Now in its tenth year, Montserrat’s Literary Festival, the Alliouagana Festival of the Word, was held during November, with the theme Understanding Legacies, Celebrating Achievements, Embracing Tomorrow.
The Festival is organized every year by head of the local Open Campus of the University of the West Indies, Gracelyn Cassell, with the help of staff and volunteers. Once again the ministry of education collaborated with the Open Campus, and very appropriately held their Reading Week to coincide with the Festival.
School events included interactive visits to schools by elected representatives, all the visiting authors and UWI professors. There was an impressive Book Parade, with the children dressed as characters from storybooks and parading from Carr’s Bay to the Little Bay basketball arena, thankfully avoiding the rain for most of the way. The costumes were most imaginative; the result of much hard work and creativity, and it would have been good if more members of the public had come out to see them.
Primary school children were also the focus of the challenging spelling and reading competitions, organized and coordinated by librarian Sonja Smith and bookshop owner Barbara Arrindell. Prize books were donated by the sponsors, publishers HarperCollins.
On the Thursday evening, Premier Donaldson Romeo hosted a reception in honour of the Festival’s patron, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. This was followed by the Alphonsus ‘Arrow’ Cassell annual lecture, this year presented by recently retired Jamaican UWI professor Carolyn Cooper. Her topic was Making work: Capital investments in the creative/cultural industries, and the illustrated lecture was lively and down to earth.
Professor Cooper explained that she had taught a degree course in Reggae Poetry, and despite the sexual and violent content of some Jamaican music, she pointed out that even Shakespeare plays contain sex and violence. There was also an ingenious and well received medley of Arrow’s songs sung by a group of volunteers, a fitting tribute to the international singer.
The Friday evening featured the opening ceremony of the Festival, with the feature address being given by Professor Beckles, vice chancellor of the UWI. His topic, What next for Caribbean people? dealt impressively with issues ranging from reparations for slavery and colonialism to cricket.
Local historian, poet and scholar Sir Howard Fergus was to launch his new book, A Word in Season with St Patrick’s Day and mango poems. The book had not yet arrived on island but he read three poems to give us a feel for the book. Author N C Marks from St Vincent also introduced her new novel Plastered in Pretty, sponsored by her publisher Nehesi Press, featuring the struggles of a young woman obsessed with social media and designer fashions.
Over the weekend there were several interesting and thought-provoking presentations, in keeping with the theme of the Festival, all followed by lively discussion.
These included “Walcott and the legacies of colonialism” by David Edgecombe, “The colonial winds of Irma” by Shujah Reiph from St Martin, “Our African world now and then” by Chedmond Browne, and “Some impacts of slavery on Montserrat” by Professor Sir Howard Fergus. Sarah Dickinson focused on film in her presentation “Is the share of the cultural pie changing or is it mere tokenism?” while Dr Lewis discussed development issues affecting Montserrat’s future.
Word Up, an integral part of the Festival featuring young people presenting their writings, was held as usual at the Community College, and was reported to be lively and well attended. It also featured video clips from well-known storyteller A-dZiko Simba Gegele who presented on the topic Black Matters; and there was the launch of Juliana Meade’s recent book An Unforgettable Vacation, a story set in the Caribbean (actually Montserrat) and containing useful tips for travelers.
As usual the Festival featured two engaging book stalls, one from the UWI Open Campus and the other by Antiguan bookshop owner Barbara Arrindell, and an attractive stall with local crafts and souvenirs by Juliana Meade. An appealing addition was a stall featuring beautiful African fabric, bags, sandals, jewelry and more, mounted by Mary Weekes of Rosie’s Boutique.
Hot off the press was the very attractive booklet Alliouagana Festival of the Word Souvenir Booklet and Business Guide, covering 2016 to 2018. In keeping with last year’s theme “Telling our Stories” the booklet features people’s accounts of different aspects of their lives, their business or their family’s history, making fascinating reading. Also included are overviews of the last three Festivals (2016 to 2018). The booklet is available from the UWI Open Campus in Salem for $20 and makes an ideal Christmas present, well worth the price.
The booklet also records grateful thanks and appreciation for the contribution of all the partners and sponsors, and for fundraising, promotion, donation of time and talent, administrative/secretarial services, all the resource persons and the members of the steering committee.
For those who did not attend, they missed out on some really important and well-presented topics, making it a worthwhile and enriching experience.