Saturday 26 September, 2020

NGC Bocas Lit Fest celebrates 10 years as festival moves online

The 2020 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, T&T’s first wholly virtual literary festival, takes place September 18-20.

It’s the 10th annual festival of words, stories and ideas and is happening in an unprecedented year of change, demanding the creation of a whole new normal. 

COVID-19 health regulations mean that the usual in-person festival, based at the National Library and Old Fire Station in downtown Port of Spain, is off-limits.

Instead, a programme of 18 events over three festival days, involving 80 participants will be livestreamed, free of charge, via the festival website and social media.  The online festival combines a mix of NGC Bocas Lit Fest traditional and some wonderful new elements, while maintaining a focus on new books by Caribbean writers, alongside discussions and debates on current affairs, politics, and history.

Over the last decade, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest has become celebrated as a venue for Caribbean authors to introduce new writers to the reading public.

At the 2020 festival, online audiences can watch readings and discussion from T&T writers such as Ingrid Persaud, author of Love After Love; Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw, author of the new short story collection Stick No Bills; Monique Roffey, author of The Mermaid of Black Conch; and Caroline Mackenzie, author of the debut novel One Year of Ugly. From elsewhere in the Caribbean and the Diaspora, the programme includes Jacob Ross, John Robert Lee, Canisia Lubrin, and Zalika Reid-Benta with their exceptional new books.

Also in the mix are Tessa McWatt, whose Shame On Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging was the winner of the 2020 OCM Bocas Prize for non-fiction.  Joining McWatt on a panel to discuss how deeply personal stories can become prisms for examining bigger political histories are San Francisco-based Trinidadian writer Katherine Agyemaa Agard, who will read from her debut book “of colour”, and Andre Bagoo, the well-known Trinidadian poet.  His latest book, The Undiscovered Country, is a collection of essays on art and literature.

Two Saturday festival events will consider the legacies of the 1970 Black Power Revolution 50 years later, and what the movement’s ideas and concerns mean for us in the present.

The panel brings together three younger activist-thinkers, Chike Pilgrim, Amílcar Sanatan, and Attillah Springer, for a conversation chaired by veteran journalist and political analyst Sunity Maharaj.

A special session titled “Revolution Time” follows, featuring readings of new poetry and fiction inspired equally by the events of 1970 and by current movements towards social justice, from writers Lisa Allen-Agostini, Vahni Capildeo, Amílcar Sanatan, and Desirée Seebaran.

An equally hard-hitting panel discussion happens on Sunday, September 20, where the state of Caribbean political leadership will come under scrutiny.  In a year of elections across the region, when COVID-19 presents unprecedented political and economic challenges, what should our current leaders learn from our history?

P.J. Patterson, once Jamaica’s Prime Minister for more than a decade and who recently penned his political memoirs, will headline this event, alongside Godfrey Smith, a former attorney general of Belize and author of a new book on The Assassination of Maurice Bishop.

They are joined by Guyanese Alissa Trotz, Professor of Caribbean Studies at New College at the University of Toronto. The panel will be chaired by Professor W. Andy Knight, former Director of the Institute of International Relations at The UWI, St. Augustine.

Picking up the theme of political leadership in true Bocas style is an Extempo debate, one of the signatures of the annual festival. Extempo champions Black Sage and Brian London will face off, sharing their witty insights and responding to audience cues.

Elsewhere in the festival, some of the Caribbean’s top speculative fiction writers share their thoughts about how our region may evolve, in the special Future Friday programme. Two sessions of the festival’s ever-popular Stand and Deliver open mic will be hosted for the first time ever in virtual format, and a New Talent Showcase event will present new fiction by writers from The UWI’s MFA creative writing programme at St. Augustine.

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest will mark the 50th anniversary of the beloved novel Crick Crack Monkey by author Merle Hodge with a specially commissioned virtual staged reading, adapted and directed by elisha efua bartels.

This year, the First Citizens National Poetry Slam Finals will not be the festival finale as in previous years, but rather will take place on Sunday, September 27, broadcast on TV6. Audiences can tune in to see T&T’s best spoken word poets face off for glory and the TT$50,000 top prize.

All festival events are free and accessible to all, with no tickets or registration.

The programme will be streamed live at bocaslitfest.com/2020/live, facebook.com/bocaslitfest, and youtube.com/bocaslitfest.

All the gaps between scheduled events will be full of fun and surprises and a look back at the festival's last 10 years.

The National Gas Company is the festival’s title sponsor and First Citizens is its lead sponsor. Main sponsors are One Caribbean Media and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and the Arts. The NLCB is a supporting sponsor and The UWI and Massy Foundation are sponsors.

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