Wed | Dec 6, 2023

Calabash ‘Onward Upward …For Word’ for 2023

Published:Monday | April 10, 2023 | 12:41 AM
Kwame Dawes,  co-founder and director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.
Kwame Dawes, co-founder and director of the Calabash International Literary Festival.

The 2023 line-up for the Calabash International Literary Festival was announced at the launch last Tuesday, heralding the 15th staging of the internationally renowned festival after a pause. The last Calabash was held in 2018.

The festival’s theme this year is ‘Onward Upward …For Word’, which simultaneously acknowledges the challenges of the past few years, while saluting the indomitable spirit of people to carry on and to overcome adversity.

Co-founder Kwame Dawes noted, “Some clichés 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.”

Mix emerging talent

Calabash continues to mix emerging talent with established writers, always offering a variety of genres. The festival continues to be “earthy, inspirational, daring and diverse”.

Diversity and daring are definitely hallmarks of the 2023 programme, a release stated, noting that the ‘Reasonings’ conversations that will take place include Joyce Carol Oates — a literary colossus who has authored over 70 books during her 50-year career — ‘Sunday Talk’ with Paul Holdengraber, which is expected to be wide-ranging and perhaps a bit controversial as Oates is very forthright with her opinions.

Padma Lakshmi (India/USA) may be best known as the Emmy-nominated host of popular TV shows Top Chef and Taste the Nation, but she is also an award-winning New York Times bestselling author. No doubt, being in Jamaica will resonate with her as one of her books is titled Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet and, according to the organisers, “we have all those flavours in abundance”.

The Calabash writers include Guggenheim fellow Yona Harvey (USA), who crosses from poetry to graphic novels with ease; Maisy Card (Ja/US) whose début novel won the American Book Award; David Chariandy (Canada) with a Windham-Campbell award; Curdella Forbes (Ja/US) with a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award; and Ingrid Persaud (Trinidad/US) with a Costa First Novel Award, among many others.

As always, the poet roster is stellar. Sir Andrew Motion (UK) and Olive Senior (Ja/Canada) are poet laureates but, that title is only one of many roles they play as professors, writers and, in the case of Senior, environmental advocate also. Natalie Diaz (USA) holds the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, a MacArthur Fellowship, a USA fellowship, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, an American Book Award and a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Artist Fellowship. Diaz is also a strong voice for her Native American tribe of Gila River. TS Eliot prize winner Roger Robinson (UK/Trinidad) continues the trend of poets who, as well as being accomplished in that field, have many other talents. Robinson is also a musician and photographer. Staceyann Chin (Ja/USA) is no stranger to the Calabash stage, having read at the very first Calabash in 2001 and again with her searing memoir, is back to light fire with words as always.

Calabash poets and writers hail from across the globe, with some choosing, like Taiye Selasi, not to be categorised by country. Her 2015 TED talk, ‘Don’t Ask Where I’m From; Ask Where I’m a Local’, has reached over two million viewers, redefining the way a global society conceives of personal identity.

Though they may reside elsewhere, the continent of Africa claims Margaret Busby (Ghana/UK) and Namwali Serpell (Zambia/USA). Xaviver Navarro Aquino (USA) hails from Puerto Rico, Kevin Jared Hosein (Trinidad) and Yvonne Bailey-Smith (Ja/UK), Sadie Jones (Ja/UK) and Alecia McKenzie (Ja/France) from Jamaica, who have all received accolades for their work consistently. Namwali’s second novel, The Furrows: A n Elegy, was named one of the New York Times’ 10 Best Books and 100 Notable Books of 2022, and one of President Barack Obama’s favourite books of the year.

Deeply personal

A mix of voices and genres is guaranteed at Calabash, so patrons will be treated to excerpts from New York Times Editors Choice short story collection If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (Ja/USA); a riveting work of historical reporting focusing on Sam Sharpe by Tom Zoellner (USA); creative non-fiction by Cathy Park Hong (USA), whose book Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning was a New York Times bestseller and Kei Miller (Ja), a poet and novelist whose latest work is a deeply personal essay collection, Things I Have Withheld.

Nicole Krauss (USA) has been hailed by the New York Times as “one of America’s most important novelists and an international literary sensation”, and by the Financial Times as “one of the great novelists working today”. She is the author of the international best sellers for her novels, and her first book of short stories, To Be A Man, won the Wingate Literary Prize.

There will be tribute paid at the festival to Michael Thelwell’s novel The Harder They Come 50 years after the film of the same name was released. Four well-known Jamaicans will read passages of this truly monumental work of Caribbean literature. In the past, Calabash has drawn attention to the work of Caribbean writers such as Kamau Braithwaite, Erna Brodber, John Hearne, Roger Mais, Jean Rhys, Neville Dawes, V.S. Naipaul, Claude McKay and Orlando Patterson, all of whom have been celebrated in this manner at Calabash.

The Sunday musical tribute by the Calabash Acoustic Ensemble, comprising Ibo Cooper, Stevie Golding, Wayne Armond and friends, will salute Third World 50 years after that groundbreaking band was formed.