Tag Archives: Calabash

Mailbox: Commonwealth Dreams come to Fruu-ish-aan at Calabash

by Lance Dowrich – Commonwealth short story prize regional finalist –  teacher and higher education administrator and public speaker who believes in teaching through storytelling and humour to connect with people – currently compiling a collection of short stories for publication and working on an e-book featuring ‘Ethelbert and the Free Cheese’

(Fruu-ish-aan. A play on a word. ‘Fruition’ means the realisation or fulfilment of a plan or project. In the words of the superb host and master of ceremonies, Dr Kwame Dawes, everything at Calabash 2016 came to fruition and everything was alright.

It was more than alright, it was great!

Regional Commonwealth Winners at Calabash.

Regional Commonwealth Winners at Calabash.

The Regional Winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize held the spotlight on Sunday afternoon. Calabash 2016 heard excerpts from all our stories – reading that afternoon were Parashar Kulkani from India, Faraaz Mahomed from South Africa, Stefanie Seddon from the UK, Tina Makereti from New Zealand and myself from Trinidad and Tobago.  Marlon James graciously declared Parashar Kulkarni from India as the overall winner of the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for his story ‘Cow and Company’. Parashar’s story had everyone in stitches and was well received by the large crowd.

 

Read more of what Lance had to say about Calabash here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love

Calabash

1544322_709677415743489_1869002677_n

In 2007, I attended this superlative literary festival with a group of Antiguan and Barbudan writers.  Just Write Writers Retreat founder Brenda Lee Browne, Unburnable author Marie Elena John, S E James, author of Tragedy on Emerald Island and other books, author of two teen books including Living Life the Way I Like it Akilah Jardine, and me (author of several books none of which, at the time, included Oh Gad! which wouldn’t be released til 2012) journeyed to Jamaica for the adventure. We had an amazing time and I dream still of being part of the line-up, though I’d probably swallow my tongue if I ever got the call. I think to how long it took me to work up the nerves to do the things I did do such as read from the Boy from Willow Bend at the open mic, tell Colin Channer how much I liked Waiting in Vain and beg a picture off of him, chat with Caryl Philip about Dancing in the Dark and the origins of Bert Williams (Antiguans still say Antigua), and approach authors of books I bought for signatures. My favourite moments involved the time spent sitting in the audience soaking up the sun and the words, writing, liming and chatting with the others. We had a great time. And plan to get there and to all the literary festivals in the region, whether as a group of Antiguan and Barbudan artistes on a cultural mission or as a solo writer on a promotional tour, and I will, I will, I will, I will, I will …attracting patronage and/or raising funds for this kind of mission remains difficult; there’ve been disappointments…but if artistes and especially writers in Antigua and Barbuda know anything it’s how to lean on their own resources and reserves to make things happen. It will happen. Until then, check out these images from our trip…and mark the dates from the Calabash calendar above and plan your own trip.

Signing up for the open mic...yep, that's author extraordinaire, Marlon James, with the sign up sheet and clipboard.

Signing up for the open mic…yep, that’s author extraordinaire, Marlon James, with the sign up sheet and clipboard.

with Colin Channer...so nervous

with Colin Channer…so nervous

From left, S E James, me, Akilah, Brenda Lee, Caryl Philips, and Marie Elena John.

From left, S E James, me, Akilah, Brenda Lee, Caryl Philips, and Marie Elena John.

Leave a comment

Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Links We Love, Literary Gallery, The Business

Dreaming of Havana

The Havana Book Fair is coming up in February. I’d actually like to attend (scratch that, really like to attend). In part because I have a book coming out in 2012 and a little advance publicity never hurt but mostly because I’m a lover of books and I’ve found events of this nature to be a joy, even with the inevitable hiccups; events like Breadloaf in Vermont to which I applied for and won an international fellowship in 2008 (and don’t ask me how much I’d like love to do the 2012 Breadloaf in Sicily…and not just for the opportunity to return to lovely Italy), Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival (which I’ve been active in since it started in 2006) and the Calabash International Literary Festival (2007). Mostly because they allow for (in fact, encourage) total literary immersion. You lose yourself in books and engagements with writers, you open yourself to learning,you slow down and feel the world again, and you have so much fun (that’s right, writers know how to party too). The fact that I’ve never been to Cuba and would absolutely love to go would be a possible bonus of the experience. The challenge is always money and sometimes information and access. In fact, funding (to cover airfare, accomodation and other expenses) and for the writer hoping to get mileage out of the experience (visibility) are often stumbling blocks even with festivals closer to home (Dominica, Montserrat, Trinidad). With Calabash, in Jamaica, we (in Antigua) put a group of writers together and applied for donor funding from the Commonwealth in order to attend. It was a remarkable experience (huge understatement).

With the 2012 conference of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, to be held in Suriname, much as I did with the BIM Conference on Caribbean Women Writers in 2008, I submitted my credentials (such as they are…something along the lines of pick me! pick me!) and was happy to be invited as a featured writer from the English Speaking Caribbean (more on that no doubt as it draws closer…including the inevitable panic). I’m looking forward to a return to Suriname, the country is always part of the experience, but I’m also looking forward to being in the company of people who write and people who love to read and write.

And so I’d like to figure out a way to make Cuba happen, not just for me but for other writers. But, of course, February’s just around the corner… I had the idea once I heard about the conference to reach out for information and maybe assistance in making this happen; I’ve tried but so far that has been a disappointing (at times, frustrating) dead end. It’s time like these I do think an Arts Council which could, among other things, access and provide funding (a la an endowment for the arts) would, as I’ve been discussing with fellow artists and writers lately, be a Godsend…too many missed opportunities, too much little tangible support for the arts on our piece of the rock.

So, all I can say at this moment, if not this year, then next or the next or next… (independently, if necessary). I always like to have something to shoot for, and a tour of all of these literary festivals (and more around the world) is definitely on my to do list. It should be on yours too if you’re a book lover and/or writer (and if you have the resources). The opportunity to step out of the world of distractions into the world of the Word is ah-may-zing. And there are the stolen moments too…getting up early to walk the beach in St. Elizabeth, sitting on a rock by the river in Vermont…at each one, you make your own. And, I’ve found, you wake up every day, writing.

Leave a comment

Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, Caribbean Plus Lit News

At Calabash

In 2007, a group of Antiguan writers

Here we are (image includes S.E. James, me, Brenda Lee Browne, Marie Elena John) with Kittitian writer Caryl Phillips, author of Commonwealth best book winner A Distant Shore

, with assistance from the Commonwealth Foundation made its way to the Commonwealth Foundation. It was an amazing experience. One blogged about here by Sharon James. And here’s what I wrote back then:

By jhohadli

 

In one of our conversations, Brenda Lee and I marvel at their sureness, at the tender age of teen-something.

We’re talking about a young writer we know – me through Wadadli Pen [a youth writing competition I coordinated between 2004 and 2006 coordinate] and Brenda through the various writing workshops she conducts. This young writer would shortly head to Washington for participation in a prestigious writing workshop.

We’re, also, talking about Akilah, another young Antiguan writer standing a few paces away on this breezy day in this coastal fishing village-cum-literary Mecca. Just two nights earlier, she’d launched her latest book; and before the day is out she’ll face the many expectant faces gathered under the Calabash tent from the podium beneath the thatched stage, her back to the sea, her words hitching a ride on the brisk wind.

I’ll take a turn at mic – Open Mic – as well, reading from my first book The Boy from Willow Bend. It would be a shame, I’d decided, to travel all this way and not leave my footprints in the brown-sugar-brown sand at Treasure Beach. But it is narrower footprints that occupy my mind at this writing, on this night – still, except for the rushing surf and my stirred up thoughts. The prints of one bold enough to step before the same sizable crowd that had South African Writer, Commonwealth Writers-prize-best-first-fiction nominee for All We Have Left Unsaid Maxine Case, remarking, rather nervously, that this was the largest crowd she’d ever read to.

There she stands, the youngest of our group; gaze unclouded, shoulders square.

Young hearts, run free. Who sang that? Candi Staton? Well, there it is; and it’s a beautiful thing. Like music.

Perhaps this is the definitive sign that we’ve come a long way; back in real time, in Antigua. Sure, we still don’t have a home for our public library – haven’t in my lifetime. Sure, we still have no cultural policy; nor it seems the will to dig one from amidst the talent and dreams and quest for identity, the collective floundering for a hold as waves of change blow unrelentingly in. Sure, the arts still enjoy stepchild status; doesn’t pay. Not really, not as bountifully as the professions I still shy away from as if from a life of certain bondage.

But these girls – these Antiguan writers not yet out of their teens – are a far cry from the girl with a dream in her heart that she hardly dared believe in. Practicality, security, were the lyrics woven into the music of her world; there, even when the tune had no words. The confidence to dance to her own strange beat, without apology, took time; and she still sometimes loses step.

Perhaps – even with the things still missing; library, cultural policy, nurturing environment for the arts, arts financing – their bold steps are a sign that strides are being made. In some measure, the much more populous field has something to do with it; that once vast field where once a lone warrior stood pen poised before her like a sword cutting through the detritus. But it’s something else, too, something innate.

Of course, we muse – Brenda and I, we’re far from that proverbial There. How many children are still taught that art is trivial, incidental to life not its very heartbeat? How many with this singular talent, to writetodrawtosingtodance, never truly emerge, are never taught how to use God’s gift, how to multiply this talent? How dismissive are we still of the arts? It doesn’t have the currency of politics or sports, or currency? Aren’t we still forced to hedge our bets (yes, even these daring kids that dare give voice to dreams that we, at their age, wrapped in cotton wool)?

But it is progress, of a sort, to have stretched for the high branches, plucked and sucked, like a particularly sweet mango, the various opportunities that have leaked from this pen. To be here at Calabash – the Caribbean’s premier literary festival started in Jamaica by Waiting in Vain author Colin Channer, poet Kwame Dawes, and producer Justine Henzell back in 2001. It is progress that five of us – all literary arts activists and writers – looked at each other and said, “Let’s do this”; and raised the funding (thanks to the Commonwealth Foundation, thanks to Caribbean Airlines) and did.

Marie Elena remarks as we amble back to the Cacona guest house on our last day at Treasure Beach (which I like to think of as Treasure Island) that it feels like we’ve stepped out of time. I must admit – and did – that I was not ready to step back in.

Only an hour earlier, we’d shook hands and posed for a keepsake with Channer, and joked with internationally-renowned Kittitian scribe, Caryl Phillips poolside in the magical glow of twilight.

Hours earlier, we’d sat with a savvy New York editor as she schooled us on the industry, a lesson tailored to fit Caribbean writers.

Hours earlier we’d allowed Cindy Breakspeare (former Ms. World and, yes, Damien Marley’s mommy) and others to lead us through Ganesh’s tragicomic world with their relay-style reading of V. S. Naipaul’s Mystic Masseur.

For hours upon hours, we’d listened, delightedly, to reading after reading (wondering if an Antiguan crowd would ever give itself over to hours of just this), the listening itself lesson after lesson on shaping character, plotting, creating atmosphere, pacing. Caryl (“I love fiction because I can hide”) Phillips shares his memoirs. American poet Linda Susan (“grab those notes like you own them”) Jackson conjures Etta and Billie in What Yellow Sounds Like. Aussie Andrew O’Connor, a Commonwealth best first fiction nominee effortlessly tickles us with his readings from Tuvalu.

Beautiful. Like music. The wind blows strong and the tent flaps excitedly – its own applause, as the bodies sway forward as though at a Tanya Stephens concert. And we buzz excitedly many a morning after, with ideas on how we could bring even a fraction of this experience home. We hope to find a way to do so, before real life, real time, overrides best intentions. We want to bring the salt of the sea breeze, the music of the words, the vibes that grabbed hold, shaking loose the constraints of life back in real time. We want to bring this flow, this letting go and letting one’s art live, this urge to create and serve the art that was gifted to us. We want to bring the desire to reach for the high notes and to understand (and use well) the tools we use.

The experience clings like fresh dew, and we are refreshed. And that’s the best reason to go to these things after all. To hear Maryse Condé, yes. To meet writers from far flung areas – as far as New Zealand, yes. To learn, to network, to grow, yes. But mostly to stand still and soak it up, feel it infuse and energize. Like music.

It’s a reminder that the journey is the thing. Lloyd Jones, announced at Calabash as best book winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, shared with one of our group that it took him 12 drafts to complete the Dickensian inspired Mr. Pip. And in that there is hope that our own daily struggles with the page and with finding our way to the page, aren’t so bleak.

One conversation, with Sharon and Brenda, is about the challenges of being a writer in Antigua; the writing you have to do in order to do the writing you want to do, how little of you it leaves to give to the writing you need to do. You debate about whose grass is greener, whose lawn better manicured.

In the end, you all agree that events like Calabash are like manna in a desert. You want to stretch this moment. Let your muse out to play, at will. Listen – to the surf, to the words. Watch as a young Antiguan literally half your age (and how scary is that; tick tock) steps to the mic. Believe in your thrumming heart that, not only is your rhythm not discordant, it is music to the ears.

This article references the trip of the first ever Antiguan delegation to the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica. That delegation consisted of Marie Elena John, author of Unburnable, Sharon James, author of a series of children’s books that begins with Tragedy on Emerald Island, Akilah Jardine, author of a duo of teen books that begins with Living Life the Way I Love It, writer and literary activist Brenda Lee Browne, and Joanne C. Hillhouse, author of The Boy from Willow Bend and Dancing Nude in the Moonlight. It’s been previously published in the Daily Observer newspaper, Antigua – June 1st 2007, on my blog at www.myspace.com/jhohadli, and in the U.S. publication, the Coup.

Leave a comment

Filed under A & B Lit News Plus