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Irreverent Humour and Historical Fiction at NGC BOCAS South

Posted on 11/11/2014
By Commonwealth Foundation

Literary editor Nicholas Laughlin and poet Tanya Shirley at the NGC Bocas South. Photo credit: Mikel Guanfranco Alexander/ NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

There are only a handful of literary festivals in the Caribbean region, scattered across the scores of islands in the archipelago. Literary festivals like the NGC Bocas Lit Fest present a rare opportunity for Caribbean folk to get familiar with the writers in our midst. It’s a great gift, then, that the big Bocas—a five-day festival in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital city of Port-of-Spain comprising a plethora of workshops, readings, discussions and screenings—has spawned a two-day spin off festival in another Trinidadian city.
NGC Bocas South, in its second year, ran from 8-9 November, 2014, in San Fernando, the second-largest city in the country, an hour south of Port-of-Spain. In Trinidad, cities and boroughs outside of Port-of-Spain often complain that they are overlooked and ignored, especially when it comes to the arts. Bocas South seeks to address that shortcoming—both in its physical location and in its programming, as there were readings and discussions specific to South Trinidad.
I read on 8 November, on a historical fiction panel with authors Michael Cozier (Putting up a Resistance) and Vashti Bowlah (Under the Peepal Tree). Cozier had the audience in stitches with the irreverent humour in his story partly set on an estate in Cedros—there’s a bit with a man promenading around the neighbourhood with his cow until his wife reminds him someone could give the cow the evil eye, or “maljo” as it’s called here. Bowlah tugged on heartstrings with her sentimental story about an old woman who does medicinal massage on a baby and saves a family from anguish. My own reading was from my unpublished crime fiction novella set in 1932 in Port-of-Spain.
The highlight of the day for me was a reading by Jamaican poet Tanya Shirley. Noting that she had become infamous for her “pum-pum poetry”, she belied that reputation with a generous helping of serious, sometimes grim poems about topics like homophobia and child abuse. Shirley’s newest collection The Merchant of Feathers (Peepal Tree Press) officially comes out later this month but there were preview copies available at Bocas South, much to the delight of Bocas Programming Director Nicholas Laughlin, who facilitated Shirley’s reading on Saturday. It was a great adjunct to the main festival and I can’t wait for the end of April 2015 when the NGC Bocas Lit Fest returns.
Lisa-Allen Agostini

During June 2014 Lisa was one of our online visiting writers. You can read her posts here.

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