This weekend’s Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair focusses as much on local writers and performers – both veterans and newcomers – as on those from overseas. It also features several Dominicans who live abroad but have come back to participate in the Festival, which, for the first time takes place not just at the UWI campus in Roseau but also on the beach at Mero (Sunday afternoon and evening).
An emphasis on local talent seems particularly fitting since this year’s Festival, directed by Alwin Bully, honours the life and work of Aimé Césaire, the Martiniquan writer, politician and intellectual. Césaire, who died in 2008, was one of the founding fathers of Négritude, the black consciousness movement that sought to uplift African cultural values, to oppose colonialism and cultivate pride in heritage.
Césaire is the subject of the opening ceremony’s keynote speech, given this year by Dr Schuyler Esprit. Born and brought up in Dominica, Dr Esprit is a scholar of Caribbean literature and cultural studies and has taught at a number of US universities, including the University of Maryland. Two extracts from Césaire’s “A Tempest” will also be performed and a selection of his poems read. There will be a further celebration of Césaire’s work on Sunday with a panel discussion, which features Dr Esprit alongside Dr Alex Gil, an academic whose work explores the building of Caribbean cultural history through digital means, and Serge Letchimy, President of the Regional Council of Martinique who knew Césaire.
A change of pace comes with performances from some up-and-coming local poets on both the Saturday and Sunday of the Festival. First up is a dynamic poetry and music show, Lyrics under the Stars (“where the Dominican stars are unlimited”), founded by Shawna Johnson. It features the voices of Arabella Peters, Ansel Prince, Kirmy Thomas, Jossie Charles, Riyze and Shenel Jolly. The singers and composers completing the line-up are Aaron Hamilton, Nigel Durand and Shane Maloone. Members of the Writers’ Guild – Clifford Lewis and Jamie Sorhaindo – will also be performing.
Another opportunity to hear some of Dominica’s leading young poets comes with the session Words on Fire – Hot New Poets at Mero beach. The performers are law student Yakima Cuffy, Tami Lowe, currently Island Manager of Tropical Shipping, Portsmouth-born Ameka Cognet, Kathy Wright and session co-ordinator Delroy Williams, whose poetry comes from a need to express himself and to speak out for the less fortunate. Even younger voices of the future are represented by the choral speech presentations from students of Portsmouth Secondary School and Dominica State College.
Two overseas Dominicans will be making a rich mix even richer. Slam poet Whitney Greenaway, who was born in Florida of Dominican parentage, has made a name for herself in the world of Slam poetry (she was placed 6th in the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2012), while Jane Grell, born and brought up in Dominica but living for many years in London, excels as a storyteller. Her exciting collection of poems, Praise Songs, was published earlier this year.
From overseas – but still within the Caribbean region – the Festival welcomes three innovative artists. Spoken word artist Philip Nanton – a Vincentian now living in Barbados – will be reading his own poems and performing from his satirical work Island Voices. Philip will also be giving a workshop on Saturday morning, as will Vonnie Roudette, now living in St Vincent. Vonnie teaches fine art and design at St Vincent Community College and is renowned for the achievements of her students and the quality of their work. Another innovator is Black Sage, a multi-faceted writer and musician from Trinidad, who will give a workshop on the challenging art form of extempore calypso – the creation of spontaneous composition.
Fresh from the launch of his novel “Send Out You Hand” comes the Antiguan writer, producer and performing arts lobbyist Dorbrene O’Marde. He will be performing alongside Whitney Greenaway on Saturday evening and will be certain to make an important contribution to this year’s Festival.
The Francophone element of the Festival is augmented by a return appearance by Réseau Poetique de la Guadeloupe, co-ordinated by Gregory Rabess; these performers last year delighted the audience with their energetic singing, dancing, and drumming. They will be performing both at the opening ceremony and also on Mero Beach on Sunday afternoon as will a cuatro band from Venezuela.
Another contributing poet is Basil Felipe, a Nigerian-born medical doctor who has lived and worked in Dominica for more than 20 years. The audience will also hear extracts from the novels of Alick Lazare. Dr Lennox Honychurch returns with his Sunday morning slot – this year on “The Amazing Dictionary of Père Labat” while the calypso lyrics of Ian Jackson will be discussed during the Mero beach activities on Sunday afternoon.
The sixth Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair provides a stimulating and fun programme that has something for everyone – it’s an important (and free) opportunity to experience those different strands of writing and thinking that Césaire would surely have endorsed.
The Literary Festival and Book Fair runs from Friday at 7.00pm, through Saturday and Sunday, finishing at Mero on Sunday evening. Entry is free. See programme details at www.dominicalitfest.com
Below are some photos and more information on some of this year’s NILF presenters.