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Bocas Open, ‘Tory Jump Out
The sixth Bocas NGC Literary Festival enters its ninth day and windup weekend today, with the main attraction, 2015 Man Booker Prizewinner Marlon James, taking the Old Fire Station stage tomorrow at 2pm to talk about his magnificent novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, and post-Prize life. Tomorrow’s a big day, from 10am, with sitting Chief Justice Ivor Archie sitting down with marijuana activist Nazma Muller, Elizabeth Solomon and Lynette Seebaran-Suite in a discussion moderated by Julian Rogers that will, hopefully, accelerate the process of legalization without them actually passing a chalice around; there’s also Andrew Fitt on Aching to Be, his memoir of living with cerebral palsy (1pm, seminar room, level two NALIS), and a heavyweight panel discussing the most important, and least read, West Indian writer, Wilson Harris (3pm, AV room).
Today is a good day, too, with spoken word performance artist, Paul Keens-Douglas kicking things off at 10am in conversation with Miguel Browne and the day itself ending in night, with a Trini-style appreciation of William Shakespeare, including an extempore duel between Gypsy and Black Sage, at the Big Black Box in Woodbrook (8pm).
Shakespeare stars again on Sunday, with Marlon James, poets Vahni Capildeo and Rowan Ricardo Phillips and Sunday Express columnist
Martin Daly discussing the Bard’s influence (10am Old Fire Station – it ought to be far more rewarding than Mass). Sunday also celebrates 30 years of the Peepal Tree Press, the hands-on, headfirst, in-with-both-feet publisher of Caribbean writing (11am, seminar room). The Sunday Launch, important despite its corny title, features readings from The Repenters, Kevin Jared Hosein’s debut novel, You Have You Father Hard Head, Colin Robinson’s poetry collection, and The Colour of Shadows, Judy Raymond’s biography of Richard Bridgens, whose drawings appear in almost everything about West Indian slavery.
But for those who don’t want their stories repackaged as art and/or entertainment, for those who really want it raw, Trinidad itself has out-Bocas’d Bocas. Who needs to hear Jacob Ross and Gillian Royes discuss Caribbean detective fiction (11am Friday, Old Fire Station) when they experience every day what a firetrucking fiction the art of detection is in Trinidad and Tobago. We have created a whole new police
classification: C.N-I.D, the Criminal Non-Investigation Department; indeed, we would have to modify all those three-letter television police squads to reflect our reality: CSI, Crime Scene Investigation, in Trinidad, becomes CSC, Crime Scene Contamination; DOJ, the Department of Justice keeps the same letters but translates to the Department of Jumbie; the Behavioural Science Unit becomes the Misbehavioural Science University; the Fraud Squad could keep its name, though, and we already understand that those of our police who are supposed to investigate murder are really on their Homeys Side. Finally, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is, in Trinidad, not a police unit, but a criminal one.
In that context, why would anyone have gone to hear Gillian Slovo talk yesterday about evolving from a crime to a literary writer when Trinidad itself has degenerated from a literary to a criminal landscape? Where we had Walcott we now have Robocop. Why go to the Old Fire Station to hear someone else talk about the imaginary thing when you could go to a market in Tunapuna, or a streetcorner in Chaguanas, or anywhere in Trinidad, really, and experience the real thing for yourself? It’s not so much crime fiction here as crime reality. Live. Or dead. Why dip your head into Gillian Slovo’s new book about South Africa when a man on South Quay will happily point a gun at it?
Who needs to hear Karen Lord and Daniel Jose Older talking with Lisa Allen-Agostini about speculative fiction (formerly sci-fi/fantasy, 10am Saturday, Old Fire Station) when they could see far more imagination used in the real killing of little black boys, with tangible and obvious results: the only thing you have to speculate about when you find the corpse of a teenager murdered in East Port of Spain nowadays is whether he was really black, or just appears so, since he was set on fire before being shot, and his cadaver looks more like somebody made a cook than a hit?
Even the very good film element of the NGC Bocas Literary Festival doesn’t compare with the reality T&T the rock ‘n’ roll band, jointpop, sings about. We have it corked, crime. Why bother go the NALIS AV room to check out The Terror and the Time, the 1977 documentary about colonialism in Guyana, examined via the poems of Martin Carter (2.30pm Friday), when you could log on to FaceBook and see multiple posts of the latest CCTV or cellphone camera footage of murder, robbery, child-beating and general mayhem?
Even at the very end of the comparison between literary festival and carnival of crime, crime takes the lead: the winner of the NGC Bocas Prize will get what is, for anybody named “writer”, the substantial sum of US$10,000.
But the winners of criminal turf battles in impoverished communities in Trinidad take home millions in private drug trade enterprise dollars.
And, through make-work schemes and make-as-eef schemes – and through direct, simple scheming itself – there is far more state support for the criminal than the literary enterprise.
BC Pires is not so much writing as writhing