A groundbreaking attempt to conduct the same conference around the world continued yesterday during the ongoing Caribbean literature festival at the main library in Port-of-Spain.The Edinburgh Writers Conference, which began last August in that city and made its 13th stop yesterday, was streamed live on the Internet. Over the next few months, even more eyes will watch and read presentations from the event, said David Codling of the British Council, which helped organise the conference.
"Caribbean voices have influenced the whole of the rest of the world," said Codling, explaining the significance of one leg of the conference being held here. "There's a limited number of festivals around the world, so it really felt appropriate to have one of them here in the Caribbean."The conference was first held in 1962 during the inaugural Edinburgh International Book Festival, an event Codling called "seminal".
"In a sense it was the first international literature festival. Up until then there had been music festivals, performing arts festivals etc, but not really literature festivals," he said. "It was also seminal in that it generated an often acrimonious debate about the role of the writer in the society and about literary culture worldwide."The Edinburgh festival organisers and the British Council decided to resurrect the conference last year, this time taking it around the world and online.
The topics of discussion 50 years before and now are the same: Should freedom of speech ever have limits? Will the novel remain writers' favourite narrative form? Nationality and identity in the novel today. Should literature be political? And what is more important: the content of the novel or the style in which it is written?
The question dealt with yesterday at the annual Bocas Lit Fest was whether there should be national literature. The panel of four writers from different parts of the world, including Trinidadian Vahni Capildeo, seem to agree that such a thing would not only be difficult to define, but would also be unhealthy for the art form.
"What's the price you pay for music or literature becoming so easily defined because it's being protected?" asked keynote speaker Marlon James, a Jamaican writer and professor. "It becomes easily produced; it becomes easily parotted."So take one small rural village, two grannies, a church sister named Dorcas, two wayward children named Lurline and one Mas Joe–because there must always be a Mas Joe–throw in some rivers, a mountain and a brush with obeah and, poof, you have a Jamaican novel.
"No movement has survived cateogorisation," said James.The conference continues today at 11 am. It will discuss: Should literature be political?The conference moves on to France and Portugal in May and will end back in Edinburgh in August.