I was invited to be a guest at Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad, which is where I headed off to last week.
The folks at Bocas put together a whole Future Friday segment, featuring Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Lord, me, and RSA Garcia. Karen and I did an all day workshop for writers interested in spec fic from the region.
Here we are during lunch break (photo via Bocas Facebook Photostream page):
And this is what it looks like when I murder a roti quickly at lunch before returning to the workshop (photo via Karen Lord’s Tumblr):
Later that night the Chilean Embassy hosted a reception. Highlight of that was getting to meet and shake Derek Walcott’s hand and gush a little about his work. I tweeted about it, but a dearth of response on twitter made me realize that most of twitter feed needs a brief recap of why that was epic for someone working from the Caribbean perspective.
Derek Walcott, via wikipedia:
Derek Alton Walcott, OBE OCC (born 23 January 1930) is a Saint Lucian poet and playwright. He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is currently Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex. His works include the Homeric epic poem Omeros (1990), which many critics view “as Walcott’s major achievement.” In addition to having won the Nobel, Walcott has won many literary awards over the course of his career, including an Obie Award in 1971 for his play Dream on Monkey Mountain, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, the inaugural OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and the 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for his book of poetry White Egrets
Here’s a photo of Mr. Walcott from later in the week:
One of the other highlights of the reception was getting to meet Naomi Jackson, a NYC-based writer with deep Caribbean roots. Her first novel is coming out soon:
The attache for Suriname spent a lot of time trying to convince me to explore the Dutch Caribbean a whole lot more.
Here’s a random shot of the view of Trinidad I saw from breakfast at my hotel each morning:
Oh damn, the food y’all. The south Caribbean, down-island, is responsible for the first 10 years of impressions of my life. Down island food and culture is so home.
I got to eat roti, beef patties, plums, and real calalloo (the green stuff below):
Childhood comfort food, all of it.
One of the truly amazing things about this event was all the Caribbean spec fic writers in one place. At breakfast, Jacqueline Stallworth of the Lit Blog The Big Sea took a photo of Karen, Nalo, me, and Tiphanie Yanique (photo from her blog):
That’s the first time Tiphanie and I’ve seen each other since high school. We both went to All Saints Cathedral School together, same class. Now here we are so many years later, both working novelists at Bocas Lit Fest.
Life is wild!
Tiphanie’s work has a strong sense of the fantastic (Nalo asked her if she minded being tagged as Caribbean Speculative Fiction, and Tiphanie pointed out many American reviewers seem to ignore/pass over the magic in her stories, but that sense of the fantastic is an integral part of a lot of Caribbean literature [something I keep pointing out to folks in the US who seem to think it’s some kind of discovery for Caribbean writers to be interested in the fantastic. No: it’s been there for as long as long can be])
Future Friday kicked off with a panel by RSA Garcia, Karen Lord, me, and Nalo Hopkinson where we talked about the above. The history of Caribbean fantastic traditions, our own work. Shivanee Ramlochan, a Trinidadian poet and critic, who interviewed us (and me earlier for the Spaces/UWI podcast) was an amazing moderator, and had done so much prep work before meeting us that the panel was amazing.
After the general panel we each did readings and q&as, RSA Garcia and I had Lisa Allen-Agostini moderating ours. Again, her questions raised the panel to a fantastic level. Not the usual ‘where do you get your ideas?’ sort of thing, but detailed questions about the nature of our work and how the region influenced them.
Karen and Nalo reading and panel with Shivanee:
The Bocas Lit Fest streamed photos were all taken by Marlon James. No, not the Jamaican author of that name, but the photographer. Some of the photos were amazing, so later on in the week Karen Lord and I ended up doing an impromptu shoot with him as we thought it was too amazing a chance to pass up.
Here’s Karen in front of the lens:
Hopefully I’ll get the permission to post the photos Marlon took of me, as I want to use them for the PR section of my site. They’re really cool.
I also attended a reading by Naomi Jackson (aforementioned) and Tiphanie Yanique, and later got the chance to go out to a rum shack with Marlon and many of us writers of the fantastic. It was fascinating to catch up to Tiphanie, if not a little intimidating as she remembers the utterly quiet, withdrawn me of high school who was quite unsocialized. It’s the closest thing to a high school reunion I’ve ever had. But way cooler, as Tiphanie is doing work that is awesome and it’s fascinating to see that we both got into the arts, even if via very different directions.
Karen Lord and I took the opportunity to head out for dinner and skipped some of the programming later on as I was too exhausted and wanted to be able to turn in early (a rarity for me, but being on deadline ahead of this event and meeting so many new people and doing so much meant I got overtired rapidly).
It was great to sign some books for some new readers. Even cooler to sign books for long time readers who were excited I came to the island, like this guy:
Books Lit Fest culminated with a poetry slam with a TT $20,000 (about $4,000 USD) prize. That was epic.
Pretty soon it was heading back home, exhausted. Nalo and I were on the same plane, and said our good byes in Houston.
I came home with a bottle of El Dorado (Guyanese Rum) 15, and a bottle of Mt. Gay (Barbados) 1703 Extra Old. And books, of course:
And then I shaved my winter beard. Because:
I have a million emails and to dos. So that’s my recap. Thank you to Bocas Lit Fest for bringing me down. I met so many people working on great things, and promoting Caribbean literature. I was welcomed and encouraged, which is always meaningful. Any time I get to read my own work on Caribbean soil it’s emotional. And I’m not an emotional guy. But it means something. And the readers there get a lot of references and things I’m doing in my work that reviewers in the US don’t. So to hear people ‘getting’ it, laughing in all the right places, or gushing about things that I worked hard to slip in, that refuels the tank.