What will the attendance be like? Will the weather hold up? Will we receive sponsorship from the community? Will our guest writers arrive here as scheduled? Those were some of the anxious questions which we, members of the Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair Committee, expressed at our meetings as the count down to the festival began. Prior to the event, the committee met regularly over several months, but as the date approached, and preparations intensified, it was gratifying to get assistance in various forms from the many who came forward.
The opening night set the pace and mood, and what an event it was! Many people attended; the grounds and tents were well-lit; the large audience excited about seeing and hearing the distinguished overseas writers, especially the poet laureate, Derek Walcott; the presence of the His Excellency, President Dr. Nicholas Liverpool and Mrs. Liverpool; the opening addresses by Alwin Bully, Hubert Charles, and the Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, who declared the festival open; the excerpts read from the works of Jean Rhys and Phyllis Shand-Allfrey; the beautiful voices of the Sisserou Singers and the performance of the Colihaut Ban Mové masquerade all contributed to making the evening a very memorable one.
Browsing at the Book Fair
After the Festival was declared open, and the ribbon to the Book Fair was cut, it was indeed edifying to walk through the main lecture hall of the School of Continuing Studies, which was temporarily transformed into a series of mini book stores, and feast the eyes on the large number of books written by Caribbean authors, including Dominicans. The book store owners, while happy with the large number of sales, were also pleased at the level of interest, as people rushed to buy the books of the authors whose stories were read. It was also an opportunity to showcase the works of other Caribbean writers.
Saturday and Sunday saw the large numbers returning. Many remained the entire day, as the food stalls provided the opportunity for buying meals and snacks.
The air was electric with excitement as Derek Walcott took the stage Saturday evening for an interview with Alwin Bully, chairman of the Literary Festival. I think all of us present felt we wanted to bask in the reflected light of the renown St. Lucian literary star.
Alwin Bully interviews Derek Walcott
Walcott spoke of the warm welcome he received. He had been to Dominica briefly once beforeto take part in a cricket tournament. He did not hesitate however to comment on the quality of the readings he had heard the evening before, when a few writers read from their work. He felt that there was much room for improvement. He added that many beginning Caribbean writers desired early literary fame, but were unwilling to dedicate the time, effort, and study required to perfect their craft. He recommended that they read the classics, as well as the works of other well known and established writers. When he was asked about the use of Creole in writing, Mr. Walcott replied that he considered Creole a language like any other language, but because he did not think in Creole, it would be patronising on his part to attempt to express his thoughts in it.
Walcott attended the opening night. He held radio and television interviews Saturday, and joined the Book Fair Saturday evening for his reading and stage interview. He left the island on Sunday morning. As such, he only heard the few readers on the opening night and not the readings from some twenty other writers including some of Dominica's published authors who presented in the other sessions.
The Creative Writing Workshop
The many people who attended the Creative Writing Workshop (facilitated by Professor Mervyn Morris), and the Publishing Workshop (by Polly Patullo, Ivenia Benjamin and Roger Burnett) on Saturday morning came away feeling very satisfied. Professor Morris' short stories and poems have been used in the secondary schools in Dominica for many years.
The Children's Workshop held also the Saturday morning, attracted more than twice the number originally planned for, but according to the facilitator, Ferne Brumant, the children enjoyed it, participated fully, and were well behaved.
The Power Point®
presentation on Jean Rhys by Dr. Honychurch on Sunday morning generated great interest; the audience wished the session was longer. Dr. Honychurch connected people and places on the screen to events and people described or mentioned by Rhys in her writings.
Raconteur Paul Keens Douglas entertains the audience
The highlight of Sunday evening was the presentation by Paul Keens Douglas. He performed to a packed tent, using humorous anecdotes and stories to illustrate the demands of good literature and the art of writing.
Our overseas writers and poets performed to an appreciative audience, and Marie Elena John Smith, daughter of a Dominican woman, thrilled everyone as she read from her novel Unburnable
Our own Dominican writers and performers also received their share of applause, and though he does not reside in Dominica, Gabriel Christian comes under that category. He, along with Irvin André, deserves to be congratulated for the prodigious amount of writings they have produced, and still continue to produce. Christian was one of the first proponents of the festival and supported it throughout. In addition to reading from the latest book co-authored by him and André, he also talked about their publishing house, Pont Cassé Press.
"Rasmo", another Dominican resident in the US, gave an excellent recitation of his performance poetry complete with musicians.
The local music provided at the end of all three evenings added to the enjoyment and relaxed atmosphere.
The appreciative audience voiced their hope that this would become an annual event, and we have the word of the Prime Minister who gave his assurance that Government will give assistance to make it become an annual affair.
The outdoor relaxation and eating area
The Festival Committee feels gratified that the first Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair turned out to be the success it was. It would like to thank the Reunion Committee, and the many individuals and sponsors who contributed to its success.