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Love affair with lit - You can bring a book to bed, says Shirley

Published:Wednesday | March 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
Olive Senior reads a story
Mel Cooke addresses the audience at Love Affair With Literature 5.
Tanja Shirley invites the audience to have a 'love affair.'
St Lucian award-winning poet, Vladimir Lucien, reads one of his poems.

"It's okay to have a love affair with literature," Tanya Shirley, lecturer in the Department of Literatures in English, told her audience at the University of the West Indies, Mona, recently. "You can be quite open about it. You can even bring a book to bed with your husband or wife, and you won't get in trouble."

Her tongue-in-cheek suggestions were part of her welcome to the department's Love Affair with Literature 5, which was in association with the Book Industry Association of Jamaica's (BIAJ) annual Kingston Book Festival. The function featured readings by four noted Caribbean writers in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre.

Bringing greetings to the event on behalf of the BIAJ, Kellie Magnus, chair of the weeklong book festival, said that this year's festival was the largest ever.

Magnus revealed that the BIAJ was widening its efforts to promote Jamaican literature.

"This week, we're taking Jamaican books and authors to our usual haunts - schools, libraries and book stores - but also," she said, "into prisons, business places, bars and hotels, with the goal of bringing more voices into the conversation and more awareness of the breadth and diversity of Jamaican literature."




Listing some of the offerings, she said, "There's a Christian event for the religious, there's Late Night Lit for the raunchy, there's a business day and a bar night, there are sessions on memoirs, and magazines, text books and comic books, social media for books, and books for social change."

She continued: "We are excited by the possibility that more of our major authors will be published by Jamaican publishing houses, and more of the revenue from Jamaican literature can remain on the little rock that gave birth to the stories the world celebrates. The BIAJ continues to lobby for stronger support for the book industry from both the public sector and the Government."

"Specifically, we continue to advocate for a partnership between the Government and the publishing sector and an import-substitution strategy to shift the hundreds of millions of dollars a year that we spend on imported textbooks to textbooks published by local publishers. The strengthening of the local publishing sector that will result from such a partnership would allow local publishers the financial stability to take greater risks on trade titles, which would mean more books, and more books published at higher levels of quality. It's time to translate the talk of the importance of the creative industries into practical programmes that will help us to realise the economic and cultural value of a strong publishing sector."

Her remarks were greeted with applause, a response that became even more enthusiastic in the segment devoted to the readings that followed. Of varied form and subject matter, the pieces were alike in their quality and creativity.

Britain-born A-dZiko Simba Gegele, daughter of a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother, read from her award-winning children's novel, All Over Again.

"The novel is about you," she told her audience, before launching into poignant excerpts about the thoughts and adventures of a 12-year-old boy with an irritating sister, and in his view, an overly concerned mother.

Mel Cooke was a man of many moods, as he read poems with humour, social protest, anger (at politicians) and pain (at the death of a schoolmate). All sprang from very careful observation and contemplation of the human condition.

Novelist, poet and lecturer Olive Senior offered both poetry and prose. Her poems showed the love she has for Jamaica's natural, and too-quickly disappearing, beauty. She herself described her short story, The Country Cousin, from her most recent book, The Pain Tree, as "sad, pathetic and funny". It is about the class prejudice felt by some family members toward a visiting country cousin.

Vladimir Lucien, an award-winning St Lucian poet, read about six of his poems, which, he said, "are for the living, the dead and the in-between". As the statement suggests, the topics were varied, and one was read twice, once in St Lucian creole and again in Standard English.

Shirley, in her vote of thanks, summed up the feeling of the audience when she exclaimed, "What a wonderful love affair this morning has been!"