Calabash Vibes: The Underage drinker Drew, The fossil Blinger, Marlon, the proprietor of the world’s coolest name, Johnny Temple, the never far from a camera Annabelle, and some writer named Junot Diaz. Photo: courtesy The Fossil Blinger.
WRITER & WIFE: Anthony Winkler and spouse, Cathy, at Calabash (i enjoyed a brief career as Winkler’s wife courtesy Tallawah Review. The error has now been corrected).
Writers are not the most spectacular looking creatures (except for Terese Svoboda who apparently dazzled the Calabash crowd with her silver-sequined mini dress if not her poetry) so i thought i’d lead into my first brief on the literary festival with some unrelated but compelling images from the artworld.
Japanese artist Takashi Murakami poses on top of one of his art works. EFE/Ym Yik.
I’ll tell you up front. The main draws for me at Calabash 09 were Patrick French, Junot Diaz and Pico Iyer. Many of the other literary stars i’d already heard read or know personally. I’ve heard Stacey Ann Chin at least four or five times but was still eager to hear what she might say or read from her memoir. I heard her being interviewed on radio recently and she struck me as more mature and thoughtful than on previous occasions where her rage outran her rapport with the audience.
Stacey Ann Chin flanked by Mr. Seaga and Anthony Winkler.
captions courtesy Peter Dean Rickards
Chin didn’t disappoint. Her account of her first encounter with a sanitary pad under the gimlet (if grim) gaze of her aunt played havoc with the Jamaican sensibilities present some of whom shook their heads in disbelief. Stacey Ann proceeded with the frank chronicling of her abused pumpum, followed by Mr. Seaga whose autobiographical account was severe and puritanical in contrast. One of my companions sardonically remarked that he seemed to be reading his resume. Anthony Winkler, who followed, restored the climate of lewdness and profanity that had been set in motion the first night by an ebullient Junot Diaz. Winkler regaled the audience with the story of ‘Greasy Legs’ a prostitute who initiated generations of Cornwall College students into the slippery secrets of her anatomy.
The session between Paul Holdenberger and Pico Iyer took the festival out of the gutter to spiritual heights as travel writer Pico (whose work i used to read in Time magazine) described the peripatetic trajectory of his existence. A citizen of the Global Commons if ever there was one, Iyer (pronounced the way many locals pronounce ‘Higher’ but with a Barbadian ‘I’) personifies the figure of the Nomad, combining contemporary radical chic (he once spent two weeks at LA International Airport as part of the research for his book Global Soul) with a yearning for the timeless, ageless monasticism of ancient Eastern cultures.
The next session of invited readers included Laura Fish from the University of Newcastle whose second novel Strange Music is about Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Fish’s father resides at the Greenwood Great House near Falmouth where the Barrett Brownings lived. Fish struck a clean, light note followed by Marlon James, whose compelling, dark novel The Book of the Night Women has just been published to much critical acclaim. His profanity-laden reading found disfavour with audience members who had brought their children with them. They attempted to intervene without success and were reminded by the organizers that Calabash is, after all, an adult event.
“Wall Photos” by Marlon James
Does shielding young ears from words like pussy, bombaclaat, pumpum and other such words ensure a more sensitive, ethical adult? Especially when they can see for themselves the hypocritical, unjust society we live in? And if we assume that all the outraged adults yesterday had been similarly shielded in their childhood why aren’t we living in a better organized, more just society?
Patrick French was the boomshot for me. He didn’t just read from his superb biography of Naipaul. His comments and reactions to place names in Jamaica, his thoughts on Caribbean and Trinidadian society, his observations on Derek Walcott’s dubbing Naipaul the Mongoose at Calabash O8 engagingly prefaced the reading. His performance was deft and sure-footed. It never fails to impress me that the best writers are careful to leave you wanting more (as did Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz on the first night) while the lesser ones have no qualms about abusing your patience. It’s like blogging–you do have the freedom to go and on but is that really the wisest strategy in engaging your readers?
Postscript: Incidentally it is NOT true that Stacy Ann Chin has instructed her publishers not to distribute her memoir in Jamaica. I asked her myself and she said that the UK rights have not yet been negotiated although the US rights have and since Jamaica falls under the former where book distribution rights are concerned we will have to wait for bookshops here to stock it. The book is also being vetted to ensure that Ja’s strict libel laws have not been violated. When are we going to revise these? I mean antiques have their place but not in law surely? In the meantime anyone wanting a copy of Stacy Ann’s book can easily order it from Amazon.