17th August 2012. St. John’s Antigua- The desire to create linkages among our literary artistes was one of the motivating factors driving the recently wrapped Nature Island Literary Festival (NILF) in Dominica. It made a conscious decision, as founder Alwyn Bully explained it, to be a space where primarily Caribbean artistes can come together and where the works of local and regional artistes can be showcased.
For the book lovers and would be writers, he believes it can be an inspiration to see the writers of their favourite books read live. “Having that live personality in front of you inspires people in a strange and magical way,” Bully said at the event’s closing ceremony.
The event attracted performances by literary elders like George Lamming, the celebrated Barbadian author of In the Castle of My Skin; distinguished Jamaican poet Mervyn Morris; and the Trinidadian born authors of Anna In-Between and Crick Crack, Monkey, Elizabeth Nunez and Merle Hodge, respectively. Newer voices such as Barbados’ Adrian Augier, Trinidad and Tobago’s Roger Bonair-Agard, Antigua and Barbuda’s Joanne C Hillhouse – author of Oh Gad! – and other works.
“Our writing is consumed in countries all over the world but maybe less so in our own region,” Hodge said during her reading, something that helps bring in to sharp focus the relevance of an event like NILF to both the emerging and established Caribbean writer, even in a region whose events schedule is quickly being popularised by literary festivals.
For some it was the first time hearing some of these writers, and for some writers, the first time hearing each other; for others, it was an opportunity to be re-introduced to those who helped to lay the foundation. The opportunity, the setting, at the UWI Open Campus in Dominica, afforded for these writers to connect, and catch-up was invaluable.
“These are the kinds of linkages we need to establish among our artistes,” Bully said.
The rain-drenched but never washed out NILF also featured heated discussions on the lyrics in bouyon music and the freedom of the press, a reminder that when it comes to contemporary social concerns sometimes these islands are more alike than they realise.
But, of course, at a literary festival it is all about the words and insights that come with them, as when Morris said, in one of his pieces, “the pain of death is living, the dead are free”; or when Green asserted, “art is a vehicle for programming the culture and behaviour of a people” – a reminder that art communicates with the community and vice versa; or when, in a single reading, Lamming illustrated the different rhythms of language.
It was an opportunity for new voices to emerge, step onto the stage at open mic and bravely engage the audience. It was an opportunity to showcase not only Caribbean perspectives but also perspectives on the Caribbean – a stand out in this regard being Lennox Honeychurch’s review of literature mentioning Dominica by visiting writers going all the way back to the earliest days of Columbus’ so-called discovery of the islands and coming forward almost to the present day.
The NILF, now in its fifth year, continues to be an attractive event. The only criticism, if one can be made given the excellent execution of the event, is that organisers through local vendors engaged for the complementary book fair should ensure that the books and CDs of participating authors are, as much as possible, available for sale at the event.