When the NGC Bocas Literary Festival started four years ago, the small team of organisers, led by founder Marina Salandy-Brown, knew that they "only had one bite of the cherry at establishing it." "No one knew what a literary festival was," says Salandy-Brown, "and we knew very well that if we didn't hit the ground running, if we didn't show people what a literary festival was, that we would never be able to establish it."Starting out with less funds than needed but sure that the way forward was to start as they meant to go on, rather than to start small, the first festival according to Salandy-Brown, "was nearly as big as it is now, four days with lots of events...children's events running concurrently with the adult events."
The success of the event relied on two things–the expertise of its organisers, described by Salandy-Brown as "people who knew people, writing, publishing and Caribbean literature."People like Nicholas Laughlin, editor of the Caribbean Review of Books, publisher Jeremy Taylor and university lecturers Marjorie Thorpe and Funso Aiyejina–and the establishment of a literature prize to encourage the participation of the regions's writers. "We started a prize with One Caribbean Media (OCM)," says Salandy-Brown, "and thought even if we get no funders, establishing the prize would be enough to establish the idea and next year we would get people to fund the festival. But we got people to fund us for the festival at once."Salandy-Brown describes the OCM Bocas Literary Prize as a "godsend" explaining that it really unearthed many writers.
"There were so many people writing poetry, so many people with half a novel or an attempted novel under the mattress or something," she says, "amazing numbers of people at all levels of society, men and women who are reading and writing and it was if no one had ever given them permission to admit it, they wouldn't have."The festival created a forum for people to talk about what they are doing," she says, "their aspirations, the benefits of what they like to do and what writing and reading means to them." When the idea for the festival was conceived, it was in the absence of any industry statistics. "Nobody knew how many books were published, how many writers there were," says Salandy-Brown, and so the response came as a big surprise. "We just didn't know there was that much interest," she says, "but from the very first year, we had like 3,500 attendances over the four days."