feel like a week because they are packed with readings, discussions, performances, workshops, music, drama, ole mas, and even moko jumbies. It will celebrate words, stories, ideas, and the people who write, tell and read them.

“We are a free festival for everybody, and returning to an in-person format doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten our international audience who’ve gotten accustomed to seeing us online.”

Laughlin said some of the featured writers will be international and local prize-winning authors Bernardine Evaristo, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Anthony Joseph, Breanne McIvor, Ayanna Lloyd Banwoo, and Kevin Jared Hosein. Life writing will receive a special focus with memoirs being presented by authors Ira Mathur, Elizabeth Montano and Barbara Jenkins. Two of TT’s literary icons, Samuel Selvon and Harold Sonny Ladoo. will be honoured, as well as Leroy “Black Stalin” Calliste.

Bocas Lit Fest Children’s Festival manager Melvina Hazard speaks at the launch of the 13th edition of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest at the National Library, Port of Spain on Wednesday. Photo by Roger Jacob

Laughlin said the three genre winners of the OCM Bocas Literary Prize will be announced on April 2, and the announcement of the winner will be on April 29. The First Citizens National Poetry Slam will again be the closing event of the festival and will be held at the Central Bank Auditorium.

Laughlin said the winner of the annual Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters was Prof Emerita Sandra Pouchet Paquet, scholar, academic and pioneering Caribbeanist, who will receive the award in-person at the festival.

Children’s Festival manager Melvina Hazard said the Children’s Storytelling Caravan will be going to ten venues around the country.

“This year’s theme is What’s Your Story? We have to ask ourselves how do we tell stories and how do we get others to tell theirs?

“For me, the underlying ideology of programming the children’s festival was about inclusion, allowing as many children and writers of children’s stories to be able to access platforms and opportunities to be able to tell their stories and to tell them in different ways.”

Some of the highlights of the children’s programming will be a panel featuring authors who write for children and children who write for children, workshops and panels on how to write for special needs children and how to get them to tell their stories, a storytelling room in the children’s library, interactive art and costume workshops, and a Dragonzilla jump-up, where children can wear their Carnival costumes. Featured children’s authors will include Coryn Clarke, Ayanna Pryce, and Milla Smith

Bocas Lit Fest CEO Jean-Claude Cournand said the festival had done a lot to catalyse the Caribbean literature landscape, and shared his experiences in Lagos and Dubai, where he said there was great interest in Caribbean writing.

He said for the first time the National Poetry slam will be nationally televised. The Friends of Bocas loyalty programme, he said, will allow people to have deeper access to the festival year-round.

Tourism, Culture and the Arts permanent secretary Simone Thorne-Mora Quinones pledged the ministry’s support to the adult and children’s arms of the festival.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Culture Simone Thorne-Mora Quinones speaks at the launch of the 13th edition of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest at the National Library, Port of Spain on Wednesday. Photo by Roger Jacob

“We recognise the incredible role the literary arts play in strengthening the minds of our people and preserving the stories of our culture. For centuries, the storytelling tradition has been one of the only art forms in the Caribbean. It is truly a transcendent tradition that extends beyond the confines of ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic differences. It connects our present and our past, it reinforces our traditions, it reflects on our history, and it explains our lives.”

NGC corporate and social responsibility head Myles Lewis said the festival provides an invaluable platform for showcasing the exemplary work that continues to be produced by writers, researchers, poets and storytellers across the Caribbean.

“Through this festival, the largest of its kind in the region, Caribbean literature in all its forms finds a welcome berth – a place from which to grow and develop, anchored on the foundation laid by the luminaries that have charted a course for the current generation to follow. Caribbean writers present to the world our unique perspective in our distinctive voice. The NGC Bocas Lit Fest is ensuring that that voice continues to be heard across the region and around the world.”

One Caribbean Media Group marketing head Marcus Chin Aleong said by continuing to provide an avenue for writers, publishers and readers to form connections and create opportunities, the Bocas Lit Fest, acts as a catalyst through which the answer or answers to the question, What’s Your Story, one about identity and culture, will present themselves.

NALIS acting deputy executive director Jasmin Simmons said the library was pleased and excited to welcome the festival to its original home. She said NALIS will host a Writers First seminar, open to all of the organisation’s 49 first-time authors. It will also hold a preservation and conservation workshop, Preservation and Conservation for Beginners, facilitated by library conservator Danielle Fraser.

The 2023 Bocas Lit Fest schedule can be found at