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Bocas partners with Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference

Sunday, March 31, 2013
Jamaican author Marlon James will give a keynote speech on A National Literature. Photo courtesy Simon Levy/NGC Bocas Lit Fest

The 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest was launched on March 17 at the National Library, Port-of-Spain, with announcements about the schedule, news about visiting international authors and various spinoff events. But one of the biggest achievements of the festival’s third instalment is the partnership with the prestigious Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference (EWWC).



The EWWC began in 1962 as a five-day conference that was part of the Edinburgh international Festival of Music and Drama. Writers like Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Mary McCarthy and Khushwant Singh were just a few of the writers who formed what turned out to be a sort of spontaneous revival in literary debate—participants spoke freely about taboo subjects like love, sexuality, drug use, expressing strong opinions about how the art that they practiced contributes to larger issues of living. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the EWWC took the debates worldwide, picking 14 locations—from Toronto to Jaipur, from Berlin to Cape Town—where indigenous literary festivals could host their own debates with support from Edinburgh and other countries. These debates discuss the same questions that their predecessors discussed five decades ago. The NGC Bocas Lit Fest has chosen two of the five questions for its own debates: Should Literature Be Political, with keynote speaker Olive Senior and panelists Earl Lovelace, Pankaj Mishra and Courttia Newland, and A National Literature, with keynote speaker Marlon James and panelists Vahni Capildeo, Hannah Lowe and Irvine Welsh. 


“These are questions that will never get old,” said Anu Lakhan, the co-ordinator of the EWWC events during the festival. “Those questions are as relevant to us now as they were at the beginning, at the first flag raising. Those are things that we’ll never tire of answering because there will never be one true answer. We’ll always be thinking and rethinking it. And that is what keeps literature and the arts and any community alive: the ability to keep asking those questions and keep finding answers for them.”


The EWWC is one of the oldest and biggest writing conferences in the world, and it is an honour for the Bocas Lit Fest to be chosen as one of its partners, said Nicholas Laughlin, Bocas’ programme director. In addition to the presence of important writers from the Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora, emerging writers and the public are also welcome to participate in these debates. 


“We hope that there will be a very open-ended and vigorous debate,” Laughlin said. “At the end of it we should have these snapshots of writers’ opinions from all around the globe.” 
The debate questions themselves are already provoking discussions among writers. Laughlin weighed in with his own opinion on a national literature by using the Caribbean region and not individual states as the base for the nation from which our literature comes.


“We are already thinking beyond the boundaries of a nation state. What we’re hoping that the writers will discuss is if there is a Caribbean state; where is the boundary? Is it a useful way of understanding what we write and read and publish here? It’s a live, unresolvable question. Everyone is going have a different take on it.” As for whether or not literature should be political, that’s even trickier. 


“The subjects that you chose to write about and the voice you choose to write in, those are very much political decisions,” Laughlin said. “And these are very live questions that writers are dealing with every day. What is your own voice and what does it say? What does it mean to be authentically Caribbean? The first step is to realise that there is not a single authenticity; there are multiple authenticities in what it means to be a Caribbean writer.”




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