What’s in a festival

The festival is TT’s annual literary festival that takes place in downtown Port-of-Spain during the last weekend of April and forces lovers of culture to make a hard choice between a weekend of music and jazz in Tobago and “words and ideas” in the capital city. It is not a bad thing to be made to choose, and the lit fest programme is so packed with literary treats that those who decide to go urban rather than cool beach will have a tough time selecting what to go for, especially since it is mostly free and a lot of it pretty rare.

The intention was not to make life difficult for lovers of stories and great writing, of good discussion, poetry readings and performance, and those who want to improve their creative writing skills or find out how to get published, or turn their life into a good story. Nor was it the plan to deprive them of hearing some of their favourite writers read, or of discovering a new writer of a fabulous if unknown book, but there are simply so many books and ideas to include in just four days that those who like the stimulation that this sort of pastime brings are in the enviable position of being spoilt for choice.

The festival draws together writers of all genres, and festival goers will enjoy the rare treat of becoming acquainted with writers who would not normally fetch up on these shores. In 2011, the inaugural Bocas Lit Fest, it was heart warming to witness visiting writers meet revered fellow visiting authors for the first time. TT’s national literature festival, the largest in the Anglophone Caribbean, provides a forum for all writers and readers to meet. It also is aiming to help uncover new talent, allowing budding writers to show off their work at the Open Mic sessions and in the New Talent Showcase, to rub shoulders with potential editors, publishers and literary agents, assuming that these emerging authors want to be agented and to improve their writing.

I had an interesting conversation recently with someone with a newly published book that, as far I am concerned, is good but could have been improved by going through the process of being professionally edited. The author was adamant however that improving the book was not a priority but rather satisfying the urge to tell the story. It made me reflect upon what we expect from our writers and what the author’s duty to the reader is. Do you open a book having taken it for granted that the writer has done the best possible job in attempting to suspend your disbelief and will transport you to another world, as in a good film and that his/her efforts offer a unique and exciting insight into some phenomenon or other, some human emotion, some social critique that would enable you to experience life and the devilish business of human interaction in a different, more enlightened way?

Writers must write for themselves but in deciding to have one’s work published the author is completing a circle and making a contract with the reader. If the writer is uninterested in that interaction then why publish? And having published, the writer must then do his/her best to promote the book. This could be anathema to some writers. I once knew one who had produced a fine novel but believed the work should stand by itself and refused to deal with the media. He failed to recognise how lucky he was that the publisher was prepared to spend any money on publicising his book. Many writers would jump through hoops to find a publisher with a marketing budget to boost sales. Tens of thousand of books are published and read every year but few make the author much, if any, of a living.

For some of these reasons publishing is evolving and the brave new world of e-books, blogs and tweeting is attractive to many, causing the conventional publishing industry to examine its future. This shift and how the Caribbean could develop its publishing industry in this period of transition was the subject of discussion at a pre-festival event this week. Over the next year a group, the Caribbean Literature Action Group (CALAG) will be working on addressing the matter and reporting back at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest 2013. But that’s a year away. In the meantime there is a lot to enjoy in the 2012 festival and many discoveries to be made of wonderful books and writers that may, without the festival, never have crossed our paths.



"What’s in a festival"

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