The date stamp on this picture is November 5th 2010. The occasion is the Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival which launched in 2006 as the Caribbean International Literary Festival before re-branding the following year. It was a post-Independence annual event, one of the first of its kind in the region; since eclipsed. The ABILF puttered to a quiet end – the last installment that I’m aware of was 2013 after a big start and uneven run (and while there were subsequent whispers of its return, they seem to have been just that, whispers).
Not the first (or last) time our little island has executed ambitious ideas (speaking specifically of arts initiatives) only to then run behind. Should we count it as a miracle then that Antigua’s Carnival is this year celebrating its 60th anniversary? Or maybe a template given the clear commitment across all sectors?
From the beginning, the ABILF attracted marquee Caribbean and international writers, so the line-up wasn’t the issue. In 2010, I remember Eric Jerome Dickey was there, Althea Prince, Lorna Goodison, Anthony Winkler, Elizabeth Nunez, Zee Edgell (I may be mixing up years but these are some of the names that come immediately to mind from that year). Pictured are renowned Guyanese poet and children’s author John Agard (at the mic), and seated at the head table (right to left) one of my favourites Guyanese poet Grace Nichols, and Barbadian poet Esther Phillips – who went on to launch the BIM Literary Festival and Book Fair in 2014. The location is the grounds of the Anchorage Inn, one of three locations the festival had during its run – beginning at Jolly Beach and ending at Jolly Harbour, with some events also taking place, I believe, at Halcyon Resort.
I don’t know the ins and outs of why this didn’t last, but from what I do know I’m going to say – money (with a side of lack of vision to see the potential). As with many things art in Antigua and Barbuda, private citizens led the way on this – specifically travel and media entrepreneurs, sisters Pamela Arthurton (a Wadadli Pen patron) and Joy Bramble. I can’t speak to what level of state support they received; I just wish someone with access to state resources had had the vision to keep this going before we got left behind.
It’s something that a group of private citizens launched a new literary national event, the Wadadli Stories Book Fair this year (2017). But this throwback photo reminds me of what once was and, if we hadn’t lost momentum, when you consider the spread of literary festivals as not only arts but tourism events across the Caribbean region (something I wrote about in Writer’s Digest), what could have been all now.
As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and With Grace). All Rights Reserved. Also find me at: http://jhohadli.wordpress.com