Sat | Jun 15, 2024

Calabash showcases vibrancy of literature, St Elizabeth community spirit

Next staging set for May 2025

Published:Friday | June 9, 2023 | 9:18 AMAaliyah Cunningham/Gleaner Writer
It’s a family affair for Justine Henzell, co-founder and director, Calabash International Literary Festival and daughter Drew Brennan and (from left) Max Henzell and father Jason Henzell.
It’s a family affair for Justine Henzell, co-founder and director, Calabash International Literary Festival and daughter Drew Brennan and (from left) Max Henzell and father Jason Henzell.
From left: American actress CCH Pounder has a lively discussion with Courtenay, Meleka and eMJay.
From left: American actress CCH Pounder has a lively discussion with Courtenay, Meleka and eMJay.
Natasha Griffiths (left), who read her poem ‘Rent a Tile’ speaks with Sheldon Shepherd during open mic on day three of the Calabash International Literary Festival on Sunday.
Natasha Griffiths (left), who read her poem ‘Rent a Tile’ speaks with Sheldon Shepherd during open mic on day three of the Calabash International Literary Festival on Sunday.
Poet laureates Kei Miller reads during the Laurels and Laureates session on Saturday.
Kei Miller reads during the Laurels and Laureates session on Saturday.
Fiona Ellis, who read from her father Garfield Ellis’ book ‘Angels Share’, with Robert Samuels, staff writer at ‘The New Yorker’, who read from his book ‘His name was George Floyd’.
Fiona Ellis, who read from her father Garfield Ellis’ book ‘Angels Share’, with Pultizer Prize-winning writer Robert Samuels, who read from his book ‘His name was George Floyd’.
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The 2023 staging of the Calabash International Literary Festival held in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, over the weekend was a shining display of the vibrancy and vigour within the literary and creative space. Following a five-year hiatus, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of the event brought together some of the region’s best writers, poets, musicians, and artists to celebrate the power of words and their impact on society. With a profound emphasis on community engagement, the festival stood as a cultural phenomenon, leaving a lasting impression on both locals and visitors alike.

Among the many takeaways from the three-day event, that stretched from Friday to Sunday, the biggest of them all would be to book your stay early. With filled rooms from end to end in the breadbasket parish, it is best to start planning for the next staging at the end of the last to ensure that you will be within good reach of Jake’s on Treasure Beach which is the home of the event. But what’s so exciting about the festival that thousands of people would make St Elizabeth their home for an entire weekend?

Well, the main attraction is the stellar line-up of literary icons and creatives. From poet laureates to emerging voices, Calabash offers a diverse and dynamic platform for literary exchange and dialogue. Esteemed authors and poets such as Curdella Forbes; Alecia McKenzie; Yvonne Bailey-Smith; Linton Kwesi Johnson; Kwame Dawes, co-founder and festival director of the Calabash International Literary Festival; Kei Miller and Olive Senior graced the stage, captivating an irie and attentive audience with their powerful readings and thought-provoking discussions.

The ability to have candid conversations with some of the most prolific writers attracted most of the patrons. But others came out to shop and support the artisan village and soak up the sun on Treasure Beach while enjoying some popular Jamaican delicacies from the Jake’s restaurant. This all came with musical entertainment which added another layer of creative expression to the event.

If that was not enough, the wholesome vibe that permeated through the event allowed for the development of bonds and networks with people from across the world and perhaps even rub shoulders with famed entertainers. The energy that the eventgoers brought to the festival was something to be experienced and was the best part of the Calabash for organiser and co-founder, Justine Henzell.

“You know what, the highlight for me didn’t happen on stage. It was the fact that the Calabash family was so joyful and happy to be back together. That for me was the most important thing. The audience was just so happy and that was just every day; all the days. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and even today, as people are leaving Treasure Beach, and everybody is just so joyful that the family is back together,” she told The Gleaner post festival.

She furthered that this year, though the impact that Calabash has on the community is always quite noticeable, for the first time, there will be an actual study conducted on the event.

“What’s interesting this year is that we know anecdotally that Calabash is good for the community. We know that because every room is filled. Restaurants are doing good business. We know that. But this year we are happy that [Australian university Macquarie University] came to do a study on Calabash and the effect it has on the community. They have been talking to the people, observing and doing written surveys on how a festival can impact the community. I am so happy ‘cause then we will have empirical data to support what we know is true,” she revealed.

As the sun sets on another remarkable edition of the Calabash International Literary Festival, one cannot help but marvel at the collective tapestry of stories and voices that have been woven together. This celebration of literature and culture has undoubtedly cemented its place as a must-attend event, igniting a passion for literature, fostering creativity, and nurturing a vibrant community spirit in the heart of Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth.

The next staging is set for May 2025.

aaliyah.cunningham@gleanerjm.com