The conference takes place in Port-au-Prince from June 6 to 11 and includes panel discussions, research presentations, literary readings and performances relating to the Caribbean and its diaspora. The 2016 theme, “Caribbean Global Movements: People, Ideas, Arts, Culture & Economic Sustainability,” focuses on reinforcing Caribbean cultural integration and the multidisciplinary approach to the Caribbean intellectual tradition. Additionally, the conference seeks to “have a much-needed conversation about the vital contributions of Haiti to the region and the world,” according to the CSA conference announcement.
Although the conference has been hosted in more than 20 countries, this is the first year it will be held in Haiti. According to CSA president Dr Carole Boyce-Davies, a “combination of desire unfilled and weak infrastructure” has kept the conference from reaching this destination.
She said the response to this year’s call for papers was positive, however. “I think that Haiti is on everybody’s radar now. And we are pleased to ‘open the gate’ to the intellectual community if you will. Just as Carifesta was held in Haiti last year, we are bringing the entire body of Caribbean intellectuals to Haiti and by these means saying that Haiti has contributed and continues to contribute to the definition of the Caribbean,” she told the Newsday via email.
There are many additions to the conference programme this year including an art exhibit, fashion show and education policy day, which is supported through a grant from the Kellogg Foundation. “The idea was to showcase and support Haitian industry of all kinds, not just add a fashion show. In other words, we couldn’t just go to Haiti without having been informed by a range of ideas,” added Boyce-Davies who is an author and professor of Africana and English at Cornell University.
The education policy day – Boyce-Davies’ brainchild – includes a plenary, six workshops and will bring 300 Haitian teachers and university students to the conference. There will also be a book drive to support a school - L’Ecole Mixte de Deleard.
Dr Kavita Singh, a Trinidadian professor of English at University of Houston, applauded these and other CSA initiatives that make a commitment to the communities visited by the organisation. “It is important as Caribbean Studies scholars that we don’t reproduce the tourist dynamics that reduce our Caribbean homes to cultural commodities,” Singh told the Newsday in an email.
Carrying on tradition Hosting this conference in Haiti is one of many milestones for the CSA – an independent, professional organisation founded in 1974 by 300 “Caribbeanists.” At the time of its founding, most CSA members were based at universities outside of the region, but felt the need to organise themselves around the promotion of Caribbean Studies. For the CSA, the Caribbean is defined not only by the islands in the archipelago, but also Central America and the Caribbean coast of South America.
In the past 41 years the organisation has grown to more than 1,100 members and has received grants from the Ford Foundation towards the development of graduate studies in the field. Boyce-Davies viewed this mentoring role of the CSA as particularly important.
“There is a vibrant new generation of young scholars who see this field as relevant as any other [while] the founders would have struggled with making sure their work was taken seriously,” she said.
Singh described the CSA as “Christmas for Caribbeanist scholars.” This is the third CSA conference Singh will be attending. She said the CSA sets itself apart from other Caribbean- focused conferences by being interdisciplinary and multi-lingual.
This year’s conference will be translated not only into French and Spanish, but also Haitian Creole. “(At the CSA) you get to listen to so much new, interesting, and thought-provoking work in your field, something that it’s hard to reproduce in other discipline-specific conferences.”