I am wrung out from my four days at the annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest, but also inspired and renewed by those four days. The festival ran at the National Library in Port-of-Spain from April 25-28.
The festival, now in its third year, began for me on Thursday afternoon with a creative writing workshop for nearly 50 Standard Three pupils from Richmond Street Boys'. It continued on Friday with two more workshops for Standard Three girls from San Fernando (about 80 in all).
I have done the workshop every year and every year it has grown while still delighting the children who attend. Congrats to the children's festival director Danielle Delon, ably assisted by Natacha Jones, for staging such an outstanding series of events for children as part of the wider festival.
Apart from a poetry and fiction reading by T&T Guardian Sunday Arts Section writer Shivanee Ramlochan, and the launch of the CaribLit Web site by the group formerly known as the Caribbean Literature Action Group (Calag), I barely remember what happened Saturday. To be honest, most of my attention was focused on preparing for that evening's prize ceremony. I was one of six finalists shortlisted for the Hollick Arvon Prize–co-sponsored by Bocas, the Arvon Foundation and the Hollick Family Trust.
It's old news now that I didn't win; my dear friend Barbara Jenkins took the award. I am happy for her, and happy too for the extremely glowing report of the judges who praised my writing with such superlatives that I was extremely flattered and felt encouraged despite my loss.Of course, I called Barbara's win in this column more than a month ago, so I wasn't really surprised when they called her name. She's a fine writer and she deserves the prize. Given the excellence of her first book, Sic Transit Wagon, which was launched at Bocas on Sunday, I expect she will put the Hollick Arvon Prize to good use and I look forward to her next book. (You can read BC Pires' review of Sic Transit Wagon in the T&T Guardian online.)
Saturday night also brought the news of my mentor Monique Roffey's win in the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Her third novel, Archipelago, took the award over two strong competitors, St Lucian poet Kendel Hippolyte's Fault Lines, and Guyanese essayist Rupert Roopnaraine's The Sky's Wild Noise. (All three books have been reviewed in theT&T Guardian by Shivanee Ramlochan in the Sunday Arts Section. The reviews are online, if you want to look them up.)
On Sunday I was part of a panel called The Books that Made Me, along with three other writers and the editor of the UK-based journal of contemporary writing, Wasafiri. We were all featured in the special Trinidad issue of Wasafiri: Brighter Suns: Sixty Years of Literature from Trinidad. (Wasafiri commissioned me to write a noir story set in Trinidad–because I co-edited the anthology Trinidad Noir some years ago I've become somewhat known as a noir writer. My Wasafiri story, Soca Star, is about a murder in a soca fete and the dire consequences that follow.)
In the panel discussion I talked about two books that have influenced me: Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and Sam Selvon's Ways of Sunlight. It was tremendous fun reading an excerpt from Selvon's short story Wartime Activities, a slightly risqu� piece written entirely in Trinidad Creole.Regular readers of this column will know that I wrote it in Trinidad Creole for some years; as I told the audience at the panel discussion, it came as a great surprise to me that the Creole voice I had assumed was mine was actually Selvon's. I had absorbed it when I was a small child, reading my big sisters' literature books, and you know how they say "mouth open, 'tory jump out"? I re-read that Selvon after 30 years and it all fell into place.
Which brings me at last to my concluding point: the value of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Students and teachers thronged the one-on-one talk with famous Jamaican author and poet Olive Senior during Bocas, and she was but one of the many writers present at the festival.I am grateful to NGC, its title sponsor, and the Bocas organisers for building this festival. It is a great gift to our country and our region and we who live here should take advantage of it.