This is a blast from the past – an article written after the first staging of a literary festival in Antigua in 2006. Ah, if we could just hold on to the things that we start . Anyway, here’s what I said then. Images featured in this post are from different years of the Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival. The last ABILF was held in 2010. We’ve seen literary festivals flower throughout the region – something I’ve written about for Writers’ Digest magazine – while many don’t know Antigua and Barbuda even had one (I know this, I’ve been asked in my travels representing for myself and my country). So, file this one under memories.
ONE MOVE LEADS TO ANOTHER
by Joanne C. Hillhouse
For writers, stories lurk in every experience; and, without a doubt, Antigua and Barbuda’s first international literary festival in 2006, was an experience!
The workshops, readings, and panels were part of it, sure; but throw a group of writers together and there’s bound to be lots of chat off the pages. “One morning,” remarked African-American author, L. A. Banks (ETA: now deceased), “I was eating alone before a session and two ladies sat at an adjacent table discussing ‘the paranormal’. Then suddenly they saw my name tag and drew me into their conversation. Before long, an author colleague (Tananarive Due) happened by with a coffee and decided to join in, and, from there, Nalo Hopkinson passed our growing table and decided to join the conversation’s fray as well. It was magical! We laughed, told stories, and we walked away with as much fodder for new books as did the ladies who drew us into the conversation in the first place.”
At the Lit Fest, this communing of creative minds was commonplace, even with the beach and all its delightful diversions a few paces away (ETA: the festival moved around but this first one was held right on the beach at the Jolly Beach Resort). The festival literally was a book lover’s buffet and, for the writers, a reinvigorating respite.
Little wonder then that there was a shower of superlatives in its wake. “…One of the best I ever attended. If you missed it you missed a major event,” wrote Caribbean-American author, Elizabeth Nunez, in a widely circulated festival review; while Caribbean Canadian Sci-Fi novelist Nalo Hopkinson blogged, “Antigua rocked. I had an amazing time.”
In part, it was the setting. We don’t boast of having 365 beaches for nothing; beaches, ideal for viewing each evening’s explosion of colour as the sun dips into the sea, I might add.
“I’m back in grey London and I cannot wait to return for more,” Tamarind Books owner Verna Wilkins relayed, when asked for comment after last year’s Fest.
Still, the setting was just the brawta, as we say in Antigua. The festival wrapped books, knowledge, invaluable networking opportunities, and a good time into a tidy weekend package. “I believe each author walked away as a student as well as a teacher,” Banks mused.
As a local author, I have this setting all the time; even if I don’t always slow down to take it in. An ever-eager student, however, I did take in much of what the festival had to teach.
Lesson One – There is no single route, no single reason why…
Sometimes, we get off track: pre-occupying ourselves with those running alongside, behind, or ahead of us. Marita Golden, author and founder of the USA’S Hurston Wright Writers Week, brought perspective with her reminder that upwards of 160,000 books are published in the U.S. alone annually, with a mere handful getting the kind of promotion that could make them into bestsellers. The thing to remember is what compelled us to write in the first place. Antiguan-Canadian author Althea Prince told how her book How the East Pond Got Its Flowers was born of her desire to tell her daughter a story that portrayed her ancestors as people; not slaves. Wilkins’ Tamarind Books was inspired by children; “intrinsic in my work is empowerment for children, especially children who’ve been excluded,” she said. Meanwhile, Victoria Murray, author of A Sin and A Shame said during one of her readings, “I start writing with a ‘What If’ question. I write so I can breathe because I do not want this product backed up inside me.”
Lesson Two – Feel The Fear…
We’re often taught that fear is weakness. Golden shared that her previous novel took her five years; that sometimes you think the story is one thing, and it has a mind to go another way; that “you’re never going to stop being afraid…(but) you have to face the fear and write through it.”
Lesson Three – Work It, Baby!
A hard truth re-emphasized at the Fest: after you’ve poured your soul and years of your life into this work, after you’ve given it all you have to give; then the work starts. Hate self-promotion? Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Jason Van Orden outlined practical online approaches to self-promote cheaply. For a writer working today, he stressed, not having a web presence is not an option. So, hey, check me out at http://www.myspace.com/jhohadli (where I especially enjoy blogging on books), http://www.antiguanice.com, or my blog at http://www.amazon.com (ETA: I’m no longer on myspace and antiguanice – though Wadadli Pen and the Cushion Club still are – but actually you can now find me in all these places); all set up since last year’s conference. I’ve received questions and feedback; also little notes like this one from a new My Space friend who bought my books as a gift for a niece after discovering me online: “My niece just rang me to tell me that she finished ‘Boy from Willow Bend’ and ‘Dancing Nude in the Moonlight’; she loved them both.” Priceless!
Lesson Four – Network
Business cards were exchanged which is a good thing when you have agents, publishers, booksellers, and writers knocking elbows.
African-American author Christine Lincoln wrote me, “While at the festival in Antigua, I spoke with Verna who started Tamarind (Books) and learned a great deal from her – mainly that I can do what she has done!”
Lesson Five – One Move Leads to Another
For Prince, 2006 was her first time home in nine years. She’ll be back and conducting workshops at the 2007 Fest.
Also, you’ll notice the stronger Caribbean presence in this year’s Festival line-up; that’s a move in the right direction. As one of the coordinators said “Caribbean literature … would add another dimension to the Festival and certainly attract a broader audience.”
As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, and Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. Seriously, a lot of time, energy, love and frustration goes in to researching and creating content for this site; please don’t just take it up just so without even a please, thank you or an ah-fu-she-subben (credit). If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.