Calabash International Literary Festival
When a humble thatch-covered stage overlooking the Caribbean sea becomes the epicenter of the literary world.
very other year, for three very intense days, Treasure Beach is transformed as the renowned Calabash Literary Festival takes over our rustic island outpost. Readings, interviews and open-mic sessions start each morning and wind-down as the sun sets. Thousands from around the island come to see literary talents as diverse as Junot Diaz, Zadie Smith, Chigozie Obioma, Michael Ondaatje, Wole Soyinka, Billy Collins, Tishani Doshi, Edwidge Danticat, Robert Pinsky, Eleanor Catton and Salman Rushdie. There are native sons, like Booker Prize winner, Marlon James. And, beloved returnees, like Paul Holdengraber, who regularly interviews festival headliners. And always, there are the two co-founders and prime movers who make the magic happen: Justine Henzell, Producer, and Kwame Dawes, Artistic Director. Here, Dawes shares what it’s like to pull off a world-class festival in a Caribbean country village:
“The Calabash International Literary Festival is known for its vibe. The heart and spirit of the festival: earthy, inspirational, daring and diverse. These qualities derive from the place that has been home to the festival all its years: Jakes. What is most striking about Jakes is that its character—its atmosphere of easy generosity, professionalism and good humor—derive entirely from its people. At all levels of the organization, one can’t miss their sense of camaraderie, genuine care and pleasure. It’s never forced and always sincere. This also characterizes the many people who regard this community as important to them and valuable to their own lives. Jamaicans find duplicity and false face to be tedious and wholly pointless, especially when they are dealing with other Jamaicans. And what I have found in all these years is a clear understanding among the brilliantly efficient and thoughtful staff, that they regard Jakes and the Henzell family as core parts of the community, and as an enterprise that understands the value of genuine partnership, fairness and openness. Yes, Treasure Beach is stunning, visually, and this alone can cause one to fall in love with the place. Hundreds of visitors to the festival have, over the years. The architecture is unique, daring and strikingly original. The sense of isolation one feels here, separate from the rest of the island, is most refreshing. And the natural topography seems committed to letting the vegetation of the place shape the contours of the property (rather than the other way around). This principle, extends to the human experience of Jakes—it mirrors the way the community blends with Jakes, and Jakes blends with the community. This is the distinctive value that has us returning, over the years, to mount a festival that epitomizes everything that is excellent in Jamaica.”
The next Calabash International Literary Festival will take place May 29-31, 2020.
To find out which writers will be featured at the festival, check out: calabashfestival.org
“There is a literary festival on Treasure Beach where I have conducted some of my conversations. It’s not posh: dogs walk on the stage, people roam around. When I interviewed Wole Soyinka, he asked for a Red Stripe and we drank on stage. It’s free, so there are no signs, there’s no promotion; the backdrop is the ocean. Once, as I was speaking, my notes flew away on a gust of wind. I prepared those notes in a lovers’ cove just to the left of the stage. It’s a small space that looks over the ocean and it’s where I prepare the conversations.”
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