Saturday, June 2, 2012

Despatches from Calabash 2012. Despatch 1

Last week this time, at about 11.00am, I was sitting under a tent at Calabash, catching whatever sea breeze I could, not yet fully realising what a wondrous day I had ahead of me. Why am I writing about Calabash in a children’s literature blog? Well it could be that children’s  writers also read adult material, that indeed listening to adult writers still feeds the soul of the children’s writer. Certainly it has given me energy, hope to continue, especially in the light of a tax being put on books yet again. It has happened before and the book industry has explained the folly of putting a tax on books in a country where we need to increase the literacy rate, and the government of the day has understood. This time, others besides  those in the book industry have ‘bawled out’. So we’ll see what happens. So yes, perhaps some of us need the sustenance  of adult writers, who write, even when it seems all hope is gone.  
Calabash, Treasure Beach: in the day time, hot, dry, windy, and the vision of the sea, the sea  breeze, each carrying a specific  emotional  experience. At night the silver white moon shimmering on what seems to be still water in one spot, and in another white-capped waves crashing onto the rocks. More emotion, restful feelings; and on this stage, this backdrop, powerful writing and writers. The writers and their readings as different from each other as the different aspects of the day and night, creating quite wildly different emotions, sometimes calming , sometimes draining, often overwhelming.
For me, seeing persons I admire or respect  is a great part of any event.  So there were all the friends I saw there, the literary comfort they give - people do care about literature. (Someone  pointed out that in the Caribbean we have an enormous amount of writing/writers, quite above what you would expect from the small population. Fabulous!)  I got a chance to purchase Diana  McCaulay’s new book, Huracan and have her sign it. I heard Olive Senior read and saw her new children’s book. It’s always interesting when you find a traditionally  adult writer doing  a children’s book.  Does it mean children’s writing is important, after all?  I got to meet Jamaican Jacqueline Bishop, writer and painter, whom I had  ‘friended’ on Facebook. This was one of the things I had hoped to do at Calabash. (The technology works, that is, 'friending' and then meeting in real life –  lovely to finally meet her).To hear Christine Craig, whose poetry I’ve always liked, read about family, giving voice to the emotions those of us who come from ‘mixed families’  experience, which I suspect only we feel and some are embarrassed to admit. To hear Shara McCallum, brilliant young poet, whom I’ve heard once before, reading about the  pain of departure, of finding oneself, the constant cry of those who leave our shores, willingly or otherwise. Everybody hurts when they leave Jamaica, and as she said ‘memory becomes a synonym for home’. No doubt, other people hurt when they leave other countries which they call home.
To go from the pain of slavery, the raging emotions, with Orlando Patterson  (of The Children of Sisyphus fame)  to a sort of celebration of survival  with Kerry Young  reading form her book Pao, the story of  Chinese who settled here from 1938. I enjoyed  this book immensely; it filled in childhood gaps  in memory in the 1940’s and 1950’s of Chinatown and the Chinese with whom we were friends. Things vaguely understood now fell into context. Kerry Young, who went to the UK with her family at age 10, did a great reading, capturing the language structure,  the intonation of the Chinese  I used to know, with whom I grew up; she brought out the humour of the human situation. She also demonstrated the positive effect of an author doing a really good reading. Her book sold off, leaving many persons unable to get copies. Yes man, I had brought mine from Kingston and got her to sign it. I sat next to someone who did not know a China Town had existed, and I thought this is what a book like this does; it is  ‘recording our history in fiction’.
And then  there was the white South African freedom fighter, Ronnie Kasrils, who reminded us that in 1957 Norman Manley boycotted goods from South Africa  because of apartheid; we weren’t even independent but we did that, we took a stand. Sometimes little Jamaica is truly wondrous. This is what he said about us: ‘You’re an island but you’ve got your bridges to the 6 continents of the world’. We sang and swayed to the music with him.
Although I have mentioned only some of the writers, everything and everybody was grand.
Big up Kwame Dawes! Big up Justine Henzell! Big up Calabash! If I had money I’d give it to them towards the next Calabash.  And I know that’s how you all feel.
Do you realise that because of this festival especially,  the young people of Treasure Beach will think that literature and reading are a big thing. What a something!

1 comment:

  1. envy! envy! since I couldn't attend. Thanks for sharing