The NGC Bocas Lit Fest – the country’s premier annual literary festival – is celebrating five years and one of the main themes of this year’s festival, which runs from April 29 to May 3, is why English speakers are so incestuous. As festival director Marina Salandy-Brown explained, only three percent of the books we read in the Caribbean region are translated from other languages.
“We are going to check out what we have been missing,” Salandy-Brown said yesterday during the media launch of the festival at the National Library (Nalis), Port-of-Spain.
The decision to open up the festival to non-English speakers was an important one, she said, noting that there is a writer from Chile who has accepted an invitation to participate in the Lit Fest. In addition, the Embassy of Chile will also mount an exhibition at Nalis highlighting the work of the very first Latin American writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature, Gabriela Mistral – and with other Spanish and French-speaking writers.
Salandy-Brown and her team have also planned a Spain Open Mic event for this year, in addition to a translation slam and an all-day translation workshop.
Since its initiation in 2011, the festival has seen an increase in national interest as well as overseas interest, Salandy- Brown said, but more important, the festival has empowered and supported local writers, many of whom have signed book deals and established working partnerships in many countries.
At yesterday’s launch, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development Bhoe Tewarie underscored the critical role the festival plays in culturing development in the Trinidad and Tobago. “Literacy aids critical thinking and a society that values literature has something extra. “This festival has had a tremendous impact on how we view literature, how we think, and it has a permanent place in the evolution of our society.”
He also praised the festival for acting as a stimulus for creative action in the country, noting that when Bocas Lit started it triggered research into how support could be institutionalised for the creative sector.
Tewarie also pointed to the elements of the festival which focuses on children, saying that it serves as a reminder of the creative power the society could harness from every citizen to aid in its development.
Salandy-Brown, commenting on the month-long children’s storytelling caravan, stressed that children are important to the festival’s future. The children’s events are also attracting wider attention and drawing bigger audiences, she added.
Overall, the festival is seeing increased numbers. Salandy- Brown pointed out that attendances have grown from over 3,000 in 2011 for all the events, including children to well over 5,000 in 2014, with another 1,000-plus who listened online last April.
But the growing support aside, she said there is a need for greater financial support and appealed to the public and businesses to play a greater role in the festival through sponsorship of events and prizes.
To this end, the National Gas Company through its head of community relations, Wynda Chandler, announced yesterday that it will renew support for the festival for another three years taking its commitment up to 2017. Chandler said NGC has invested $2.3 million in the festival since the partnership was formed and according to her, the company will continue to support the festival because of its contributions to national development.
“The NGC has a national responsibility to support all aspects of cultural life and our level of financial support to this festival indicates how seriously we take this responsibility,” Chandler added.
First Citizens, another key sponsor of the festival, also announced that it will increase financial support for certain aspects of the festival. Deputy CEO corporate administration, Sharon Christopher said the bank believes in the power of literature to inform and inspire.
Bocas Lit Fest 2015 takes place at the Nalis and the adjoining Old Fire Station. The organisers have planned five days of readings, talks, performances, workshops, discussions, film screenings, and more, plus a full programme of activities for the young.