I recently interviewed Staceyann Chin after reading her newly published memoir The Other Side of Paradise. Those who are familiar with Chin’s work as a spoken word and performance artist won’t be surprised by the engaging and humorous way Chin walks you through the toughest parts of her childhood in Jamaica. Those of you who are familiar with the Caribbean will understand why Chin writes with so much love for her homeland and the people who brought her up in it. But for those who aren’t familiar with either, the Calabash International Literary Festival is a good place to start.
Even if you can’t make the trip to Jamaica, take a look at the author page on the beautifully designed festival website. It gives you the bios of the over thirty authors who will be there—including 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz; novelist Edwidge Danticat, whose recent memoir Brother, I’m Dying tells of her uncle’s death while in the custody of US immigration officials; and the newly published poet Millicent Graham. The Caribbean has given the world innumerable literary talents; just last week Jamaica Kincaid–author of the novels Lucy and Annie John and visiting lecturer in African and American Studies at Harvard University–was chosen to be one of 231 members to join the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Calabash hopes to provide a space that fosters the region’s literary history and the work of modern day writers.
The festival will be held May 22nd–24th at Jake’s, a boutique resort with a commitment to social responsibility. For folks who have a tax refund you’re itching to spend, perhaps now is the time to go to the islands. The festival itself won’t cost you a penny; the Calabash events—readings, workshops, music—are free and open to the public (though voluntary contributions are accepted).