Bocas Lit Fest celebrates 14 years

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

From left: Culture Ministry acting permanent secretary Martel Waldron, OCM marketing manager Marcus Chin-Aleong, NGC director
Dan Russell Ethan Martineau and NGC head of corporate social responsibility Myles Lewis at the media launch of the NGC
Bocas Lit Fest at the National Library, Port of Spain, on March 20. – Photo courtesy NGC

Arif Ali, Guyanese-born, London-based head of the Hansib publishing company, has been awarded the Henry Swanzy Award at the Bocas Lit Fest. The festival’s programme director, Nicholas Laughlin, made the announcement during the festival’s media launch at the National Library in Port of Spain on March 20.

Among the festival’s featured authors is Haitian-born American author Edwidge Danticat, whose works focus on the lives of women and issues of power, injustice, and poverty. Guayaguayare-born Dionne Brand, who lives in Canada, is a poet, novelist, essayist, and documentarian. Brand is Toronto’s third and first black poet laureate. Also on the line-up is Geetanjali Shree, an Indian Hindi-language novelist. Her novel Ret Samadhi, translated into English in 2018 by Daisy Rockwell as Tomb of Sand, won the International Booker Prize.

Barbadian speculative fiction writer Karen Lord won the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript, the 2010 Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award, the 2011 Crawford Award, 2011 Mythopoeic Award, and 2012 Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award for the Best Debut Novel. Ingrid Persaud, a TT-born writer and artist living in the UK, won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2017 with The Sweet Sop. Her novel Love After Love won the 2020 Costa First Novel Award.

Special Bocas events include “Fantastic Friday,” focusing on Caribbean fantasy and folklore and discussions on ideological conflicts and the evolving role of newspapers in shaping intellectual development. The festival will also feature the announcement of the 2024 OCM Bocas Prize winner and the First Citizens National Poetry Slam finals. Activities for younger audiences, including storytelling caravans and children’s workshops, began this month.

The festival itself, from April 25-28, boasts a lineup of over 150 authors, speakers, and performers. Jean-Claude Cournand, Bocas CEO, said the event marked the festival’s 14th anniversary, and it had endured and thrived. “Over the years, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest has transformed from a mere event into a cultural institution, a cornerstone of Caribbean literary expression and creativity.“

Cournand said the festival is now a catalyst for a new generation of Caribbean voices, shaping what is becoming a modern canon of Caribbean literature. He said the Writers Centre on Alcazar Street had been rented and dedicated to nurturing Caribbean literature. While he celebrated the space, he used the opportunity to let the audience know that the festival would much rather own one.

“With NGC, we’ve expanded our reach, bringing on Paper Based to grow a bookshop specializing in Caribbean literature and collaborating with Full Bloom to create a welcoming space for readers and writers alike, complete with coffee and literary events.”

He said the festival’s journey has been about more than just hosting a festival; it has been about advancing Caribbean literature in all its forms. Its task is not just to remember the past or describe the present, but to imagine the future.

“Bocas exists because Caribbean words, stories, and ideas belong in the global conversation. We believe in the power of Caribbean voices in nurturing the next generation of readers and writers.”

Cournand said the festival’s greatest challenge, and one it has embraced wholeheartedly, is for every reader to have a favorite Caribbean writer.

“Looking ahead, we have ambitious goals: to develop a permanent home for the Bocas Lit Fest, to expand the reach of Caribbean literature abroad, to attract more local readers to our festival, and to make Bocas a great place to work.”

Myles Lewis, head of corporate social responsibility at the National Gas Company (NGC), said in the context of sustainable development, TT is at a crossroads.

“There is an urgent need for change if we are to make meaningful progress on the path towards a more sustainable future. The first step is identifying the resources that can take us through when oil and gas can no longer be used.”

Bocas has helped preserve local stories and articulate culture through both written and spoken word in an effort to strengthen national contributions, he said.

“NGC has been focusing increasingly on cultural preservation, viewing arts and culture as intrinsically valuable, seeing its potential as intangible exports that can help invigorate our economy.”

Debbie Goodman, manager of corporate communications at Nalis, celebrated the partnership between Nalis and the Bocas Lit Fest. She described Nalis’s role as a custodian of literary heritage and promoter of reading and learning, emphasizing the festival’s contribution to this mission.

Laughlin reiterated the festival’s commitment to amplifying Caribbean voices, both locally and globally, emphasizing its role in nurturing new writing talent.