Bocas Lit Fest gives Henry Swanzy Award to Joan Dayal

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A report from Trinidad’ Guardian.

Joan Dayal, owner of Paper Based bookshop, was both surprised and moved on Wednesday morning when she heard the news that the Bocas Lit Fest has awarded her its prestigious Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters. This is an annual lifetime achievement award recognising service to Caribbean literature by editors, publishers, critics, broadcasters and others—and Dayal is the first bookseller to ever receive it.

At Wednesday’s press launch of the Bocas Lit Fest—Trinidad’s annual festival of books, writers and ideas—at the National Library in Port-of-Spain, festival founder/director Marina Salandy-Brown praised Dayal’s lifelong efforts to make Caribbean and regional literature available in T&T through her bookshop in St Ann’s, in the Hotel Normandie compound.

Salandy-Brown also revealed the three finalists for the CODE Burt Award, which recognises Caribbean writers of young adult literature. They are: Lisa Allen-Agostini (T&T; Waiting on the Bus manuscript); Kevin Jared Hosein (T&T; The Beast of Kukuyo manuscript); and Viviana Prado-Nunez (Puerto Rico/USA; self-published). The winner will be announced on April 26, with their winning manuscript to be subsequently published with the help of CODE and the Bocas Lit Fest.

Salandy-Brown paid tribute to the work of recently deceased Derek Walcott, affirming the power of great writers to shape the way we see ourselves. She also praised the work of historian Angelo Bissessarsingh and UWI Humanities lecturer Dr Giselle Rampaul, both of whom also died in the past year.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley will be part of Bocas Lit Fest this year, discussing his recently published memoir From Mason Hall to Whitehall.

There is a festival-wide focus on human rights issues this year, with panels debating issues including press freedom, T&T’s criminal justice system, and LGTB rights. And Chief Justice Ivor Archie will take part too, presiding over a human rights open mic lunchtime session where everyone is welcome to read their original poems or stories on human rights issues.

The festival will also be working with Anya Ayoung Chee, Debbie Jacob and visiting writers on a special interactive festival prison project.

There will also be a day-long programme on April 27 on the legacy of CLR James through readings, discussion, film and an extempo debate between Black Sage and Short Pants.

“Literature is for everybody, not just a privileged few,” emphasised Salandy-Brown at the launch, sharing a personal anecdote about a garbage collector who told her he also writes poetry.

And the menu of Bocas Lit Fest offerings this year continues to offer many different kinds of events, including the annual Poetry Slam spoken word contest; a Noir By Night evening event exploring the darker side of T&T’s contemporary writing; and the CineLit Film Festival, which shows book-based films from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Lisa Burkett, manager, Corporate Communications, National Gas Company, spoke representing NGC, the festival’s title sponsor, and praised the festival’s impact: “Thanks to the footprint of this festival, we are well on our way to becoming a globally recognised brand,” she said, proudly citing the fact that the Bocas Lit Fest was mentioned among the world’s Top 20 literary festivals this year by Penguin Random House’s The Writer’s Academy.

Jason Julien, Deputy CEO, Business Generation, First Citizen’s Bank (FCB), which sponsors the Bocas Poetry Slam series, also spoke at the launch. He said while Walcott’s death makes us reflect on the past, the Bocas Lit Fest is a rare example of advocacy that combines literacy with community development.

“The English language is nobody’s special property; it is the language of the imagination,” he said, pointing to how the festival is helping to seed a renewed interest in books, reading, writing and ideas in a world of diverse social media and increasing illiteracy.

He said FCB’s investment in the Bocas Lit Fest was its own way of both building community and contributing to history, through encouraging literacy and works of imagination in generations to come.

And FCB is putting its money behind its words of praise for the festival: this year, said Julien, FCB is contributing to a doubling of the prize money for the Poetry Slam contest: the winner will now take home a prize of TT$50,000.

In other gains for the festival, this year for the first time the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Arts has come on board as a main sponsor.

Also speaking at the launch were Gregory Camejo, Group Executive, Corporate Services, One Caribbean Media Ltd (OCM). This will be the seventh year that OCM has sponsored the festival’s major prize — the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

The prize is worth US$10,000 for the overall winner, and US$3,000 each for two genre category winners.

The Bocas Lit Fest runs for five days, from Wednesday, April 26 to Sunday, April 30, with pre-festival activities starting from April 18. For full schedule, see the festival website at: http://www.bocaslitfest.com.

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