28/05/2012 08:58 BST | Updated 20/11/2012 16:37 GMT

JUBILATION 50! Calabash Kicks Off

It has been two years since the last incarnation of Calabash. During those two years Colin Channer, Justine Henzell and myself, the founders and organizers of this literary festival have thought long about the continuation of this wonderful gift. The compelling drive to host the festival once again was the fiftieth anniversary of Jamaica's Independence from the UK. As children of Independent Jamaica--those born after that fateful day in August--as reggae children, and as people who have an inexplicable passion for the strange and beautiful energy, drive and creativity of Jamaica, it seemed to make sense to find a way to mark that anniversary. While Colin Channer assumed the uncharacteristic position of settling into the background, Justine Henzell and I planned a revival of this festival, and already a night of its rich and crazy beauty has passed.

It is early morning now--the sun is glowing over the beachside village of Treasure Beach, Cuban music smiles over me, a soft air of ease and "all-day-long" tickles. A day ago, the calm of having seen the first night pass was not quite there in the hubbub of preparing for this event.


Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Before the crowd arrives, the writers do. Their drive across the island, usually from Montego Bay on the north western end of the island, down across mountains and valleys, through two parishes of dense impossibly green rural tropical landscapes, to the more arid, flattened plains of the south coast where stoic coconut trees tower over the long stretches of acacia bramble, towards the hardy vegetation of sea grapes on the southern coast of the island, with its rugged coastline of cliffs, untamed beaches, and noisy sea; has left them somewhat discombobulated, dizzy, and uncertain. By the time they arrive, it is already dark and the sparsely lit pathways of Jakes, with its dense vegetation of hibiscus and croton hedges, its dark red stained stone walks, feel like a different world, an uncertain world of incredibly friendly people, moving around with the kind of nonchalance and assurance of people who know what they are doing, and who have been expecting you, but who have no intention of startling you with more attention than is warranted. In an hour, after bags have been put away in these cottages that constantly feel as if they are actually open shelters, places with most of the trappings of a very stylish hotel, and yet with a kind of rugged disorder that feels welcoming and yet slightly dangerous; they stumble along the paths towards the loud laughter and rolling reggae music of a club like atmosphere at a sea side bar where a wizened, bald headed African man, called Dougie, runs a bar. Many will become close friends of Dougie over the three days they will spend in Treasure Beach. It is all surreal, the arrival, the faces looming towards you, the laughter, the giddiness, the excitement, the gradual recognition of names that you have read about, people you have wanted to meet, or even old friends who you have not met in a long time.

Jubilation 50!, the most recent incarnation of the Calabash International Literary Festival, begins long before the audience starts to pour onto the tented lawn of Jakes Resort. It begins when the writers arrive. And writers arrive to a party, to a delicious feast, to an evening of humor, easy camaraderie, and a quality of good vibes that feels like anticipation--the expectation of something good.

The meal has been curated (for that is the best word for a buffet of stylish ginger and pumpkin soup, king fish kebabs, cous-cous salad, and so on and so forth, by Laura Henzell, the wife of Jason Henzell, active proprietor of Jakes Resorts, that for almost a dozen years, has willing given over its chic string of unique cottages to the Festival, a festival doggedly determined to remain free and open to the public, to remain committed to connecting with the community of Treasure Beach, doggedly committed to being full inscribed in the reggae aesthetic, doggedly committed to being excellently run, doggedly committed to being international event as it remains wholly Caribbean, wholly Jamaican.

The idea is to ensure that even if no one else arrives at this festival, the writers will become the best audience of each other possible, and by the end of the evening, as Justine Henzell, chief producer of the festival goes over the "house-keeping" details, it is clear that we have seen the formation of "instant community". It is remarkable.

"Tomorrow morning, at 8:00 Am, there will be yoga for all who might be interested. At eleven we will be taking a boat ride long the coast and then up the Black River which you will enjoy, and then at four...." People are to sign up, they are to be prepared for a day of more bonding, more laughter, more conversation about literature, about art and about what makes a festival work.

This year, Jubilation is a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Jamaica's independence from Great Britain. The festival has retained its commitment to an international roster of authors based on the absurd philosophy that Jamaica happens to be an international country. Before you think of the readings, the never-ending parade of writers going on stage to read from their books, you might want to think of a roomful of guests at a party with a very carefully orchestrated guest list--orchestrated for intelligent, varied, surprising conversation--the kind of gathering that makes you go home saying, "What a lovely and fascinating group of people, so different, and yet with so much in common."

"So who was there?"

"You wouldn't believe: Carolyn Cooper, Vivien Goldman, Colin Grant, Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Chimamanda Adichie, Victor Lavalle, Marcia Douglas, Patricia Powell, Ian Thompson, Loretta Collins Klobah, Christine Craig, Shara McCallum, Orlando Patterson, Melissa Jones, Sadie Jones, Olive Senior, Kerry Young, Ronnie Kasrils, Paul Holdengraber, Alecia McKenzie, Maaza Mengiste, Anis Mojgani, Claudia Rankine, Kevin Young, The Admiral, Laura Henzell, Captain Burrell, the Honorable Damion Crawford, Elise Kelly, Fred D'Aguiar, and Carolyn Forche..."

Great fun was had by all.

This blog will attempt to offer a peculiarly intimate, close-in take on what is undoubtedly, one of the more interesting literary festivals on the world calendar. Stay with me, and you should have a ring-side view of what happens here in this the greatest village, the greatest small parish, this great small country, in this jewel of a sea.