Scholars, dreamers, readers, writers, and anyone who loves a good story are looking forward to the start of this year's five-day NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port-of-Spain, from April 29–May 3. This year, the festival breaks new ground with its Storytelling Caravan for children, which will tell stories every Saturday in April throughout the country to children aged six to 13 years.
Storytellers will spin their yarns in panyards, libraries, a nursery and some children's homes, performing tales such as The Mermaid of Grande Riviere and The Iguana that Lived in the Clock.
Storytellers include Auntie Thea, Lylah Persad, Thelma Perkins, Dara Healy and Eintou Springer. During the actual festival, the Children's Caravan will join the adult festival at the National Library for three days of writing workshops, author readings, and the last of the children's storytelling events. These events will take place in the children's section of the National Library.
Such outreach to new and diverse audiences is all part of the festival's plan as it seeks to not only make Bocas Lit fest a lively, well-attended tradition, but to also raise interest levels in literature in an island which traditionally has not seen a big reading culture.
Efforts to boost festival numbers seem to be working, as the festival, now in its fifth year, has increased its attendance by more than 2,000 people, according to a release from the festival organisers. At the festival's formal launch last Wednesday, founder and festival director Marina Salandy-Brown said:
"It has grown from over 3,000 in 2011 for the events, including children, to well over 5,000 in 2014, with another 1,000-plus who listened online last April from all over the region and internationally. If we add another two festivals that take place in Tobago and South, the figures are higher still."
For a relatively new festival, the Bocas Lit Fest has already chalked up some notable achievements, chief of which is the spread of festival events to other parts of T&T. So far, since it began, eight festivals have been held: four in Port-of-Spain, one in South and Central, and two in Tobago. These festivals have included 300 different events, including readings, discussions, performances, film screenings, book launches and poetry slams.
The Bocas Lit Fest has also held events outside of our borders, helping to bring our writers to the world: it hosted three events in New York, one in Miami, and one in St Lucia for a major Commonwealth literature conference.
The festival has helped emerging writers develop their skills through workshops and masterclasses, a valuable learning tool which continues this year with workshops in speculative fiction, preparing manuscripts for publication, literary translation, poetry, and a workshop on how to start a magazine in six weeks, among other sessions. Pre-registration is required for the workshops (places can be booked on the festival website), and there are modest fees involved: $60 for short workshops, and $100 for all-day workshops. All other events at the festival are free and open to the public.
Perhaps the best part of the Bocas Lit Fest for both new and established writers is the exposure and opportunities that can come from participation. So far, the festival has showcased 20 emerging writers, four of whom have gone on to publish books, and three of whom are included in a new anthology: Coming Up Hot: Best New Poets in the Caribbean.
A major achievement of Bocas Lit Fest is that some writers have actually gained agents and book deals as a result of connections made during the festival. The festival has so far brought at least 20 international publishing professionals and literary festival directors to T&T, enabling such deals. Writers have also received invitations to read and perform internationally through the festival, say festival organisers.
Quite apart from helping writers, the Bocas Lit Fest has also been active in education. Using the three winning 2014 Burt Award books, festival staff have worked with dozens of secondary school teachers on ways of teaching literature that help develop a love for it. And using the spoken word medium, the festival has harnessed the performance poets of the 2Cents Movement to engage with more than 50,000 students in at least 70 secondary schools in the past two years in the Courts Bocas spoken word tour.
Also in education, the festival has published three illustrated children's storytelling books, and helped facilitate the publication of many children's stories in local media.
The festival's partners include Alta, the British Council, Commonwealth Writers, Arvon, CODE, Creative Scotland and the three T&T government ministries of Arts and Multiculturalism, Education, and Planning and Sustainable Development.
2015 Bocas Prize shortlist out on April 1
Highlights of this year's festival include the announcement of the winner of the prestigious 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, a major regional award recognising Caribbean writers of poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
This year's prize longlist was announced earlier in March, with the shortlist to be announced on April 1. The overall winner, to be announced on May 2, will receive US$10,000. This year, for the first time, there will also be awards for the other two finalists.
The first winner of the OCM Bocas prize, in 2011, was St Lucian Nobel laureate Derek Walcott for his poetry collection White Egrets.
The 2012 winner was Trinidadian writer Earl Lovelace for his novel Is Just A Movie. In 2013, Trinidadian writer Monique Roffey won for her novel Archipelago. In 2014, the winner was the T&T writer Robert Antoni for his novel As Flies to Whatless Boys.
�2 All events (unless otherwise stated) take place at the National Library and Old Fire Station in downtown Port-of-Spain. A full downloadable schedule is on the festival's Web site.
Tel: 222-7099 for general festival inquiries; 625-8328 for workshop bookings; 712-6227 for children's festival information.?