Montserrat’s fascinating literary festival


A report by Cathy Buffonge for Caribbean News Now.

A most interesting literary festival took place in Montserrat during November. Dubbed Alliouagana Festival of the Word, after Montserrat’s Amerindian name, this festival runs every year under a different theme, coordinated by the UWI Open Campus there. This year’s theme was ‘Technology and the Word’, highlighting the shift from the written word to computer driven communication of many varieties.

The festival started with the annual lecture, named after Montserrat’s third National Hero, international singing star Alphonsus ‘Arrow’ Cassell. This year’s lecturer was physicist, technology expert, educator and politician Dr Samuel Joseph, who spoke on ‘ICT’s, transforming cultural identities’. Joseph demonstrated that computers can produce art and music that can hardly be distinguished from works by genuine artists and composers, and asked the audience to consider what they really believe to be art.

At the official opening historian, poet and academic Professor Sir Howard Fergus launched his new book of poetry, ‘The road from Long Ground – the twilight years’. This was a follow up to his autobiography ‘The road from Long Ground’, which details many aspects of his life, from growing up in the country to being Speaker of the Legislative Council and head of the UWI campus in Montserrat.

Among other features at the opening, those present were treated to a performance by the island’s combined masquerade groups, highlighting their bright costumes and traditional steps dating back to early times.

Two of the featured speakers at the festival were Caribbean husband and wife team Alan and Amanda Springer, formerly living in the UK but now based in Barbados. Alan, an arts and theatre education professional, spoke about the importance of protecting children when they are on the internet and of educating them to make use of the internet in a safe way, while supervising what they are watching. He also had a session with primary school children on this topic at the Public Library, and he has written two children’s books on this issue.

Amanda Springer, a multimedia artist and blogger, who runs and online arts and health network, described how caring for her mother with dementia long term prompted her to go on social media and seek out others in the same situation. From sharing views and experiences online and her knowledge of art, she embarked on the idea of incorporating art into the therapy for dementia patients and encourages her online following to do so.

Eva Greene Wilson, an author, illustrator and social media personality, described how she grew up with her Trinidadian parents in the US, although in a thoroughly Caribbean household, but with an American accent and not sounding at all like a Caribbean person. She wanted her children to grow up with Caribbean values, and this led her to start using social media to contact other parents in the same position. This grew into the Caribbean parenting blog ‘Soca Mom’, which exchanges a wealth of information with Caribbean-American parents, all from a Caribbean perspective.

JD Scott, a TV and online host, and Analee Belle, a celebrity makeup artist, model and social media branding expert, gave a presentation on ‘technology and social media in modern branding’. This was done in an engaging way and was quite educational for those of us not so much into social media. They also did a session with secondary school and Community College students on the theme ‘transforming dreams into goals’, which was reported to be a very well attended, popular and interactive session.

On the Sunday afternoon Howard Allen of HAMA films in Antigua presented a series of films from the Caribbean Travelling Film Showcase. Some of these films were quite inspiring, although unfortunately light from the upper windows of the Cultural Centre prevented one from viewing them properly. Films included documentaries (the Amerindians in Trinidad), mythology, a cartoon, and drama including the last film, a very moving drama set in The Bahamas.

There is not space to describe all the presentations, but there was plenty of local input at the festival. Nerissa Golden presented on ‘Reading the news: a multimedia affair today’; there was a reportedly excellent, lively and well attended ‘Word Up’ show at the Community College, with young people presenting their compositions; and the environmental conservation group Coral Cay gave an interesting presentation on ‘How technology helps conservation in Montserrat’.

Two young innovators, Enver Browne and Dexter Small, presented their apps, developed during previous training designed to encourage young people to be producers rather than just consumers of technology. There were also excerpts from the iconic recordings of Bernie Irish and J Macwell, now available as digital spoken word albums, with many of the tracks taking a poignant look at life before and after the volcano.

This gives readers a glimpse of what took place at the literary festival over a very full weekend. Those who didn’t attend missed a very interesting experience. The theme also fitted in well with National ICT Week, which followed immediately after. As usual Gracelyn Cassell, head of the UWI Open Campus, and her staff and volunteers did a fantastic job putting this festival together.

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