Calabash returns with Amazon’s Audible as sponsor
Stellar line-up for literary festival May 26-28
After being on hiatus since 2018, renowned literary festival, Calabash, makes its long-awaited returns to Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, this year, claiming the dates May 26 to 28, and bagging an international corporate sponsor.
Rapturous cheers erupted from the specially invited guests at the launch at 10A West Kings House Road last Tuesday when Calabash co-founder, Justine Henzell, announced that coming on board this year is Audible, the Amazon-owned online audiobook and podcast service which allows users to purchase and stream audiobooks and other forms of spoken word content.
“One more sponsor that we have to talk about now is Audible … as in Amazon Audible,” Henzell said with emphasis. “For the first time, we have a large, international, corporate sponsor and that is tremendously exciting. And that is happening because of the last 14 stagings of Calabash … because with you we have built a brand that a company like Audible trusts enough that they have asked us to curate a short-story collection of love stories from Jamaica.”
In between the shouts of glee, Henzell added, “It’s so exciting … Calabash on Audible! And because of that they have given us a generous donation to the festival.”
Audible is listed as one of the Internet’s top options for acquiring digital audiobooks and currently produces originals under the Audible Studios name; it is the largest producer of Dow label audiobooks in the world.
This 15th staging of Calabash will be held under the theme Onward Upward … For Word, which the organisers explain “simultaneously acknowledges the challenges of the past few years while saluting the indomitable spirit of people to carry on and to overcome adversity”.
Standing in for co-founder Kwame Dawes as emcee at the launch was Tanya Batson-Savage, who shared that “Kwame would have loved to be here but he fell ill”. She acknowledged that the hiatus had indeed been “a difficult period” and led the attendees in heartily welcoming the return Calabash after five years.
Among the evening’s speakers were Chris DaSilva, acting High Commissioner for Canada, and Dr Carey Wallace from the Tourism Enhancement Fund, as well as representatives from the United States Embassy and the Jamaica Tourist Board.
The Festival’s line-up for 2023 was announced and listed among the authors are Linton Kwesi Johnson, Olive Senior, Xavier Navarro Aquino, Padma Lakshmi, Jeremy Pointing, Ingrid Persaud, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Busby, Jonathan Escoffery, Nicole Krauss, Tom Zoellner and Namwali Serpell.
Giving the evening’s centrepiece was author Mateo Askaripour, who did a reading from his debut novel Black Buck, a book which was selected by Jenna Bush Hager for her ‘Read with Jenna’ book club readers. Born in the United States Askaripour has roots in St Ann, through his mother Sonia, who hails from Cave Valley in the parish.
In a preamble to his reading, Askaripour won hearts and minds when he said, “Even though I was born and raised in New York, and even though my father is not from this island, the land of wood and water flows through my veins supporting and guiding me and I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Miss Justine Henzell, to Mr Kwame Dawes and all the wonderful people who keep the wheels spinning at Calabash.”
In a press release, co-founder Kwame Dawes, stated, “Some cliches are wholly necessary for they carry profound truths, and in this instance, our unexpected absence has deepened the fondness we all have for this festival. We have not been idle in the interim, instead, we have worked hard to secure the future of our festival and to plan what we believe is a most dynamic and delightful Calabash roster. So, what we feel is gratitude for the continued faith that our audience has had in what we do.”
Calabash, which “continues to mix emerging talent with established writers”, gets under way on the Friday at sunset and runs until the Sunday evening. The music component will see Tanya Stephens headlining a concert, and opening for her will be Mortimer and Ras I. On Sunday evening at sunset there will be a tribute to reggae band and multiple Grammy nominee, Third World, which was formed 50 years ago.
“We know that our beloved Ibo has had a rough time recently and prayers up for him. We know that Cat [Coore] has had a hard time recently and prayers up for him, so we felt it was a really good time to pay tribute to this band and all the wonderful things they have done,” Henzell informed during her stint at the mic.
The Calabash Acoustic Ensemble, comprising Ibo Cooper, Stevie Golding, Wayne Armond and friends will lead the musical tribute saluting Third World.
Henzell also revealed that the Calabash tribute book on Sunday will be Michael Thelwell’s novel The Harder They Come, 50 years after the film of the same name was released.
Calabash is supported by Audible, Jakes Hotel & Villas, The Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and corporate entities like Wisynco Trading, and by individual donors from home and abroad such as Beverley East a long-time supporter. The festival also partners with the Embassy of the United States and the Canadian High Commission.