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Toppa top 5: The Caribbean’s best book festivals

word-a-caribbean-book-fest2-600x776From Large Up

If you just bumped into your favorite author on your favorite Caribbean beach, it may not be a coincidence. In recent years the springtime calendar in the islands has filled up with literary festivals drawing renowned authors from across the Caribbean and the world to destinations including Treasure Beach in Jamaica (home to the Calabash International Literary Festival, the first and biggest event of its kind) and Paradise Cove in Anguilla (site of the just-concluded Anguilla Lit Fest). With Calabash about to kick off its program tomorrow—look out for our interview with fest organizers Kwame Dawes and Justine Henzell on the site then—we thought we’d compile a tour of the best book fests around the Caribbean, springtime or otherwise.

5. Anguilla Lit Fest – Paradise Cove Resort, Anguilla

Anguilla’s literary festival, which took place just last weekend, is only in its third year—yet already, it has one of the most heavyweight lineups of any in anguilla-lit-fest-600x401the Caribbean. This year alone, they had a Pulitzer nominee, the editor of, and the co-founder of Essence among a long list of speakers at the event, set in Anguilla’s aptly named Paradise Cove Resort. (Actor/author Hill Harper of CSI, seen in the above pic, was also present). Of course there are Anguillan authors featured as well—the idea of the festival, a “literary jollification,” harkens back to the island’s oldest traditions, “a getting together of people to share and help neighbors.”

4. Nature Island Literary Festival – Roseau, Dominica

This festival, held in Dominica each August since 2008, is a natural-island-lit-fest-600x450multilingual one, focusing on topics that relate to both Francophone and Anglophone islanders. Last year’s edition, for example, honored Martinique’s Aimé Césaire, one of the Eastern Caribbean’s most renowned writers and activists. . The fest (held at the UWI campus in Roseau) is also part of the Emancipation Day festivities on the Nature Island, just one of many ways islanders celebrate their artistic and cultural heritage at that time of year. With the celebratory vibes on top of the literary cred (not to mention the Nature Island’s all-encompassing natural beauty), it’s probably not too hard to convince authors to participate in this one. The dates for this year’s edition have yet to be announced, but keep up with developments here at:

3. The Bim Literary Festival & Book Fair, Bridgetown, Barbados

bim-literary-festival-barbados-600x450PHOTO: THE WANDERING BOOKMARK

Though this year’s Bim Lit Fest, held earlier this month, was only the festival’s second-ever edition, organizers successfully brought writers from across the Caribbean and the world together to celebrate the Barbadian literary community. This year’s theme, “Crossings: Breaking Borders,” applied to both the local (migration to Panama) and universal (redefining gender), allowing for a wide range of panels and workshops. But the events are hardly limited to the academic—there’s also a festival for local children and a full program of Bajan music. You’ll have to wait two years for the next one, though: like many of the Caribbean’s book fairs the Bim Lit Fest is a biennial event.

2. NGC Bocas Literary Festival – Port of Spain, Trinidad

bocas-lit-festival-linton-kwesi-johnson-600x400Founded in 2011 by Marina Salandy-Brown, Trinidad’s Bocas Lit Festival is held during the last weekend of April in Port of Spain. The fest takes its name from the Spanish word for mouth, and, more poetically, also references the narrow straits off Trinidad’s north-west peninsula connecting the Gulf of Paria to the Caribbean Sea known as the Bocas Del Dragon. Top names that have attended or presented at Bocas include Earl Lovelace, Derek Walcott, Fred D’Augier, Chika Unigwe and George Lamming. This year’s edition featured cultural performances from major figures in Trinidad’s oral tradition, Pierrot Grenades and Midnight Robbers, a live performance by Freetown Collective, and a focus on dub poetry that included a dedication to the late dub poet Mikey Smith, and a discussion led by Jamaica’s Linton Kwesi Johnson, Lorna Goodison and Kei Miller.

1. Calabash International Literary Festival – Treasure Beach, Jamaica

wole-soyinka-calabash-festival-jamaica-600x401PHOTO: HUGH WRIGHT

Since 2001, the biennial Calabash International Literary Festival has brought the literati from around the world to Jakes Hotel on Jamaica’s Treasure Beach— where, this weekend (May 30-June 1), you’ll find the island’s top writers and international literary celebrities alike sharing and discussing their work in this distinctly Jamaican setting. This year’s edition features Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Jamaica Kincaid and Colum McCann (among many others), as well as musical performances by rapper-turned-publisher Prodigy of Mobb Deep (who will also be on hand to discuss his autobiography My Infamous Life), Jah-9 and Haiti’s BeLo. The Calabash Acoustic Ensemble, an quartet led by Third World’s Ibo Cooper will also lead a tribute to singer Judy Mowatt. And with workshop topics ranging from science fiction to writing in Jamaican dialect, audiences can’t help but gain a better sense of the diversity of Caribbean literature. What’s more all events are free and open to the public.

Word! A Caribbean Book Fest Brooklyn, NY

ngc-bocas-lit-fest-trinidad-tobago-600x400If you’re not in the Caribbean, but in the heart of the Caribbean diaspora in Brooklyn, you can still get a taste of the region’s literary scene. The Caribbean Cultural Theater is hosting Word! A Caribbean Book Fest June 8th in Crown Heights, featuring activities for all ages and inclinations, from industry seminars to a poetry slam, all to celebrate Caribbean American Heritage Month. The festival is unique in its commitment to representing all of the official languages of the region (Dutch, English, French, Spanish), as well as its many dialects.

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