A report by Alex Williamson for The Brooklyn Eagle.
The West Indian Day Parade may be over, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop celebrating Brooklyn’s Caribbean ties. The first Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival is making its debut Sept. 6-8.
The BCLF will feature panel discussions, readings and theatrical productions to honor the work of dozens of authors hailing from places like Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti and Puerto Rico.
The theme is “Caribbean beyond Carnival,” which organizer Marsha Massiah-Aaron says is a nod to both the festival’s chronological placement on the weekend after the parade, and to the nuance that’s often lacking in American ideas of Caribbean culture.
“Carnival is a metaphor for any mainstream notion of what being a Caribbean looks like,” said Massiah-Aaron. “For the Jamaican, that might be reggae and Bob Marley, but it will not include Bustamante and its past of resistance … There’s really only one way that we can reshape the narrative, and that’s by exposing our stories and celebrating the contributions that Caribbean people have made,” she said.
Despite being in its first year, the BCLF has already landed some literary heavyweights, including Antiguan American writer Jamaica Kincaid, author of “Lucy” and “A Small Place,” and Trinidadian American writer Elizabeth Nunez, author of “Prospero’s Daughter” and a professor of English at Hunter College-CUNY.
An open-air event at 3 p.m. on Sunday in The Plaza at 300 Ashland will celebrate the griot, an oral historian and musician in West African tradition who acted as a repository for a group’s stories. In the Caribbean, where reading and writing were outlawed for enslaved Africans, the storytelling role of the griot (pronounced gree-oh) became vital for passing cultural heritage down through generations.
“Our ancestors were very resilient despite all of the things that had been meted out to them and managed to keep the cultural identity alive through storytelling,” said Massiah-Aaron. “The griot is that central figure who bore on his or her shoulders the responsibility of keeping that identity and that culture intact, despite really vicious circumstances.”
The griot event will be broken into three parts and moderated by three panelists, including Trinidad-born essayist Attillah Springer and Kevin Adonis Browne, who won the 2019 Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature for his book “High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture.”
Other readings, discussions and events will be held throughout the weekend at Greenlight Bookstore, 333 Lounge, the Center for Fiction and Brooklyn Historical Society.
BCLF is produced by The Idea Room Corp. in partnership with Borough President Eric Adams office. The festival is free and open to the public. To register or see a schedule of events, go here.