On its 13th staging, the Calabash Festival has achieved its goal, says co-founder and director Kwame Dawes.
«We only cater to the Jamaican audience, because Calabash is a gift to Jamaicans,» Dawes told The Gleaner last Saturday on day two of the three-day festival.
«That’s how we are going to build the arts, that’s how we build writing, and that’s how we get our people to value themselves,» he said.
Attracting close to 2,500 literature lovers this year, the event, dubbed the Caribbean’s largest arts festival, was true to its ‘Fruu-ish-aan’ theme, harvesting a rich basket of literary giants from all over the world, feeding a movement hungry for brain food.
Bearing more fruits than any other season, Dawes, who himself has written 19 books of poetry and numerous non-fiction and fiction books and essays, said the people from overseas are really eavesdropping.
«The Jamaican audience needs to know that this is a gift to them. They need to know that there is an international high-calibre festival created for them,» he added.
He pointed out that they did not cater to an international audience, although grateful, noting that if the festival was only attracting people from abroad, it would be a waste of the organisers’ time.
«We would go abroad and do it instead of bringing it here.»
Admitting that the festival’s growth was dependent on great writers, and whether they were writing interesting and new things, he said they were the ones who decided the quality and beauty of the event.
This year’s stellar line-up included Baz Dreisinger, Ada Limon, Kei Miller, Jessica Care Moore, Vladimir Lucien and Teju Cole, among others.
The key, he said, was the writers.
Look For Writers
«They are the distinction. The programming, too, is everything. It is an art, it’s putting the right writers together, it is ensuring they are current. We look for writers that have books that are current, we look for writers that are having an impact on the rest of the world, we look for writers that have books that are current, mixing together the right voices. Sometimes it is accidental, and sometimes it works perfectly for us».
Proud of the reputation and credibility that Calabash had garnered over the years, Dawes said they were one of the few entities that automatically get international press.
«All the major press covers Calabash, including the New York Times, Toronto Star, and London Times, every year. We are always reviewed as a festival. Consequentially, people around the world know about us.»
He quipped that the truth was who wants to give up a chance to come to Jamaica to cover such a rich event.
Going forward, the goal, he said, was to maintain the high standard and the high-level of quality of writers.
«We are pressured by our audience. Our audience is one of the best in the world. They trust the quality and the decency of how we share with them.»