Monday, July 13, 2015

Part 2 Recap: Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival (Bocas Lit Fest)


I gave another peek inside my Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival experience in my summation of The Star Side of Bird Hill. In addition to meeting Naomi Jackson, I had brief interactions with several other authors, including Olive Senior. 

I stayed in the same hotel as most of the authors and when I was heading to the festival the first day, I had no idea how to get there. A small group of authors was gathered, waiting for their shuttle and suggested I come with them. The driver arrived and checked them in but was hesitant to let me tag along. After sensing the hesitation, Olive politely told the driver, “I’m going. She’s going. We’re all going.” And we were on our way!

Olive had a one-on-one session at the festival which was named for her book, Dying to Better Themselves. The crowd was buzzing and there was standing room only! (I only recall one other author reading with this much energy and it was for Charles Blow.) As Olive spoke about her book, I could not stop thinking about the book that I never wanted to end, The Warmth of Other Suns.


Dying to Better Themselves is the story of the involvement of the tiny islands of the West Indies in providing the workforce for the construction of the Panama Canal. Amazon further describes the story as “the narrative of the neglected post-emancipation generation of the 1850's who were lured to Panama by the promise of lucrative work and who initiated a pattern of circular migration that would transform the islands economically, socially and politically well into the twentieth century.” Every time I think about this book I get antsy because I’m so eager to read it! I’m trying desperately not to judge any book using The Warmth of Other Suns as the bar, but I believe that the people’s stories may be similar in many ways.

You may recall that the sessions was one of the reasons I really enjoyed the festival. I read The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson and Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord in preparation for the festival. So, of course, I was looking forward to their panel session which included New York Times best seller Tobias S Bucknell and chair Shivaonee Ramlochan. The Future Friday discussion focused on Caribbean speculative fiction and all the ways that “reality” can learn from “fantasy.” We learned from the panel that all speculative fiction is not created equal, and the same way I asked how you know if you're getting a good translation, I asked the panelists how do we know when we're getting good speculative fiction! Sure enough, they showered me with titles and resources.

Speculative Fiction Panel

I didn’t get a chance to read anything by the two authors featured on the The Violent Times panel session.Their books were inspired by violent events in the history of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Fred D’Aguiar’s novel, Children of Paradise, addresses the Jonestown massacre and Monique Roffey’s novel, House of Ashes, uses the attempted coup d’├ętat in Trinidad in 1990 to set up her story. When attending Pamela Newkirk’s book tour for Spectacle, someone asked her about self-care. I now wonder if that's something these authors had to pay special attention to, but I don’t recall this being discussed during the session.

L to R: Fred D'Aguiar, Johnny Temple, Monique Roffey

I don’t want to end this post without acknowledging the birthday of Earl Lovelace! You’ll remember that he's the legendary writer that pushed for the festival to have a tribute for Caribbean poet and playwright Eric Roach. Well, Earl turns 80 today and the festival organizers planned an elaborate tribute and celebration for him. His novel Salt was one of four books I planned to read in preparation for the festival and it's the only one that I didn't get to. He continues to be on my high priority list.

Earl Lovelace and yours truly

Some of you left questions about the festival that didn’t get covered in the recap posts, but I won’t leave you hanging!

Q. Did you meet any of the authors of the books you read leading up to the festival?
A. Yes, I met all of them!

Q. Were any of the books you read discussed and/or did you receive a new perspective on any of the books you read as a result of the festival?
A. No. All of the authors had more recent publications that were mentioned. But the festival had  book readings that were separate from the panel sessions, so specific books themselves weren’t the main topic of discussion for the sessions I attended.

Q. Did Robert take you to Blanchisseuse so you could see if for yourself?
A. He offered to! Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time.

Q. Were other book bloggers there too?
A. I know one Caribbean blogger was there for sure, but I think she worked with the festival. Several people were tweeting during the event, but I’m not sure how many of them were bloggers.

Q. Did you get any autographs?
A. No, but I took pictures with the authors. I have not posted them on the blog, but they'll eventually hang in my book nook.

Q.What’s next on your newly international book touring schedule?
A. Ha! I love the thought of having an international book touring schedule. I have other trips planned this year so I won’t do another international book festival until 2016. The Calabash Festival in Jamaica is on my high priority list.

2 comments:

Leslie Reese said...

Dear Shannon - I remember that before you attended this festival you weren't sure if you would be blogging about it. I am so glad that you have since shared authors, books, and experiences related to your attendance at the Trinidad and Tobago Literary festival, because you've introduced me to a world of reading that I'm now more committed to explore. Thank you!

Shannon said...

Thanks Leslie. These types of comments are the best! I sometimes feel like I waste so much time pulling together these posts. And one comment like this one makes me remember why I do it!