The fast-paced schedule of the third annual BVI Literary Festival had attendees raucously laughing at humorous readings, snapping in appreciation of poetry performances, and sitting in contemplative silence as authors delved into their experiences as contemporary Caribbean writers.
The festival, held over the weekend at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College and other locations on Tortola, incorporated some new events this year, including a children’s workshop.
Founder Dr. Richard Georges, the HLSCC president, said he was pleased with the high attendance at events throughout the four-day festival.
“We’re looking forward to making a serious impact on the literary community in the BVI,” he said.
Dr. Georges added that organisers were glad to offer a schedule with a wide variety of more than 40 writing professionals, including musicians, a Novel Prize-winning economist, and travel writers.
“When we talk about literature, I think people have a very limited idea of what that entails,” he said. “So a focus of the festival is to broaden people’s understanding and appreciation of what literature can be. Literature allows space for us all to tell our story, regardless of what aspect of that story may be.”
On Friday, attendees had their pick of nine panels held at the college, beginning with a discussion on “BVI Business Legacies” presented by the OA Consulting Group.
In another panel, Puerto Rican poets Ana Portnoy Brimmer, Amanda Hernández and Jacqueline Jiang shared works exploring identity, social justice, tourism, natural disasters and other topics.
A panel that included Dr. Georges stepped back in history to celebrate novelist Sam Selvon, who would have been 100 years old this year. Mr. Selvon began his writing career as a journalist in Trinidad after he served as a wireless operator in World War II. He went on to travel the world, spending extended amounts of time in England and Canada.
Speakers celebrated how he brought a strong Caribbean voice to the world stage, particularly with his renowned book The Lonely Londoners.
Dr. Georges and Alscess Lewis-Brown read from his published works, while Dr. Patricia Turnbull shared his humorous side through several of his personal letters to friends.
Comedy continued to play a role in the afternoon’s panel on “Caribbean Britannia,” as writers explored the intersection of identities of UK-Caribbean authors. Leone Ross, author of Popisho (also sold as This One Sky Day), had the Eileene L. Parsons Auditorium erupting with laughter as she read from the whimsical story set on a fictional island. She was joined by Eleanor Shearer, who authored River Sing Me Home. Both writers explained how their personal journeys into their family histories informed their stories.
In another room, 284 Media simultaneously presented a workshop for VI songwriters including Alton Bertie, Eustace “Boss” Freeman and Kamau Georges.
Also on Friday, travel writer Faith Adielé and cultural anthropologist Tami Navarro offered their insights into what it means to be an “ethical traveller.”
“We need new words,” Ms. Adielé said. “It soon became clear when I was doing this work that simply including folks of colour or immigrant folks or post-colonial folks wasn’t enough. Though the shape of our stories was more complex, we’re still constrained by travel writing’s colonial origins.”
She acknowledged the temptation to write “the way it’s always been done,” but she challenged writers to keep pushing against damaging industry standards.
Film was also on the Friday line-up.
In a panel themed “Auteurs in Bloom,” Natalie Hodge and Naudia Turnbull shared their experience as filmmakers in the VI.
Another panel, led by Marsha Massiah, featured a short film about Trinidadian American novelist Elizabeth Nuñez.
The Friday panels concluded with a virtual lecture by economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who offered a more positive outlook on the global economy than is typically depicted in major media outlets.
He explained the effects of recent inflation woes but said people do still seem to be spending and keeping economies active.
“The inflation crisis of 2021 to 2022 does appear to be behind us,” he said, adding, “If history is any guide, then the next big crisis will be one that comes from a direction that none of us is anticipating.”
Shea Alexander, who moderated the BVI Business Legacies panel and attended Mr. Krugman’s lecture, told the Beacon he was glad to see financial writers featured this year.
“I think it’s something we really do need to have a conversation about — this idea of literature not just as art,” he said. “It is art, but it can be an artful expression of other themes such as financial planning and wealth management and business.”
Later on Friday, panellists and community members decompressed with “Sunset Stories” at Brandywine Estate Restaurant, where authors Charmaine Wilkerson, Tiphanie Yanique and Alecia McKenzie read aloud from their novels.
Ms. Wilkerson told the Beacon that she was glad to participate in this year’s event.
“It’s very exciting to be in a place where people who write about the Caribbean experience — people who tell Caribbean stories — are invited to share stories from their perspective,” she said.
On Saturday morning, HLSCC hosted a “literary wonderland” for the new children’s book programme.
Kids had the opportunity to attend an interactive story session with Janice George-Harris, Rochelle Smith, BVI Prince Jeron Springette and BVI Princess De’Nya Winter; take home a free book from the BVI Book Tree; enjoy ice cream and a bouncy castle; and even create a story of their own with the Itty Bitty Book App.
Attendee Suzette Phillips said she was glad to see an opportunity for her children to get excited about reading books.
“I want to get my 3-year-old into reading more,” she said. “I think it’s an awesome event because it gets persons in the community involved, and it really nurtures literacy.”
For adults, Saturday offered writing workshops led by authors including Mses. Brimmer, Yanique and Adielé.
Yona Deshommes also led a workshop on publishing, offering an “insider’s guide” on the industry and encouraging authors to embrace social media and attend events like the literary festival to build a network.
That evening, a dozen poets from the VI and abroad took the stage at SushiBar for the “Light a Fire” poetry showcase.
The festivities wrapped up Sunday afternoon at a brunch at 1748 Restaurant at Long Bay, where author Jonathan Escoffery read from his book If I Survive You.
Later, Cindy Allman, who created the BookOfCinz online book club, led a question-and-answer segment with Mr. Escoffery, who described how he incorporated humour into his dealings with heavy topics including racism, poverty and violence.
His book, which is shortlisted for the Booker Prize, toes a line between a collection of short stories and a novel.
“The earliest inceptions of the book I started 10 years before it was ever published,” he said. “In order to keep going, I needed to also find the humour and find the joy and find the energy. … At the times I’ve felt most powerless against systems, sometimes it feels like the only power we have is humour.”
While most of the events were available only to in-person attendees, lectures on business and more can be found on the BVI Literary Festival page on Facebook.