SINT MARTIN (GREAT BAY/MARIGOT) - From one end of the archipelago to the next, and apart from single author book releases, there are two literary events that arguably open the way to the crush of Caribbean literature festivals in the first half of the year.
The International Book Fair of Havana in February, though COVID-19-cancelled in 2021, sets the pace as the region’s mega lit fest. The much-anticipated writers and book prize announcements by the OCM Bocas Lit Fest out of Port of Spain generally takes place in March.
Then it’s on to the rush of book fairs/literature festivals from The Bahamas, down to Trinidad and Tobago, up to Anguilla, across to St. Martin, barely skipping a country or territory or language zone. The five oldest Caribbean book fairs or lit fests in order of the most years in existence and connected to editions celebrated, are in this group, like a bunch of sweet ripe bananas: in Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and St. Martin.1
I would like to think, going forward, that the Caribbean Literature Day, on July 12, will become the rallying point of this range of literary peaks from which to slingshot, with gusto, into the second part of the year’s literary activities.
The first region-wide Caribbean Literature Day was launched on July 12, 2020. House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP) called for the pan-Caribbean literature day at the online closing ceremony of the 18th annual St. Martin Book Fair on June 6, 2020.
Here is what happened, leading up to and on the first Caribbean Literature Day: The countries and territories with highly visible literary activities and statements, physically or virtually, by organizations and individuals, and with traditional media coverage, included Colombia, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, Cuba, USA, Canada, Anguilla, Martinique, Virgin Islands, Antigua, Kenya, France, Singapore, Jamaica, St. Martin, Trinidad and Tobago, and Puerto Rico among others.
The Faculty of Humanities and Education and the Writer’s Hub of the University of the West Indies (UWI) – Cave Hill, and the Institute for Gender and Development Studies Regional Coordinating Office at UWI’s Jamaica campus, organized Zoom conferences of Caribbean authors discussing and reading their work to digital world publics.
Out of Puerto Rico, Conexión Caribe went live on Zoom and YouTube for its authors’ discussion, “reflexiones sobre la literatura caribeña.” Martinique’s Mawon Tv kept the announcement fresh on its Facebook page.
At the University of Florida, the Latin American and Caribbean Collection marked the celebration by highlighting its substantial volumes of books and periodicals.
The library invited people “to learn about and share Caribbean literature!” and hoped that its exhibition and promotion represented “the broad scope of writers in all Caribbean nations and territories and in the diaspora.”2
Blogs such as Petchary (Jamaica), Lovereading (UK), JamesMurua.com (Kenya), along with Radio Havana and TV Santiago de Cuba had a feature, news report, or livestreamed a UWI Zoom conference, encouraging readers and audiences to participate in the Caribbean Literature Day.
Prensa Latina requested an exclusive interview with HNP and TeleSUR bumped up news of the literary day from print to its TV report.
The Amuseum Naturalis (St. Martin), Gentle Steps Arts Studio (Barbados), and publishers, including EDP University (Puerto Rico), held exhibitions, readings and Caribbean book sales for the inaugural Caribbean Literature Day.
California’s Tachyon Publications zeroed in on sci-fi fans to “celebrate Caribbean Literature Day with Nalo Hopkinson’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH HOMINIDS.” Novelist David Ambrose was the one to take point in organizing Grenadian writers for the Spice Isle literature readings and recordings on July 12.
A number of individuals like author Gerty Dambury (France/Guadeloupe), Faizal Deen (Canada/Guyana), Shujah Reiph (St. Martin), Dr. ChenziRa Kahina (St. Croix, VI), Fabian Adekunle Badejo (St. Martin), Prof. Opal Adisa (Jamaica), Julien Mérion of CORECA (Guadeloupe) brought the weight of their years of organizational and communication skills to involve writers and readers of all ages with unique media images, interviews, and zooming with authors of various genres across the region and what noted thinker George Lamming has called the Caribbean’s “external frontiers.”
Bocas Lit Fest, unique in the Caribbean for having a full year’s calendar of literary activities that promote its book fair brand, went all out, “Throughout the day … sharing online resources” of “readings, excerpts, and interviews from our overall prize winners.” It also featured “events happening around the region … for the first pan-Caribbean literature day, celebrating ‘the roots, range, and excellence of writings and books across the language zones of our region.’”3
Following the June call, the United Women Book Club of St. Martin immediately picked up the charge in readying its enthusiastic members for a robust Facebook reading of selections from the members’ favorite Caribbean books. For the region, they did it with a style singularly natural to St. Martin: hosting multilingual readings. Club members accumulated over 1,300 views on Facebook.
Caribbeanist Sara Florian went live on July 12 from Singapore, where she is a university lecturer. Opening with greetings in five languages, including her native Italian, “to those who love Caribbean literature,” Florian read from her forthcoming poetry collection and accrued over 800 views on Facebook.
The idea that institutions and individuals would take it upon themselves to pick up the “pan-Caribbean people’s celebration” and do it their way was exactly what was called for at the St. Martin Book Fair platform on June 6, in other words, to:
“Celebrate the day by reading the works of your favorite Caribbean authors; buying Caribbean books, published in the Caribbean and beyond, and by Caribbean authors; and presenting Caribbean books as gifts. Celebrate the day with books, recitals, and with discussions about books, of poetry, fiction, drama, art, music, and all the other genres by Caribbean writers.”4
At HNP we’re thankful to the Caribbean people and the writers and lovers of Caribbean literature … everywhere … for being part of this engagement.
Let’s have a ball reading in the 2nd annual Caribbean Literature Day – July 12, 2021.
Celebrate! ¡Celebrar! Célébrez ! Jou Literati Karayib la – 12 jiyè 2021 / Día de la Literatura Caribeña – 12 de julio, 2021 / la Journée de Littérature Caribéenne – le 12 juillet 2021 / Dia di literatura di karibe – Juli 12, 2021 / Dag van de Caribische literatuur – 12 juli 2021.5