Dear readers:
For our sixth anniversary in May 2010, The Caribbean Review of Books has launched a new website at www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com. Antilles has now moved to www.caribbeanreviewofbooks.com/antilles — please update your bookmarks and RSS feed. If you link to Antilles from your own blog or website, please update that too!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Georgetown journal, part 2

"The ghost of Andrew Salkey wants a word with you," writes FSJL, commenting on my previous post. Yes, for this series of Carifesta reports I've deliberately borrowed the title of Salkey's extraordinary 1972 book Georgetown Journal, my copy of which was the first thing I put in my bag when I was packing for this trip. I think I've argued before, here at Antilles, that Georgetown Journal is an undeservedly neglected but absolutely crucial text--a detailed, intimate record of Guyana and the Caribbean at a key point in our post-independence history--but it is also a document of the genesis of Carifesta itself.

Salkey visited Guyana in February 1970, a guest of the Burnham government, one of a distinguished creative cohort invited to witness the inauguration of the Co-operative Republic, and attend the Caribbean Writers and Artists Conference that was to set the agenda for the first Caribbean Festival of Arts, then just a gleam in the region's collective eye. He spent two weeks here, attending meetings, lectures, performances, and caught in a whirl of nearly non-stop conversation about the future of Caribbean societies and the role of the region's artists. His transcripts of these conversations form the bulk of his book--we hear the voices of, among many others, Sam Selvon, John La Rose, Philip Moore, Wilson Harris, Beryl McBurnie, Karl Parboosingh, and many ordinary Guyanese Salkey happened to fall in with. It all adds up to a rich, dense, wry, penetrating summary of the ideas and ideals that fed Carifesta 1972--required reading for anyone wishing to understand Carifesta as it has evolved over the last thirty-six years.

Anyway, back to the present, and Carifesta X. Saturday 23 was the first full day of the festival, though some elements don't yet seem to be up and running. The book fair, for instance, at which five new books were scheduled to be launched (at least according to the literary programme I got my hands on). Accompanied by my friend Lisa Allen-Agostini--writer, anthologist, also visiting from Trinidad--I made my way to the book fair site at the National Park near the Sea Wall, only to find a series of all but empty tents. There were posters and banners announcing various publishers and groups, but the book tables were bare, and the afternoon's launches had all been postponed.

The other major literary event of the day was a two-hour reading session in the evening, at the Umana Yana. Pauline Melville was scheduled to open the programme, and I would have loved to hear her, but instead I made my way to the Oasis Café on Carmichael Street for the launch of Ruel Johnson's new book, Fictions. Except--ah! the trials of publishing--the printers had missed their deadline and the books hadn't arrived. I joked with Ruel that people might think Fictions was really a fiction. So what started as a book launch turned into a good-natured liming session for the author's friends and guests. Ruel's readers will just have to wait until Wednesday, when there is a second launch scheduled, part of the official Carifesta book fair programme.

So in truth I didn't get up to much Carifesting yesterday. And, like many people I encounter around Georgetown, I'm still trying to make sense of the long, complicated schedule of events, a few conflicting versions of which seem to be in circulation. The more energetic are trying to dash from reading to performance to screening, zigzagging across the city in an effort to take it all in. I'm far less ambitious--my plan is to choose one or at most two events per day, meander slowly between venues, and enjoy frequent serendipitous meetings with friends and colleagues. Actually, it's those informal conversations that happen around and in between the official programme that I enjoy most--on Friday, for instance, I spent the afternoon with Ruel and the Guyanese litblogger Charmaine Valere, and yesterday I was given an impromptu tour of the Theatre Guild building by Ameena Gafoor, the Guyanese literary scholar and editor of The Arts Journal--followed by lunch with Ameena, Lisa, and the engineer (and raconteur) Bert Carter, who rebuilt the Theatre Guild. Today I may make another try at the book fair before I head to the grand opening of the Carifesta symposium series--featuring Derek Walcott, Edward Baugh, Ian McDonald, Cynthia McLeod, and Kenneth Ramchand.

But first--it is a grey, rainy morning in Georgetown--another cup of coffee.

1 comment:

FSJL said...

Salkey's Georgetown Journal was a sequel of sorts to his Havana Journal which I found a more interesting piece when I read it as a lad.

Your journal, now, is an entrancing read.