|The backdrop of the Calabash Literary Festival|
After a one-year break to take its bearings, Jamaica's Calabash International Literary Festival has
returned bigger than ever.
Calabash - according to many of the writers, musicians and artists who took part in May - is a fiesta like no other. The combination of literature, music, visual arts and spoken word performances puts the festival in a category of its own.
When one stirs in the spectacular scenery of
’s southern coast, and the fashionable and welcoming audience, it’s easy to see why attending Calabash is an unforgettable experience. This year, to top things off, the three-day festival was part of the official celebration of Jamaica ’s 50th anniversary of independence from Jamaica . Britain
“Just the number of people listening to you as you read is amazing,” said American writer Victor LaValle, who entertained the audience with lively excerpts from his latest novel. “I’ve never been to any literary festival like this before.”
LaValle was one of the international stars at this year’s event, but the festival also played host to many renowned members of
’s literary diaspora. From the Jamaica came a veritable posse, including famed writer and sociologist Orlando Patterson, innovative novelists Patricia Powell and Marcia Douglas, and the talented and personable poet Shara McCallum. United States
, the celebrated multi-genre writer Olive Senior read from her new novel Dancing Lessons, while novelist Garfield Ellis provided an earthy (some said "bawdy") taste of life abroad. From Canada , author and journalist Colin Grant amused his listeners with tales of trying to track down Bunny Wailer for his book about reggae’s most famous band, and first-time novelist Kerry Young cracked everyone up with her brilliant and energetic reading of Pao. England
From her current journalism base in France, writer Alecia McKenzie (SWAN’s editor), returned home to read from her novel Sweetheart, which won the regional 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize.
|Kwame Dawes and Justine Henzell|
wave goodbye at Calabash's end.
's amazing literary talent can get overshadowed by our musical counterparts and this was a chance to shine the light on our wordsmiths," she added. Jamaica
But as in previous years, music was also an integral part of Calabash 2012. Jamaican reggae icon Ibo Cooper jammed with other musicians on a run-through of 50 years of Jamaican music, while South African MC The Admiral was also on hand with rhythms pounding into the second night of the festival.
Earlier that day, The Admiral’s father – freedom fighter Ronnie Kasrils – had given a moving and inspiring talk about
’s liberation struggle, an account that for many people was one of the highlights of the festival. South Africa
On the third and final day, another notable session was hosted by Jacqueline Bishop in which author-artists spoke about the inspiration and motivation for their different genres. Bishop, a university lecturer, writer and artist, brought together writer/painters Earl McKenzie and Ralph Thompson for a memorable exhibition and discussion.
|Artist-writers at Calabash, with Bishop (second from right)|
Bishop and other writers also took part in a boat ride organized by Jakes Hotel, the festival’s wonderful hosts; and seeing the extraordinary scenery of the protected areas around
Black River will no doubt inspire poetry and art for years to come.
That boat trip, along with the welcome and farewell dinners, and just exchanging jokes with fellow writers (such as the incredibly chic 70-something Velma Pollard, and good-humoured Puerto Rican poet Loretta Collins Klobah) were the elements that made Calabash 2012 particularly special. Also heart-warming was the presence of friends who had come from near and far to support the participants.
|University lecturer and writer Carolyn Cooper|
Throughout it all, the sessions moved smoothly along, thanks to the composure and wit of renowned author and festival programmer Kwame Dawes, and also of “don’t mess with me” scholar Carolyn Cooper, who marshaled the talent of the open-mic poets.
“Calabash lights a fire in your heart for the arts,” said New York-based Jamaican broadcaster Francine Chin, who covered the event. "I can't wait for the next one."