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!
The 2016 Calabash Literary Festival in the scenic, idyllic paradise of rural Treasure Beach in Jamaica from 3rd to 5th June was a magnificent concoction of words, food, fiery and passionate poets, and a crowd that was generous in its attention to everything that was said.
The stage was cast against the picture-perfect backdrop of the Caribbean Sea with a relentless breeze that caressed each speaker who took to the stage. And the speakers came from far and wide. Jamaicans included the celebrated writer Marlon James who seemed to permeate every facet of the festival and was so easily accessible, and Kei Miller, equally famous, irreverent but a dynamic poet who lit the fire and seemingly quelled the breeze just for his time on the stage! Other Jamaican writers who read included Nicole Dennis-Benn, Diana McCaulay and Pamela Mordecai, and Sheila Graham, Floyd Green, William Mahfood, and Velma Pollard eloquently read extracts from Erna Brodber’s classic Jamaica novel Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home.
There were the fire scorching poets – Ilya Kaminsky from Russia, Vladimir Lucien from St Lucia, and Ada Limon and Jessica Care Moore from the US. There were the poets whose styles varied but were just as effective. Ladan Osman of Somalia used her moment on the stage to infuse the festival with melodious and rhythmic pieces. Tishani Doshi of India and Nikola Madzirov of Macedonia were equally passionate and performed with soul.
Sister of the soil and UWI lecturer Dr Carolyn Cooper, infused the Open Mic sessions on Saturday and Sunday with her quick and infectious wit keeping the flow and showcasing talents of volunteer poets and writers from across the world. Persons from Cyprus, USA, Jamaica, and Guyana graced the stage and were well received by an audience that did not miss a beat.
This audience was world class and essentially Jamaican, comprising many who flew into Kingston or Montego Bay from across the world to be there just for Calabash. People from other countries were there as well. Reportedly each and every villa, guest house and bedroom was occupied in the twelve kilometre stretch of this sleepy village. The audience was attentive and gave great respect to each presenter. It was this audience which was the receptive element that lifted this event into its special place among literary festivals.
Three non-fiction writers who served up bold, strange and unsettling stories were British writer Decca Aitkenhead and Baz Dreisinger and Nina Revoyr from the US. There were two novelists of style and substance for the discriminating literary palette in the persons of Kaylie Jones from the US, and Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma.
Two Man Booker Prize winners featured on Saturday night – New Zealander Eleanor Catton and Marlon James. After Marlon’s readings, there were three fiction entrees of power and astonishing skill, Paul Beatty of the US, Teju Cole of Nigeria/USA, and Geoff Dyer of the United Kingdom.
On Sunday Chris Abani, the celebrated author from Nigeria, held centre stage in conversation with Paul Holdengraber which was moving as it was insightful. The audience were allowed a journey into the life and mind of this great author who reciprocated the generosity of the audience with snippets of his life, his travels, his philosophy and his writings.
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.
Kudos goes out to the organisers Kwame Dawes and Justine Henzell as we look back fondly on a memorable weekend.
Calabash returns in 2018. You have to be there!!
Lance Dowrich is the regional winner for the Caribbean, 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
Lance Dowrich is a learning and development professional and public speaker. As a teacher and higher education administrator he believes in teaching through storytelling, recognising the power of humour to connect with people. He is compiling a collection of short stories for publication and is working on an e-book featuring ‘Ethelbert and the Free Cheese’.