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


33 thoughts on “CALABASH – A Lament or maybe a Rant and a Moan

  1. I’m slowly emerging from the sense of numbness & fatigue that beset me when I heard about the cancellation, then got confirmation. The question reverberating in my brain was: What can we do?? We definitely need to let our voices be heard, write cheques if we can (or even drop coins), knock on the doors of possible sponsors, write letters, poems, rants, call talk shows and talk di tings dem!!

    I am also clear and convinced that something has to happen, an event or 2 or 3 must take place in Treasure Beach during Calabash time…..we simply cannot, must not take this laying down, lick our wounds and not make our planned trips to Treasure Beach, cancel our reservations and flight plans, and possibly send Treasure Beach into a major downward spiral…too much is at stake here: our creativity, our voices, our words, our minds, the sustenance of a space, vibe, experience that so many of us have come to ‘treasure’.

    Kwame, Justine & Colin had the idea, gumption and guts to bring this audacious Jamaican International Literary Festival to life and those of us who have become loving godparents must step up. I want to find out, and will, from Kwame, Justine & Colin what is possible, what can be salvaged…..a scaled-down version, a Jamaican version, some special events/guests.

    I don’t know about anybody else, but I am going to Treasure Beach as planned and I’m prepared to sit on a beach, under a tree and listen to words that move, inspire, uplift, irritate, frighten and heal me……I’d love to utter some words of my own, but some semblance of Calabash or a distant cousin MUST happen.

    While we are there or after we can plan and commit to how we will support Calabash from here on in so this never happens again….

  2. You Know, every year I tell myself: “you’ll go this year Will, this is the year. You’ll spend a week and a half because your JA buddies would kill you if you came and never visited them, and then you’ll go to Calabash with Mona-Lisa and Ms. Savage.”

    See why you should never put things off… sigh.

    PS – the following is a brilliant piece of writing that forms the kernel of a PhD thesis: “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.”

  3. “Maybe I, me, you, us, we didn’t give back enough. Maybe I, me, you, us, we expected too much.”

    I have heard Kwame say this more than once: people do come out for a good time, but are not supporting Calabash in the way that they should. That’s not just the government either.

    I think this moment is actually a good one. Some of us will learn what it takes to sustain something that we really love and say we want to have around, but have not given it nearly the kind of attention that we should.

    From the Gleaner story, I think the TRIO that runs this needs to seriously rethink their fundraising strategies, and get more people to buy a stake in this experience called Calabash. Waiting on big money from the tourist board is sooo not a good/smart/savvy thing to do. What about membership? If they are all about the “quality of the product” that’s a guarantee of monies rolling in. While this wasn’t a PR stunt, it will certainly act as one, provoking action where otherwise there was little but wait and see.

  4. So I met with my old time friend in Barbados in February for the first time in nine years. And then as good sister-girlfriends do we plan to continue the wonderful reunion at Calabash this time here in my adopted home country…where we’ll welcome the pauses between performance and just use them to bask in one another’s warm company…and now the Reunion part 2 is turned upside down…and I’m old enough to know that we should never count on events, the weather, people…but I’m still disappointed…
    Should I still use the time I’ve set aside to go to St. Elizabeth and see family and enjoy the South Coast or abandon the whole idea because being in the bright sunshine or the sea-stung evenings without the words wrapping me, while the beach is lapped, just won’t be the same?

  5. The JTB supports so many music festivals, it is a shame that they do not see fit to support and sponsor this one of a kind Caribbean feast of our own culture

  6. No Calabash in May…..It is unreal, I plan my life around Calabash! Imagine the huge fallout for the communities from Black river to Mandeville, all the hotel rooms, the vendors and the restaurants that will be empty or closed. There are people whom I got to know and every year I would see them.
    So disappointed…and somewhat vex with the lack of support. Maybe they should have called it “The Jazz and Blues and Poetry Festival” to get the money coming in.

  7. Calabash is part of our lives. Both my wife Anita and I have been honoured by Colin, Kwame and Justine to read there. Each Calabash event is memorable in numerous ways. Alhough we’ve resetteled in Dominica we return to Calabash each year. We must save the festival.

  8. It is a disgrace that the JTB would allocate the 2009 budget to the Jazz Festival and Sumfest when other events like Calabash are gaining notoriety and bring in additional revenue.

  9. You are definitely not overreacting! I share your sadness at the loss of Calabash. I am still reeling from the shock from hearing the news. I just can’t believe it. News coming out today is saying that the organizers received only about half the funding they needed … and I definitely understand that half the funding would affect the event, but surely they could have down-sized for the year rather than cancelled entirely?

    This news has broken my heart. So much about TB has changed these last few years, but Calabash seemed like a constant. What’s next?

  10. That such an important festival – probably THE most important festival in Jamaica – should be halted because of lack of sponsorship is indeed a very sad disgrace and does not say much for us as a people! As an author who spends most of her time writing, who encourages others to read – “shock yourselves, read a book”, who enjoys the chance to beam as other Caribbean authors proudly present their works; as a food critic who has always enjoyed the chance to sample the joys of Jamaican cuisine; as a music lover of everything Caribbean…the Calabash Festival embodied it all. Add to this the beautiful gentle people from the parish of St. Elizabeth who can teach all those who venture here at Calabash a thing or two about living in peace and harmony and we have a total happening in every respect. Man, this is where people from all walks of life enjoy the literary arts together. One would think that injections of sponsorship would be fast and furious! Where is Macmillan Caribbean who has built their business from the pen of Caribbean authors and whose books are on display and sold in good quantities at this festival? We know they do sponsor but how about putting in that little extra to make this festival happen? Where is the Jamaican private sector whose products are imbibed and eaten – Lascelles, J. Wray & Nephew, Appleton Rum, Red Stripe, Kingston Beer – oops! perhaps these suppliers have spent their money on those rewarding ragga ragga one-night dancehall bashment parties (or whatever they are called)!! Where are the local newspapers who should be the first to want to participate in such an event…some of their young “aspiring journalists” forced to use Calabash as part of their journey with words? Where are all those whose bank accounts and lifestyles in the city, in “country” and inna “foreign” are bigger than life itself? And last but not least, where are all the financial institutions in which they, and us more lowly persons, put our hard-earned cash and coins so good profits can allow them the lifestyle of the rich and famous? Lawd, lawd, lawd come for your world! Blaming the government for their lack of financial help when it is required (although it is sad that this event finds no merit with them) is not good enough! No,No,No! This lack of sponsorship just simply boggles the mind and provides much food for thought!

  11. You mean we can’t find 30 people to give US$1,000 each to save Calabash?? Come on!! Okay – I am pledging the first $1,000 from PROComm – let’s move on this now!!

  12. A letter to the gleaner editor sent earlier today
    Dear Sir,
    Perhaps those who decided that the Calabash Literary Festival was not worth the necessary funding had never been to the festival.

    Maybe they never realized that this wonderful gem is possibly the most unique and innovative festival in the region, one that we can call our very own, amidst all of the many other cultural and sports events that we support here on the island

    Maybe they are not aware that acclaimed Jamaican- connected celebrity writers and poets like award winners Andrea Levy ( whose book Small Island is now being made into an epic BBC series) and Margaret Alexander ( who read so eloquently at President Obama’s inauguration) were happy to come, introduce their work and be recognized at home .

    That others like actor s Delroy Lindo and Roger Guenevere Smith , authors like Russell Banks and Linton Kwesi Johnson have eagerly participated , some several times over

    Perhaps they have never seen a farmer, a teacher , a student, a doctor or simply a housewife performing their own work in front of an appreciative audience during “open mike”

    Maybe have never realized how our written and oral tradition , that which is the basis of much of our culture, is celebrated at this “high grade International event”.

    Maybe they had never been exposed this wonderful gathering of hundreds of Jamaicans from all walks of life, mingling with so many visitors, listening to tributes to our musical heroes with acoustic ease as the wind blows over the Caribbean on a lazy Sunday evening..

    Perhaps they did not know that when this quiet fishing village comes to life , once a year, it has heralded a vision of what is to come , when perhaps ,we take it “to the world”.

    Probably they have never seen the passion of Colin, Kwame and Justine and of all those who work with them, who have given everything to make this wonderful celebration free to the people of Jamaica , a celebration of our true, real, cultural expression mixed in with a little of that of our close friends.

    It is a shame because , ONCE YOU GO to Calabash YOU KNOW

    Save CALABASH ’09

  13. So unfortunately true to form…. the sponsors cut sponsorship of the ONE EVENT which really has some ……value, meaning, positive vibes, heart, soul, future, quality, enjoyment, entertainment, reason, passion, style, form, culture, kindred spirit, arms accross the nations, fluidity, appeal, strength, upliftment, wander, inspiration, continuity, taste, thought, warmth, impression, validity, flow, consideration, fire, harmony….. where are their heads? Virginia

  14. Once again decisions are made at a governmental level in this country by people who are so bloody out of touch with relaity and again, the Jamaican people suffer. I bought my dream cottage in Treasure Beach last year and have been booked for Calabash since last May, in fact, I could have booked this weekend 10 times over–so many people want to attend this amazing festival. Of course, my rental has been cancelled and I have to find a full refund for my clients. Instead, we could be fuelling money into one of the last peaceful and unchanged parts of Jamaica at a time when there are NO BOOKINGS–why why why?? This cannot happen. We must raise our voices and make them change this decision now–Calabash MUST GO ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. I’m wondering if peoeple couldn’t be charged some money to attend? Certainly patrons wouldn’t mind contributing something.

    Plus, I don’t think the JTB has the money to contribute although they did find millions to give to Jazz Fest…

  16. Pingback: YardEdge » Calabash International Literary Festival 09 Cancelled

  17. I am sick thinking there will be no Calabash. I have a ticket, a hotel and lots of expectations. I have been to at least 5 and look forward to the event. I could send a bit of money if that would help.

  18. All – I have heard that 1000 people come to Calabash each year and from the impassioned posts, they have taken it to their heart. It has bee a dream of mine to return 4 weeks after our triathlon and soak myself in the sound of Calabash.

    Waiting for the government is foolishness – 1000 people times US$30.00 each for a three day ticket is the money needed. Yes – having it in the bank beforehand is nice, but having Calabash is nicer. $30.00 is the cheapest three-day ticket imaginable.

    Does anyone believe that an appeal directly to the participants would not be able to sell 1000 tickets at US$30.00? If so, it is not the incredible event I have heard so much about, but I know it is and I do not believe that its supporters would let it die for want of $30.00!

    Jim Curl

  19. As we are all lamenting the cancellation, let’s first find out if the US$30,000 can be found before Easter, is there still time to mount Calabash?
    I will join ” Jean” in making a contribution, and with all our help [knocking on other doors, both corporate and private] we should be able to build some funds.
    Bashing the government is the easy way out. They are beset with endless demands and I suspect they can do little more than match our contribution. Let’s try!

  20. The Calabash Festival is one of the outstanding community tourism events in Jamaica and the Caribbean and deserves all the sponsorship and financial support. The Ministry of Tourism does not only include the Jamaica Tourist Board – there should be a partnership approach from all the agencies in preserving this community Festival – they all could actively facilitate funding support from private partners here and internationally. This responsibility of funding should not only be from the Jamaica Tourist Board. What about Spruce up Jamaica, Tourism Enhancement Fund etc
    The Countrystyle Community Tourism Network strongly supports this Festival and all community Festivals throughout Jamaica and the Caribbean – we pray for good sense to prevail!

  21. The collective force of Calabash lovers can make it happen. But organisers – you have to help us. Take off your 2008 website and get up to date. Put on your great letters. Have a petition, a Paypal and/or bank account where we can contribute. We can give money, artworks, rooms out of season. When we were faced with re-roofing at Harmony Hall and had no funds, we ran a “Raise the Roof” campaign. It can be done, and can even be fun. I know you’re on the other sites, but Google leads to you – so please..use the power of the internet.
    Also, since there is now a focus on the area – can common sense prevail about the environment. This area of Jamaica is so special – the birds, the ponds, the walks, the trees. Don’t bring in seaplanes, don’t build on sand dunes, don’t cut down ancient lignum vitae trees unecessarily. One love.

  22. I will add another word – whilst I cannot afford to send in sponsorship and if I could I would sponsor the whole darned show! I would see nothing wrong in paying the US$30 (even more! what is US$100 – nutting!) for a weekend of Calabash. But people of walks of life come here, many who would not have this kind of money but who Calabash gives an opportunity to understand the importance of our storytelling culture – I have seen their faces light up, I have seen them not miss a word! So it does give Calabash organizers a problem – who should be let in free and who not. Perhaps if this problem could be solved somehow, yes! But I still say (and strongly!)that the private sector (as I said above) has a moral (a huge moral) obligation to “give back” and this is the shame that should be on them. Sorry if this pricks the conscience of many and irritates their bowels but…fact is fact. The future of this wonderful country Jamaica lies in the hands of the youth. Calabash injects a sense of understanding to those who attend the importance of an education. It opens the desire to be part of the written word and…who knows a Nobel Prize winner might be in the midst of the gathering who normally would not even consider writing a page of anything! Dear God! I wish I could shout from the mountain top the following: “The people of Jamaica support you dear private sector all year around, some with blood, sweat and tears, taking their last few dollars to buy your food, your drink, your clothing, your bloody imported goods! No matter how bad tings are, they have filled your pockets one way or another! For crying out loud give back a little piece nah! And perhaps you might just receive back much in blessings…oh! yes! ‘Nuff said from me. This whole thing saddens my soul.

  23. Say what? Something about dinner? I am off to Black River in a bit but will talk to you later. Hope you are better. A

  24. I know an Educator in Jamaica, she’s a senior teacher at a noted prep school. one day i had a very disappointing discussion with her about her daughter who was doing CXC English Literature at the time and wasnt doing well. She couldnt understand why her daughter was being forced to do it…and what was its use anyway! ….and shes an educator!!?? soo its not just some ‘credit crunch’ and corporate sponsorhip that needs changing (BADLY) but the WHOLE educational system towards the importance of ‘the arts’ !!!!!

  25. Oh! yes! the people have spoken and those who needed to listen have listened and done more – they have acted. Any sponsorship for Calabash will bring back rewards ah-many…so your money, dear sponsors, will not and will never be ill-spent. Great! Great! Great! There is hope for this wonderful country Jamaica…land I love like every little piece is mine! So thrilled for all those who look forward to this fantastic literary festival. So thrilled for those who have worked, and continue to work, so hard to put it together. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

  26. hi Tanya,

    was travelin when all this went down and tho i was kept abreast of all the ups and downs i didn’t have a chance to read your excellent blogpost till now. i think you summed up the importance of Calabash admirably and when you read the comments the picture is fleshed out even more with valuable angles such as Rosemary Parkinson’s, Natalie Thompson’s or Annabella Proudlock’s.

    But Parkinson’s point about the private sector needing to fund events like this is one they ought not to overlook. People berate the music for its low quality but then turn around and refuse to invest in class acts like Calabash. that is fundamentally the problem in Ja…

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