The Fire is lit- Calabashment 2009


Kwame Dawes (left) and Colin Channer at Calabash 07

Kwame Dawes (left) and Colin Channer at Calabash 07

Calabash 2009 is back on! In a release issued this morning by the festival’s organizers it was announced that the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB)  has reverted its decision and will fund the festival at the US$40,000 requested. So uncancel your reservations and mop up your tears, we’re heading to Treasure Beach this year.


Calabash won our hearts and when it was was threatened, when we realized just what we would lose if it did not materialize we armed ourselves with our shock, sorrow and outrage and it seems it made a difference.

Yet many of us realize that we too were culpable for Calabash’s stumble. It is free to us, it is freely given and because of that we must support it.  If nothing else the great Calabashment Scare of 09 showed us that it is time for all Calabashers to put our money where our heart is.

As the debate raged about how to find the shortfall, many questioned whether the organizers should not charge. That would make the festival into something other than what it is, and many of those who now enjoy it, would be able to do so.

Yet as many of you have outlined in your comments which have lifted my spirits and warmed the cockles of my heart (though I’m not quite sure where exactly to locate my cockles), we cannot simply wait on funding agencies and the government to fully support this important festival. Instead we must adhere to the mickle theory (every mickle makes a muckle), and so whether our mickles are big or small we must pool them together to ensure the future of Calabash.

By now the festival is ours, let’s keep it that way. I end with words from Kei Miller  “we’d continue in rounds saying let and let and let/ until even silent dreams had been allowed”. Let there be Calabash!

Remember  the “the fire is lit”!


CALABASH – A Lament or maybe a Rant and a Moan

Jamaica, land I love, once again you break my heart! Once again you fill me with a feeling of loss that I cannot explain. I haven’t blogged in a while, a very long while, but when I checked my email, supposedly beforeChanner interviews the 2007 best new book Commonwealth Literature Regional Winners

going to bed and saw a release headlined – Calabash Cancelled – sleep was cancelled, at least for the next few hours. It is ridiculous! It is impossible! It cant happen! It’s happening!

It seemed, in the silence of midnight, that a tragedy had struck and I was not at all sure how to deal with this. For the past seven years, I have known what I will be doing on the final weekend in May, I’m going to Calabash. It’s a given, how could I not! From my first brush against the tongues of fire, the flame was lit[erature], and each year, the passion grew, until – in the words of Pepe Le Peu it had become a “roaring fire!” 

From the very first Calabash I thought the organizers had managed to produce the biggest little festival, in the biggest little village in the biggest little island. And so I’m hoping that this isn’t a eulogy, I am careful not to use the past tense. 

I try to tell myself that the feeling of tragedy might be overreacting – I may have been watching too many episodes of Ugly Betty. Then I realized, this can’t be an overreaction, because Calabash isn’t some place I go to because I can think of nowhere better. Honestly, most years I couldn’t think of anywhere better, as it has been a phenomenal addition to the Jamaican cultural and entertainment calendar, another great festival which we seem to be losing our grip on! It seems that every time we get something right, we get it wrong.

Calabashers soak up some words

Calabashers soak up some words

Calabash provided one weekend, where its you, some good friends, some good words, the beach and a few thousand other people who are enjoying the same thing. My group had grown with each passing year, moving from me, my best fried and a few other friends, until last year the group I travelled with (not to mention those you meet up with there) included me, my mother, my sister, my best friend, her mother and sister and another lady from my mother’s church who had always heard about it and never made it.

Our rooms are already booked (They were booked from January when the hotel was already down to two rooms) – but I guess we won’t be needing them anymore. I can only imagine the loss of revenue that’s going to come from this as rooms from Treasure Beach right back to Black River tend to be sold out – many having been booked from the year in advance.

I’ve always been amazed at the Jamaica that you find in Treasure Beach, yu can still walk nights, there are people everywhere, and in a country where I have been told people don’t read, a literary festival was outstripping itself year after year. 

The stage has been graced by so many, most of whom I know the average (and even the not so average Jamaica could not afford to see, or perhaps would never have heard about). From Derek Walcott, to Lorna Goodison to Sonja Sanchez, to Edward Baugh, the fifty year-old books brought back into print, or revived and brought back into the spotlight – that is something. 

The release says that the problem is a lack of financial support. I was speaking with someone recently and they said the festival wasn’t feasible, and I wasn’t sure what they meant. Did they mean the festival cannot fund itself – well, everybody knows that, its free! So what do we mean by it’s not feasible? Do we mean that the spin-offs from Calabash are not feasible then? Do we mean that it is not feasible for a new generation of potential writers to start finding their voice, and some finding their way into print ? Do we mean that it is not feasible that in a country where too many members of the population are bent on ripping it and themselves apart, some people can turn to the comfort of words and enjoy themselves? Do we mean that it is not feasible for a farming/fishing community to look forward to some extra income when the world economy is badly in need of some Zoltoff?

Is it that we do not deserve this? Do we not see the value of the new voices that have been found; the stories that are being told? As a country we have never managed to fully harness the potential of our stories. Even while the publishing industry is in trouble (like almost every other) stories are not in trouble. Novels become plays become movies become novels. Each time another Jamaican picks up a pen, one less Grandmother gets forgotten, another piece of the untold story is chronicled, and we can only right our history, when we begin to write our history, our story, our own truths as we know and feel and imagine them.


Maybe this boy has the right idea and we should all hide - Calabash2007

Maybe this boy has the right idea and we should all hide - Calabash2007

That is what Calabash represented for me. The will to write! I remember the joy of going to Trinidad and reading at rum shop, and there in the crowd in Trini dressed in his Calabash t-shirt, with his copy of Kei Miller’s The Same Earth under his arm. And I know why he’s wearing the Calabash shirt, because he’s going to a literary event, and Calabash means literature! Calabash brings writing closer.

And so, nine years (because it would have been nine this year) after Calabash began it has been decided, it is not feasible? 

The release mentions disappointing sponsorship from the private sector and the government, but I feel more than a little culpable. Maybe I, me, you, us, we didn’t give back enough. Maybe I, me, you, us, we expected too much.

Looking out from Calabash

Looking out from Calabash