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 Two. Bocas Continues Fine.

I was scheduled for a two-hour workshop with award-winning author Rabindranath Maharaj (born in Trinidad, based in Canada) on the topic ‘Getting to the end: how to bring a work in progress to its best conclusion’. Due to the assigned time, I missed other interesting morning events like Michael Anthony’s talk on the evolution of Carnival and W.A.R. Stories, a documentary on the life of Walter Rodney directed by Clairmont Chung. Once more, my inability to bilocate proved a nuisance.

I learned more from helping to conduct that workshop than I would have learned from taking it! Rabindranath was all kindness and reassurance, and I leaned heavily on his years of experience teaching writing. I was not ashamed to ask a question or two myself. Some questions and answers were retained for later musing. Why does a novel get stuck? Because something isn’t working and perhaps your own suspension of disbelief has been compromised. But what isn’t working and why? Is the character development consistent? Does the plot make sense? What about my own work – do I also feel it when the society doesn’t make sense even if the characters are individually consistent in their words and actions? When do you admit defeat (or at least temporary retreat) and put down an unfinished draft? When does a novel ‘end’? At the first draft, the final draft? The first edit, the copyedited manuscript? The reviews and reader-reactions that inspire the author to change their approach in future, perhaps-related works? There are different strategies for getting through each of these stages.

Here’s my post-workshop tweet and a tweet plus twitpic from writer/researcher/lecturer Rhoda Bharath. I look a bit wrapped up; the air conditioning was on full-force!

After a quick lunch I prepared myself to record an interview for the podcasters at The Spaces Between Words. They are a lovely, professional team. They worked hard for the duration of the lit fest and they have a long list of podcasts from Bocas writers and others waiting in their queue. Check out their Still to Come page – classics and debuts, legends and new wave! I read a bit from Redemption in Indigo and answered some questions, and although I can’t guarantee I made sense it was one of the best interview experiences I have ever had. My heartiest thanks to interviewer Nicha Selvon-Ramkissoon, assistant editor and technical assistant (and photographer!) Ryan Durgasingh and editor Giselle Rampaul.

After the interview, I wandered into the tail-end of an afternoon talk by Anne Walmsley (former Caribbean editor for Longmans) on ‘Caribbean Publishing in the 1970s’. The audience appeared fondly nostalgic and slightly awed at her account of the nurturing of the Caribbean literary voice in that decade. I was drawn in as well by the mention of Ann Musgrave, the late proprietor of one of my favourite bookstores in Barbados, the Cloister, which could always be counted on to have shelves well-stocked with Caribbean literature.

Two incredible days down, two more days of Bocas to come!