Towards a new chapter | Local features

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The mission is greater than any person.

Marina Salandy-Brown used this task-centered self-sacrificing approach to successfully create the most influential modern literary movement in the Caribbean: the Bocas Lit Fest.

In just 11 years, Salandy-Brown, as founder and president of Bocas Lit Fest, has brought together the best and brightest in Caribbean literature for the annual celebration, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, sparking a kind of literary renaissance. In the region.

About to set course for his planning pen and hand the next page of the festival to new festival director Nicholas Laughlin, the irrepressible Salandy-Brown sat down with the Kitcharee to explore its history and stir up its plot. more and more thick.

“It’s really inspiring what we were able to achieve,” began the little administrator during a WhatsApp call in the early hours of Friday morning.

Former BBC journalist Salandy-Brown started the NGC Bocas Lit Fest in 2010 after recognizing that there was no universal space for Caribbean writers to meet and share their ideas. The notion of a Caribbean writer in Britain was limited to the children of Caribbean-born immigrants living in the UK, she explained, while Caribbean literature originating directly from the islands had all but disappeared.

“When I returned to Trinidad in 2004, I went to an event in Granada where a crowd of Caribbean writers had come to pick me up. When I saw that there were all these writers, reading great works, I realized that something was missing. I asked them when and where do you get together like that and they said they never do. I knew something was missing, ”Salandy-Brown revealed.

The Caribbean flourished as a literary hub under colonial rule, producing two Nobel Prize winners for literature in Derek Walcott of Saint Lucia (1992) and VS Naipaul of T&T (2001).

Independent T&T’s rejection of a colonial way of life in its march towards forming a new national identity and culture meant literature was inadvertently sidelined, Salandy-Brown said. A fact further underscored by the replicas of “Trinis does not read” that she received during the initial sharing of her idea for the Bocas Lit Fest.

“I think in the act of creating a national culture we had to exclude some things, but I think it went too far. Yes, we had to incorporate the carnival and the steel pan into our culture, but we also threw in a lot of things that we thought were too colonial like ballet. Yet the idea that Trinidadians and Tobagonians did not write and read was wrong. We’re storytellers, just look at our calypso, ”said Salandy-Brown.

In just over a decade, Bocas Lit Fest not only put Caribbean literature back on the world map, but it also paved the way for the female voice of the Caribbean, she added.

“Now our Caribbean writers are winning awards and that doesn’t mean we have to be judged by others, but it shows that we have stories to tell. Moreover, at the height of Caribbean literature, there were only male writers. Most importantly, the female Caribbean voice is now part of global culture.

It wasn’t easy, Salandy-Brown admits. Establishing a successful non-governmental organization (NGO) requires a very specific set of organizational skills. And a lot of humility.

“The problem is, you have to ask yourself, ‘How do you turn your good idea with all of its good intentions into something that lasts? You have to make it bigger than the person who wants to make it. And then you get a bunch of people who want to do that too. Once other people are involved, you need to recognize that you no longer own or control it. You have to let things fly, ”she said.

Make literature cool

The biggest achievement of Bocas Lit Fest has been making reading and writing relevant activities for a generation of hyper-tech-social-media bloggers. Achieving this feat required a holistic approach to collecting and promoting the region’s literary talent, she revealed.

“We made literature cool,” Salandy-Brown said as if she had just realized.

“We haven’t just tried to do it in Trinidad and Tobago. In the world, they don’t see Jamaican, Grenadian, Barbadian or Trinidadian literature, they see the Caribbean enlightened. It was clear that we had to work with all the writers in the Caribbean, ”she explained.

“I now see young people writing. Some of the young people that I see being very successful couldn’t do it without Bocas’ influence. The effect we have is beyond reading and writing, it’s how we were able to affect the fabric of what people can do. We have done a lot of work in the schools.

It’s layered … what you see is just the tip of the iceberg, ”she continued.

Nicholas Laughlin has worked alongside Salandy-Brown since the inception of the festival. Published poet and editor of Caribbean Beat magazine, Laughlin is spearheading the festival’s transition to a fully virtual platform during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced restrictions on gatherings in 2020 and 2021.

As the pandemic means the future remains uncertain, Laughlin is convinced that the NGC Bocas Lit Festival must continue to evolve to become a hybrid event.

“We are going through a period of enormous change. We were set up to be a face-to-face event and suddenly we had to do things virtually. We have to keep imagining what a hybrid festival could be with all the opportunities and challenges. It also means that the public is no longer bound by geography. Dozens and dozens of people around the world can now open their laptops and be part of Bocas Lit, ”he said.

Pass the flaming pen

Salandy-Brown, meanwhile, says she is “more than happy” to hand over executive and managerial responsibility to Managing Director (CEO) Jean Claude Cournand and Director of the Laughlin Creative Leadership Festival. Salandy Brown will retain the post of president of the organization, however.

“I can’t wait to let go of the reins. The point is, I have already let go of the reins, whatever I have been able to do, I have shared it. My management style is to work with the best, to give them all the tools they need to succeed and to let go of the reins. I have worked with great young people, they have all the knowledge now, let’s see what they are doing, ”she said.

Laughlin said his tenure as festival director will be to uphold the principles of Bocas Lit Fest: to be a festival for all, to remain truly Caribbean-focused, and to support and develop emerging literary talent.

“The past ten years have been an exciting time for Caribbean literature. The most rewarding thing has been to see careful people, private writers, develop, publish books, win prizes, and publish more books. We really want to keep producing a festival that appeals to everyone. Without forgetting our young readers, we need to find out what they want and what they need and give it to them, so that they not only learn from us, but we learn from them, ”concluded Laughlin.

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