The Bim Lit Fest, Spanish rights and an interview

The inaugural Bim Lit Fest, which took place from May 16-20, deserves a far better post than I can craft at the moment. It’s harder to blog than Bocas because there were fewer events, and the highlights were more personal than general. It was great to see Kei Miller (Jamaican poet and novelist) and Kendel Hippolyte (St Lucian poet) again, to meet John R Lee (St Lucian poet), and to encounter in one space the Caribbean greats Austin Clarke, George Lamming, Earl Lovelace and Derek Walcott. I had a fascinating conversation about Caribbean literary speculative fiction with Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press. I had old school friends with me, supporting me and enjoying the festival. I am slowly updating my haphazard and not at all definitive list of Caribbean writers and poets.

Kudos to Esther Phillips for bringing the Bim Lit Fest from idea to actuality! I’m looking forward to seeing it continue and grow and become a fixture in the Barbadian events calendar.

In other good news, Cooke International has sold Spanish rights to The Best of All Possible Worlds to RBA Libros!

Finally, fellow nominee Stina Leicht is interviewing all the nominees for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and my interview is here.

Day Four of Bocas 2012 – The End

The last day of Bocas 2012 was a Sunday and the schedule was as packed as any other day, which made for some cruel choices. I split my time between two morning sessions, hearing a little of Kei Miller’s poetry but sadly missing Mervyn Morris to catch the end of the reading and interview with Rabindranath Maharaj. Rabindranath read from The Amazing Absorbing Boy, which was on the Bocas fiction longlist last year. His reading reminded me of Kei’s fiction; it was humorous even when events were semi-tragic. Is this a Caribbean thing, to tolerate writers who make you chuckle and smile and relax at misfortune before they slip the angst in like a stiletto between the third and fourth ribs?

Much to my disappointment, I missed the drama-documentary Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask directed by Isaac Julien. My presence was required for a panel to discuss ‘Anxieties of influence: postcolonial writing and literary tradition’. Here is a tweet and twitpic of the event, courtesy of Annie Paul.

It was a good time to feel intimidated. Winner of the Bocas 2012 poetry prize Loretta Collins Klobah, Shara McCallum who was longlisted for poetry this year, and Kei Miller who was longlisted for poetry last year – they are all bona fide university-affiliated academics, scholars, lecturers in literature. Then there was me. One of these things is not like the others. The moderator, literary critic Kenneth Ramchand, was kind and did not mock me for talking about the ‘voices’ of Terry Pratchett and Ray Bradbury (yes, of course I mentioned Paul Keens-Douglas, Andrew Salkey and others, but still!). I think, however, he may have downgraded his estimation of my intelligence when I flaunted my childhood decision to never study literature because teachers always sucked the fun out of it. (In my defence, I did take some English courses as an undergrad, but I was always disappointed by the literature courses, so I can’t say my decision was wrong).

Fortunately, my highly-qualified fellow panellists did not once make me feel like I had no right to be there. I had a lovely conversation afterwards with Loretta about the shared culture and history of the Caribbean expressed in different languages (she lives in Puerto Rico). Shara McCallum … did you know that she’s in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Tenth Annual Collection (1996, eds Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)? And so is Olive Senior! Who says that Caribbean speculative fiction is a new thing? I’m trying to tempt Shara to come to the World Fantasy Convention this year. We need a Caribbean posse to take over the parties.

I could’ve, should’ve, and didn’t attend the readings of the Bocas 2012 winners, again opting for a rest-afternoon to prepare for the final act, a party at the residence of Earl Lovelace. There was food, drink, conversation, music and dancing. It was the perfect conclusion to Bocas 2012. The chair of last year’s fiction judges, Margaret Busby (OBE, British co-founder of the publishing house Allison & Busby, born in Ghana, Barbadian father), very kindly complimented me on Redemption in Indigo and introduced me to Earl Lovelace. I congratulated him on his win this year. He congratulated me for being longlisted last year. I need to have grandchildren some day so I can tell them about this.

That’s it! I have shared with you my highlights of Bocas 2012. I hope you have enjoyed them. It is only the second year of the Bocas Lit Fest and it’s already a literary festival of note not only regionally but internationally. Follow their twitter @bocaslitfest and their website. Enter your work, if eligible, for consideration. Start making plans to come to Bocas 2013. You might just see me there.

Day Three of Bocas 2012

With no scheduled appearances, I was able to enjoy the fest like a reader, and whenever wifi was available, I tweeted more. I’ve put links to those tweets at the relevant parts.

First I attended a very enjoyable morning event featuring Joseph O’Neill, Irish author of the award-winning Netherland. The topic was ‘the joys – and perils? – of writing a Trinidadian character’. This sounded very much like a ‘Writing the Other’ kind of situation, so I was interested to hear his strategy. Surprisingly, it appears that in order to write the Other, it helps if you know the Other. O’Neill played cricket in a New York club and thus acquired several Trini teammates. He also visited Trinidad when he was a barrister in the UK assessing appeals from death row prisoners. In addition to the direct experience, he noted two cultural similarities: Trinidad and Ireland both have a verbal culture, and both have the ‘smartman’ character ‘found everywhere people from places without power are trying to bluff their way upwards’.

After lunch, I wandered about looking at the booksellers’ tables. I indulged in a bit of nostalgia. Did you know Peepal Tree Press has a reprint series, Caribbean Modern Classics? I bought Andrew Salkey’s Riot. I still have my copy of Hurricane from school days, but these new reprints are beautiful and I might just get the full quartet (includes Drought and Earthquake, which should tell you something about the region I live in).

I just now looked at the illustrations, which I always loved, and felt a strange familiarity. Yes, they were the illustrations from the old 70s edition I’d read, but wasn’t that the style of the illustrator of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters? I looked it up, and behold! It was William Papas! I can’t believe it took me so long to realise this!

I didn’t linger for the afternoon sessions but left early to rest up and prepare for the main event – the awards ceremony for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Hoping to find a snack to tide me over for the duration of the ceremony, I took an early shuttle to the venue with Frank Birbalsingh, chair of the non-fiction panel of judges … but wait, this is a good time to talk about the judges. I’ve already mentioned two of them in previous posts. Erna Brodber was one of the non-fiction judges, and Rabindranath Maharaj was one of the fiction judges. I met Achy Obejas, another fiction judge, when someone on my twitter list introduced us by handle and she re-introduced herself in person! I had dinner and much marvellous conversation with poetry judges Kendel Hippolyte and Nicolette Bethel, whose twitter feed (@nicobet ) under the #bocas2012 hashtag makes for rich reportage. The full list of judges, the longlist of books, the shortlist, and the prizewinner are all at the Bocas blog, but check that later and stay with me for now.

As I said, we got there early, but before we could snoop around for a roadside food cart, Nicholas Laughlin (the utterly charming programme director of Bocas 2012 – no really, I am not being a luvvie, we all adored him) snaffled up Frank to take him to his assigned front row seat. Insufficiently hungry (or brave) to forage by myself, I followed them into the COLD (typical!) theatre and vaguely decided that I might as well take in the pre-ceremony concert. It was the best non-decision I ever made. After proving their mettle with Peter Warlock’s Songs for Tenor and String Quartet, the faculty musicians of the University of Trinidad & Tobago then blew us away with The Old Yard: Carnival Portraits from Trinidad, composed by Adam Walters. The music was accompanied by images by Maria Nunes and each movement was prefaced by a poem by Muhammad Muwakil (I need to know when those poems will be available for purchase, because they were striking). I enjoyed the images even more when I discovered that the gentleman sitting beside me was Michael Jobe, whose carnival designs were featured during the fourth movement which celebrated the moko jumbie (stiltwalker).

Want a taste?

Here are three of the five movements on Adam Walter’s soundcloud.

Here are some of Michael Jobe’s moko jumbies, captured by Maria Nunes.

The entire Carnival photo gallery is huge, but well worth a look. You’ll see there some of the other images used for The Old Yard. I could not find the Carnival Bat, but there are the Blue Devils, the Midnight Robber, and Dame Lorraine.

On to the ceremony! There was the announcement of a new prize, the Hollick-Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, which will offer support for an unpublished Caribbean writer resident in the region to complete a work in progress. It’s an amazing opportunity, and if you think you might fit the criteria, keep an eye on the Bocas blog which will soon post details on how to enter.

The chairs of the panels spoke about the longlisted books, and short videos of readings and interviews with the winners were shown. The winner for poetry, Loretta Collins Klobah, and the winner for non-fiction, Godfrey P. Smith, both glowed as they spoke the honour of being listed with the winner for fiction, Earl Lovelace. George Lamming, overall chair of the judging panel, spoke movingly of the role of literature in keeping history alive, particularly those events which some try to forget or erase. He then announced the winner of the Bocas Prize: Earl Lovelace for his novel Is Just a Movie.

This is a very long post, so I will draw the veil of discretion over the post-ceremony celebrations. I did, however, have the pleasure of drinking, talking and sharing antipasto and bruschetta with writer Myriam Chancy and critic Charmaine Valere.

One more day, one more post. There will be dancing!