Bocas Lit Fest Celebrating books, writers, & writing from the Caribbean and the rest of the world. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 19:21:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lend Us Your Ears: Bocas Introduces Festival Radio Wed, 09 Apr 2014 15:47:28 +0000

Once upon a time, you needed to be physically present at the National Library to enjoy the offerings of the Bocas Lit Fest. This year, however, you’ll be able to listen to the readings, talks, and other items on the festival programme from the comfort of your—well, from wherever you have access to an Internet connection.

Making its debut this year, Festival Radio is a Bocas Lit Fest project that aims to bring the festival experience to a global audience in three ways:

1. Festival Live: A live audio stream, accessible from the Bocas web site, of sessions taking place at the Old Fire Station, interspersed with interviews with visiting writers and other festival tidbits. Listen to the Bocas events as they happen!

2. Festival Daily: A daily audio magazine show featuring festival highlights, interviews and excerpts from readings, talks and the festival’s musical offerings. Available on demand, Festival Daily can be streamed or downloaded from the festival web site.

3. The Festival Radio Archive: Full-length audio recordings of all public Bocas sessions will be archived on the festival web site and available on demand at the Bocas Lit Fest SoundCloud page.

Festival Radio is sponsored by Flow; hosted by Trinidadadian radio personalities, Jessie-May Ventour and Raymond Edwards; and co-produced by Steve Kyte and Georgia Popplewell.

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HeLa at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop Tue, 08 Apr 2014 21:08:42 +0000

As part of the British Council’s 2014 Momentum Project, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest is working with partners to make cultural links between the Caribbean and Scotland.

HeLa is a thrilling one-woman play based on the book about the medical exploitation of an African-American woman, Henrietta Lacks — whose genes have been involved in many recent advances in fighting disease. It will run at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in Port of Spain from 17 to 19 April. Read more about the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot here.

Our festival programme includes two events in partnership with the crime-writing festival Bloody Scotland and the British Council: a one-day workshop on the fundamentals of crime writing, and Bloody Friday, a discussion about how writing from various genres helps us understand crime and violence.

And after the festival, four young people from Trinidad and Tobago who are being groomed now at the Ken Gordon School of Journalism will take off for the youth journalism conference Future News in Glasgow, in the lead- up to the Commonwealth Games in July.


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Douen Islands: In Forest & Wild Skies Tue, 01 Apr 2014 02:22:18 +0000

Saturday 12 April, 2014, 8 pm
Alice Yard, 80 Roberts Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain

Douen Islands is an ongoing, open collaborative project — featuring writers, poets, musicians, artists, photographers, and others — first launched on All Hallow’s Eve, 2013, by poet Andre Bagoo and designer Kriston Chen.

On Saturday 12 April, Alice Yard will host an event by the Douen Islands collaborators, as part of the 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest pre-festival programme. Douen Islands: In Forest & Wild Skies will be a reading of poetry and prose produced as part of an ongoing collaboration around the Trinidad and Tobago folklore character of the douen, a haunted child spirit.

The event will feature poetry from Andre Bagoo and Shivanee Ramlochan and prose from Sharon Millar. This will involve moving images by Kriston Chen and sitar recordings from Sharda Patasar.

The collaborators state: “Douen Islands is a journey, unearthing what is lost — the furtive child foraging through darkened forest; tricked by moonlight into a vacant past; vanishing, like love and blood, into wild skies. A slippery stream flowing out of this post-Independence country, trek into heat, memory, nightmare, dream. Take back the steps we never took. Seek to find.”

Read an interview with Bagoo and Chen about the Douen Islands project at Antilles, the Caribbean Review of Books blog.

The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago is title sponsor of Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival, now in its fourth year. One Caribbean Media is sponsor of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. The Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development is a main sponsor, and First Citizens, flow, and Courts are supporting sponsors.

The 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest runs from 23 to 27 April, headquartered at the National Library and Old Fire Station in downtown Port of Spain. See for more information.

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Three writers join the shortlist for the 2014 OCM Bocas Prize Sun, 30 Mar 2014 15:05:56 +0000

ocm bocas shortlist covers larger

Two writers from Jamaica and one writer from Trinidad and Tobago have made the shortlist for the 2014 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

From a longlist of ten titles in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, the prize judges have chosen a winning book in each genre category. Kei Miller’s Writing Down the Vision was chosen from the non-fiction list, and fellow Jamaican Lorna Goodison’s Oracabessa was selected from the poetry category. Trinidadian Robert Antoni’s As Flies to Whatless Boys was chosen from the fiction list.

They will vie for the US$10,000 overall award, sponsored by One Caribbean Media, parent company of the Trinidad Express and TV6.

Kei Miller’s Writing Down the Vision (Peepal Tree Press) is a collection of essays that present a range of experiences — personal and public — which the writer uses to articulate his vision and his understanding of the realities of life in Jamaica and the Caribbean. The judges noted, “Miller is an original thinker, a writer who knows his own mind and is wary of orthodoxies. He is uncompromising and honest in his interrogation of issues and his experiences of the worlds he inhabits, cutting through the normalcy to reveal the realities of these worlds.”

Lorna Goodison’s Oracabessa (Carcanet Press) is a book of risky journeys, mappings, and re-mappings through Spain, Portugal, Canada, and her homeland of Jamaica, as the poet navigates place, history, and imagination. According to the judges, “In Oracabessa the distinctive voice of Lorna Goodison — an elegant, captivating fusion of international English and Jamaican Creole — presents segments of autobiography as a series of travels. Goodison’s persuasive art is a many-sided celebration of spiritual search.”

Robert Antoni’s novel As Flies to Whatless Boys (Akashic Books) is accented with West Indian cadence and captivating humour. It provides an unforgettable glimpse into nineteenth-century Trinidad. The judges added: “With mischief, ingenuity, and linguistic verve, Antoni reinvents the idea of the region’s islands as zones of perilous fantasy, where dreams come to grief but still make history.”

The winner of the overall OCM Bocas Prize will be announced on Saturday 26 April, as part of the fourth annual NGC Bocas Lit Fest. The final cross-genre judging panel, headed by the celebrated Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, will include poet and academic Mervyn Morris, writer and academic Hazel Simmons-McDonald, literary critic and academic Ken Ramchand, and Marjorie Thorpe as representative of the Prize administrators.

The 2013 prize was won by Monique Roffey for her novel Archipelago. The 2012 prize was won by Trinidadian Earl Lovelace for his novel Is Just a Movie. Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott was winner of the inaugural 2011 prize for his poetry collection White Egrets.

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A Bocas Evening at Alice Yard: Five by Night – New Fiction from T & T Wed, 26 Mar 2014 20:43:09 +0000

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2014 Bocas Lit fest blogger

A chilly Woodbrook evening beneath the stars, in Alice Yard’s plein air art and culture space: this was the setting for a special literary event showcasing Trinidad and Tobago’s writing talent, on March 25th. This year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest is a mere four weeks away, as Bocas programme director (and Alice Yard co-director) Nicholas Laughlin observed in his opening remarks.

Bocas Programme Director Nicholas Laughlin addresses the Alice Yard gathering.

Bocas Programme Director Nicholas Laughlin addresses the Alice Yard gathering.

Five by Night, thusly named for the handful of talented T & T  writers taking to the Alice Yard podium, served dual purposes: as both a pre-Bocas amuse bouche, and as part of the Diasporic Literary Archives’ programme, held in Port of Spain on March 25th-26th.

A rich, new resurgence of literary talent seems to be sweeping the Caribbean of late, Laughlin noted in his address to the audience. He emphasized the festival’s commitment to both nurturing, and providing appropriate platforms for, nascent, engaging voices in writing. It’s a welcome embarrassment of riches, Laughlin added, that much of the region’s writing stars are both born on and influenced by T & T’s terrain.

Barbara Jenkins reads "Ghost Story" from Sic Transit Wagon.

Barbara Jenkins reads “Ghost Story” from Sic Transit Wagon.

Introducing her as both a dear friend and an inspiration to up-and-coming scribes, Laughlin called Barbara Jenkins to the podium first. Jenkins, winner of a handsome assemblage of writing awards, including the inaugural Hollick Arvon Prize for emerging Caribbean writers, read from her debut collection of short stories, Sic Transit Wagon, from Peepal Tree Press. (Jenkins’ book launch of that title was one of Bocas 2013’s most vastly populated programme highlights.)

Reading “Ghost Story”, a tale of a gregarious yet criminally suspicious neighbourhood purloiner, Ghost, Jenkins’ clever turns of phrase and gentle comedic inflection were welcome openings to the night of fiction voices. “Is only good manners to have polite conversation with someone spending more time in your yard than you,” read Jenkins, detailing the neighbours’ consternated indulgence of Ghost’s produce-thieving proclivities.

Sharon Millar reads an excerpt from her novel-in-progress.

Sharon Millar reads an excerpt from her novel-in-progress.

Following Jenkins was last year’s joint Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner, Sharon Millar, who’s busily working on her first, much-anticipated novel. Millar treated the Alice Yard crowd to an excerpt from that work in progress, which focuses on the interior life of an archaeologist, Isabel Coelho. The excerpt also described the disappearance of a young boy, including artfully-rendered hints of how Isabel’s life and the child’s vanishing might be intertwined.

Millar’s prose shone through her understated, smoothly-paced narration, giving the listeners the appropriate headspace to digest the depth of her character animations. She described Isabel’s fascination with “the gentle excavations of old bones,” of the archaeologist’s wonderings on all the unaccounted dead. Even in this brief sharing on stage, a dense, challenging portrait of Isabel emerges, as a woman who takes note of her own private tectonic shifts after lovemaking, a woman not immune to the waters that rise within her.

Vashti Bowlah reads "Safe House" from her forthcoming debut collection, Under the Peepal Tree.

Vashti Bowlah reads “Safe House” from her forthcoming debut collection, Under the Peepal Tree.

Taking the median spot was Vashti Bowlah, a writer from Central Trinidad whose debut, self-published collection of short stories, Under the Peepal Tree, will be launched as part of this year’s main festival programme. Bowlah read the latter part of a story entitled “Safe House”, which explored the crumbling relationship between a devoted mother and her criminal escapee son, in dramatic and emotionally tense fashion. Reading from the mother’s perspective, Bowlah illuminated her anxious maternal torment, in being unable to reconcile her child’s peacefully sleeping countenance with the ruthless lawbreaker he had become.

Alake Pilgrim reads from her short story, "Rain".

Alake Pilgrim reads from her short story, “Rain”.

Alake Pilgrim, who read in the penultimate slot, isn’t a stranger to the NGC Bocas Lit Fest: she was one of its very first New Talent Showcase readers in 2011. Pilgrim shared work from a short story called “Rain”, a lushly-depicted examination of two lost souls at different stages of their development. The story focuses first on an insouciant youth-man, whose affinity for football marks one of his life’s saving graces, for whom a leather-stitched sphere truly can represent a whole world. Pilgrim read passionately, scarcely pausing to draw breath during the story’s most ornate passages – the effect was a mesmerizing depiction of urban decay, sequestered love, and the disappointments of young paramours and old men alike.

Monique Roffey reads from her 2013 OCM Bocas prizewinning novel, Archipelago.

Monique Roffey reads from her 2013 OCM Bocas prizewinning novel, Archipelago.

Closing off the circle of readers, Monique Roffey expressed frank admiration to be in the literary company of four outstanding female voices in fiction. Roffey’s last novel, Archipelago (Simon & Schuster) was the winner of the 2013 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Her newest novel, House of Ashes, which focuses on the events of the 1990 Trinidad coup’d’état, will be forthcoming later this year. Roffey read from the latter chapters of Archipelago, a global-warming conscious novel that tells the story of an unremarkable man’s sea voyage with his little daughter, Océan. Reading of the father-daughter team’s sighting of a rare white whale, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Roffey evoked dual senses of wonderment and fragility in the face of Nature’s grandeur. Detailing the sea’s awe-inspiring, terrifying caprices, and emphasizing the seeming indifference of the natural world to human suffering, Roffey’s excerpt reflected the ever-surprising capacity for love’s splendour on even the flimsiest of tempest-tossed barges.

A cross-section of the attentive Alice Yard gathering.

A cross-section of the attentive Alice Yard gathering.

Paper Based Bookshop was on hand, selling Jenkins’ and Roffey’s books, as well as several other titles that will feature prominently at Bocas 2014. These five outstanding writers, Laughlin commented in his closing remarks, are an indicative representation of the remarkable work being written, in Trinidad, across the Caribbean and in all its diasporic corridors.

As #bocas2014 rushes ever closer, we look forward to the panoply of readings, discussions, panels and good bookish fanfare that every final weekend in April prompts, beneath the NGC Bocas Lit Fest banners.

All photographs taken by Kathleen Tompsett, Programme Assistant, Bocas Lit Fest.

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Looking at the Bocas 2014 Longlist: The Butterfly Hotel Mon, 24 Mar 2014 18:47:52 +0000

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2014 Bocas Lit fest blogger

Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2013.

“I am from Choppers, chicken coops and cuatros.

I am from the flickering flame of a deya, blue at the wick, luminous, smelling of kerosene.

I am from the tiny engine of a hummingbird revving its wings in front of a frozen splash of red hibiscus.

I am from warm hops bread and rock cake, from Limacol and senna pods.”

-from “Where I’m From”

Roger Robinson at the 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
Author photograph © Maria Nunes.

Migration, return and trans maritime journeys are some of the primary signifiers in this, Roger Robinson’s third collection of poems. The work’s focal points are both the Caribbean and its diaspora; in this way, The Butterfly Hotel shares strong affinities with fellow longlistee (and Peepal Tree Press offering), Pepper Seed. The core motif employed by Robinson is that of the butterfly’s migratory path; like our winged friends, he insists in verse, we are indefatigable sojourners.

For so many citizens of the Caribbean diaspora, home is a flighty, elusive concept, difficult to claim no matter how many passports one owns, or where one’s navel string is buried. The poet engages with strong surges of alienation; traveller’s ennui; cultural syncretism and disaffection alike. Whether Robinson is portraying the bustle and melting-pot spectacle of a busy Brixton night, writing odes to the land of his birth, or channeling ancestral memories of the Caribbean’s first peoples, each poem is an emotive odyssey.

In his critical assessment (The Caribbean Review of Books, September 2010) of Robinson’s collection, Suckle, Philip Nanton says that Robinson functions primarily as “the poet as storyteller”. This characterization bears out similarly in The Butterfly Hotel: Robinson is our stalwart guide on these peregrinations, travels that keep time with the resilient, though fragile wingspans of our Lepidoptera kin. In my review of The Butterfly Hotel for the Trinidad Guardian’s Sunday Arts Section, I note that it “reads as one voluminous, winged passport: a poet’s self-proclaimed series of markers, fluttering from continent to island chain, from metropolis to market stall. The poems sing, and lilt, and warn in equal measure.”

Energetic and resonant on the page, The Butterfly Hotel lends itself particularly well to dramatic performance. These poems mark a series of successful interrogations into modern living, loss and love, tightly-knit by a sensibility that is rooted in many Caribbean identities.

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