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Sunday, 27 May 2007

Sunday at Calabash

Calabash Literary Festival 2007

The main tent at Jake's

I'm back in Kingston as I write this post, dear readers, on the other side of a three-hour drive from Treasure Beach. I would gladly have stuck around for the final hours of Calabash and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize party beside the pool at Jake's, but I have to be at the airport in the morning.

Distracted by a bowl of ackee and a plate of Johhny cakes, I got off to a late start today, and missed the first part of the 50th anniversary reading of The Mystic Masseur--the section read by former Miss World Cindy Breakspeare (I'm told she was the best of the four readers). I took my seat about halfway through Peter Bunting's section, and was impressed by the way he handled, in his Jamaican accent, Naipaul's pitch-perfect Trinidadian English. The other two readers were less successful, at least to my Trinidadian ear. (Note to Calabash organisers: next time, ask a Trini to read! There were enough of us in the audience.)

After that reading I wandered off in search of today's Jamaica Observer--I wanted to see the piece on the CRB that appeared in the Bookends section. But apparently the Observer doesn't make it down to Treasure Beach--there were none in the shops, none in the lobby at Jake's, none tucked under anyone's arm. By the time I gave up and returned to the main tent, Kendel Hippolyte was going up on stage. My timing was perfect. I'd never heard Kendel read, and though all the chairs in the front rows were taken, a low tree near the stage offered an excellent, breezy vantage point.

Then came the event we'd all been waiting for--or, at least, the event all the Commonwealth Writers' Prize finalists were waiting for: the announcement of the prizes. There was much speculation about whether the writers already knew the results or not, and jokes about a betting pool (at least, I think they were jokes). I snagged a front-row seat, then gave it up for one of the judges. The prize ceremony was a model of brevity. I thought D.Y. B├ęchard looked insufficiently surprised to win the prize for best first book--perhaps he'd done some googling this morning?--but Lloyd Jones seemed genuinely taken aback, even flustered. Then all the writers, winners and losers, went off for stiff drinks, and I went off to our villa to pack my bags.

And that, dear readers, was Calabash 2007. The best part of the weekend, even better than any of the actual events on the programme, was the chance to spend time with friends--writers and otherwise--who I don't get to see often, and the chance to finally meet a few writers who I've read and corresponded with, like Kei Miller and Marie-Elena John. I return home tomorrow with a tan, a copy of Michael Ondaatje's new novel, and a plan to return for Calabash next year. And maybe I'll bring an even bigger Trinidadian contingent.

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