Whenever I am in Dominica for the summer, I look forward to attending the Nature Island Literary Festival (NILF) which is held at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus. It offers an extensive menu of local, regional and international books, talks, panel discussions and readings by renowned West Indian authors and poets. As well, several workshops are devoted to expert guidance and instruction on techniques and tips on the craft of writing from the’ pros’. There are many excellent offerings on the program and I always come away from the 3-day event with fresh ideas and renewed inspiration as a writer and reading enthusiast. And best of all, it’s FREE!
My overview of NILF‘s program in 2010 is found here.
This year (2012)marked the 5th anniversary of the event, and I was delighted to be on-island to partake of some of its tempting and intriguing selections.
As a journalist, I benefited tremendously from two workshops that I selected out of several others that were offered before and during the Literary Festival. My first option was a three session pre-festival course on ‘Reviewing the Creative Arts’. It was facilitated by Dr. Shuyler Esprit, a Dominican woman who is an Assistant Professor of English at Trinity Washington University in D.C., USA. Over six hours, she skillfully guided us through the techniques,analytical tactics and structural outlines that are necessary for creating suitable arts reviews targeted at specific audiences.
My other workshop choice presented me with an opportunity to learn more about writing fiction from a ‘pro’. Trinidadian/American Dr. Elizabeth Nunez, a Distinguished Professor at City University of New York and author of eight best-selling novels took time out from her busy schedule to host this session. She offered her enthusiastic audience considerable advice about this craft as a “process of self-discovery.” She also ensured that we all were familiar with the structural aspects of this art. Her practical disclosures about attracting a publisher could also prove to be invaluable!
The high calibre of presentations by these specialists was typical of all the sessions that I attended over the weekend. The number of notable writers and poets at this event was phenomenal. I felt so fortunate to be able to listen, participate, mix and mingle with such prominent literary personalities. These people have certainly put West Indian literature “on the map!”
Consider Professor George Lamming, Keynote Speaker at the Friday night Opening Ceremony. This erudite octogenarian and award-winning novelist entranced the audience with his articulations about “the education of feeling,” that is, engaging the reader in feeling for the characters in a novel. The scholarly Barbadian further expressed that we don’t read fiction for our heads, but for our hearts. I agree with that pronouncement!
I confess that I did not have a real interest in poetry until I taught literature in senior high school. It was only when I studied it at a deeper level that I developed a fascination with this literary art form. My newer-found delight was further enhanced by impressive poetic renditions at this event. The readers, or should I say performers used dramatic techniques that definitely brought different types of poems to life.
Adrian Green, a spoken word artist from Barbados and Lasana Sekou, a prolific poet from St. Martin held me spellbound with their theatrical poetic performances, which were expressed through their highly articulate voices. I will especially never forget Sekou’s spellbinding poetic presentation of a traditional West Indian cock-fight.
Although the Literary Festival took place in mid-summer,some students did take part and were welcome at all sessions. During the Opening Ceremony, girls from Convent High School in Roseau entertained the audience with their own choral speech creation. I hope that this type of unifying art will be encouraged at all schools – not just in Dominica – but worldwide!
My enduring fascination with Dominican literature was once again satiated at NILF. Every year, there are sessions devoted to the Dominican literary perspective. A panel discussion, interspersed with readings from an unpublished manuscript belonging to the late Dominican author, poet and politician Phyllis Shand Allfrey captured my rapt attention for over an hour. Many attendees in the packed UWI auditorium agreed that they would like to continue to learn about her life and work, thanks to information disclosed during this presentation.
I also got to hear Honourable Judge Dr. Irving André, a Dominican/Canadian who sits on the bench of the Ontario Court of Justice near Toronto. He read from his compelling biography about Elias Nassief, a deceased Dominican businessman. Dr. André has produced a number of biographies about memorable Dominicans and significant episodes in local history through Pond Casse Press, of which he is a co-founder.
On Sunday morning, the seats were again all filled in the UWI auditorium as people gathered to hear preeminent local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch talk about travel writers who have spent time near or on Dominica since 1493! (This year is significant as that is when Columbus first sighted the island. There were even some writers on the 17 ships in his entourage!) Dr. Honychurch’s accompanying Power Point presentation really added to the detailed overview of those who have been compelled to write about Dominica since the 15th century.
By late Sunday afternoon, my plate was overflowing with numerous tastes of West Indian literature. While there was so much more on the menu, I was completely satisfied with my own literary meal at the 2012 Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair.
During the event, there were also opportunities to listen to some wonderful music by the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers and the Venezuelan Institute’s Cuatro Band. The Roseau Public Library was well represented with an interesting display of Dominican books and archival newspapers. Local foods were readily available, one could compete for prizes in writing contests, participate in open mic sessions and of course, there were books for sale and exchange! I was thrilled to have Dr. Elizabeth Nunez autograph two of her latest books for me.
Finally, I would be very remiss if I did not sincerely thank Chairman Dr. Alwin Bully and the entire Nature Island Literary Festival Committee for their dedication, desire and determination which resulted in a first class, freely available feast for many minds! I also salute the sponsors who generously contributed to enable the success of this event. I eagerly await the next one!