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A Festival Welcome of Independence Readings

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2012 Bocas Lit fest blogger

Kenneth Ramchand reads from Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners.

A lifelong appreciation for Caribbean literature – this is what surrounded me as I sat in the Old Fire Station yesterday morning, flanked by both writing luminaries and bookish enthusiasts alike. The rain pattered outside, the sounds of sirens and blaring car horns echoed mere feet away on the Port of Spain streets – all the atmospheric sounds of the city, breathing around us.

The room swiftly became packed, a standing space only gathering, as the readings in celebration of our nation’s fiftieth independence began in earnest. Former principal of the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, Bhoendradatt Tewarie, read a compelling passage from V.S. Naipaul’s The Suffrage of Elvira, his rendition of the scene depicted in language so wit-infused, so dryly hilarious, that it bore Naipaul’s hallmarks without question.

His reading was followed by Opposition Senator Penelope Beckles’ delivery of Eric Williams’ famous pre-Independence speech, originally given at the Queen’s Park Oval on August 30th, 1962. She prefaced her reading with the nostalgic observation that the NGC Bocas Lit Fest had caused her to hearken back to her old days of A-level literature study. Williams’ timeless message to the youth of the nation rang true in the Old Fire Station. It is an appeal to the basic honesty and integrity within each Trinbagonian which resounds with as much relevancy now as it did then.

Kenneth Ramchand, Professor Emeritus of West Indian literature at the University of the West Indies, read a grimly fascinating excerpt of Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, a passage that spoke to, as he put it, the mindlessness of our times, the sense of doom we often, collectively feel today. Marina Salandy-Brown, festival founder and director, added, after Ramchand’s reading, that The Lonely Londoners is one of the great migration narratives to have come from our region, a sentiment echoed soundly by all present.

Two dramatic offerings rounded out the full table of Independence-themed readings. The first was presented by Albert Laveau, artistic director of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, whose reading of Derek Walcott’s The Star Apple Kingdom was bone-chillingly good. There is nothing quite like hearing outstanding work read outstandingly, and I think anyone not familiar with that particular work of Walcott’s will be well-moved to seek it out, post-haste. The second dramatic piece, and final reading of the festival welcome, was delivered with considerable (and signature) verve by leading local thespian Cecilia Salazar, whose rendition of a 1958 “Macaw” column had the audience in stitches of uproarious laughter.

Beginning the 2012 festival in honour of the years of struggle and endeavour that led us to our Independence fifty years ago… I couldn’t think of any better platform from which to launch a present-day celebration on everything that’s grand about books in our region, and beyond.

Photo by Rodell Warner, our official 2012 Festival photographer.