The Bocas Lit Fest is perhaps the most successful NGO to launch in Trinidad and Tobago in this millennium. In December 2010 it was registered as a not-for-profit organisation, and in April 2011 T&T had its first fully-fledged annual literary festival. It has kept coming back, year after year, not missing a beat, even through the pandemic.
The Bocas portfolio of projects to date runs into the dozens, strategically targeting all the key areas to be addressed in building a community of writers and readers and underpinning it with sound planning and fiscal management. A host of different prizes that give fledgling writers a chance to hone their skills under the mentorship of renowned writers, and others that simply celebrate excellence in writing for children, youth and adults, have encouraged a new generation of writers who had lacked the support and direction which Bocas has been able to provide. Its workshops and masterclasses, its book club and special events, its school interventions and publications are all in the detailed mix that has led to a quiet cultural revolution.
Now, Marina Salandy-Brown, founder and managing director of the Bocas Lit Fest who also directed the annual literary festival, is passing on the baton, “For the younger folk to take on the day-to-day management and move Bocas to the next stage”, she says. “I have been working with an extremely talented, bright and committed group of people over the last 11 years and they are more than able to carry on and build further. They all have skills unique to the work that we do and I have complete confidence in them. They now know what I know and it has got to the point where I can learn from them. It is a perfect moment at which to lock in the advantage. Succession planning does not happen overnight, it takes some work and then knowing when to move on.”
From 1 January 2022, the biggest annual lit fest in the Caribbean, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, has Nicholas Laughlin as its festival and programme director. The poet, editor of the arts and travel magazine Caribbean Beat and co-director of the arts collective Alice Yard has been working alongside Salandy-Brown from the start, crafting the festival programme every year and leading the programming of the new virtual festivals since 2020. “What Nicholas does not know about Caribbean literature is not worth knowing. Without his specialist knowledge, his good judgement and wide range of professional skills, it would have been much more of a struggle to establish Bocas.”
“As the Bocas Lit Fest continues into its second decade,” Laughlin says, “I’m delighted to be working with my brilliant colleagues to continue celebrating and supporting Caribbean books, writers and readers. I look forward to all the ideas, poems, and stories to come.”
Salandy-Brown says her task has been to realise the vision and give creative shape and direction to the Bocas Lit Fest while ensuring the organisation had the ballast to develop, year on year, project by project. “Many arts initiatives fail because the people in charge forget that they must manage according to the rules of business. The art is the very tip of the mountain; below, is a solid tectonic plate creating and holding together the space for the art and performance to thrive and shine.”
After a rigorous, multi-stage recruitment process, Jean-Claude Cournand is stepping into this management role as Chief Executive Officer. “Jean-Claude is a singular talent, combining creative experience with leadership, business development, innovation and entrepreneurial skills. He also has a passionate commitment to the NGO sector as a positive force,” Salandy-Brown explains. Cournand has been responsible for areas of Bocas Lit Fest youth programming since 2013 and through a partnership between Bocas and the 2Cents Movement, which he co-founded and managed, strategically helped to introduce the nation’s youth to spoken word and performance poetry. The huge popularity of the First Citizens National Poetry Slam is the culmination of their joint efforts. “His job now is to preserve what we have achieved and position Bocas for the next decade,” she adds.
“It is truly an honour for me to accept this opportunity to continue the good work with the incredibly committed team here at Bocas Lit Fest,” explains Cournand. “I am a product of this pipeline of solid leadership and I hope that my input will contribute meaningfully to an ecosystem that has been so instrumental in my own personal and professional development.”
The Bocas Lit Fest is overseen by a Board of Directors, with Salandy-Brown as President.
The current Board is focused on deepening governance practices and ensuring the financial and organisational sustainability of the NGO, while ensuring Bocas maintains its creative elan to encourage yet another generation of happy readers and world-class writers.