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Literary Heavyweights for Calabash Literary Festival 2018

Kwame Dawes co-founder and programming director of Calabash

Like moths seeking respite from the encroaching darkness, members of Jamaica's literati flocked to the lights of Redbones the Blues Cafe in n early April for the announcement of the 2018 Calabash Literary Festival. The announcement of the line up that will cover the black sands of Jakes in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth June 1-3, 2018, presented another impressive roster of writers from across the globe. 

The presence of famous and celebrated writers isn’t new to Calabash, but this year, they’ve made the decision to include an impressive roster of literary heavyweights who are not only writers but do significant work behind the scenes.

Jonathan Galassi publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux Jonathan Galassi will be in this year’s cool seat in conversation with Paul Holdengraber. Galassi is a poet and novelist and is also the publisher and president of prestigious New York press Farrar, Straus & Giroux (FSG). Galassi has worked with Farrar, Straus & Giroux for 30 years and during that tenure he’s worked with Derek Walcott, Jamaica Kincaid, Caryl Phillip and most recently Ishion Hutchinson.Kevin Young director of the Schomburg Center

Another literary weightlifter on this year’s roster is Kevin Young. A poet in his own right with 12 books proudly protruding from his belt, he’s also the Director of the Schomburg Center and the Poetry Editor at the New Yorker magazine. Young is also a Distinguished Professor at Emory University and in 2016 was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Though his arena is film, David Simon also joins the writers who has done impressive work beyond the glare of the limelight. A journalist and television producer, is the crater of HBO’s The Wire and is a MacArthur Fellow (2010). 

Another interesting element of the 2018 festival will Laurie Peters, Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica described as a “sisterhood of cultures” the 2018 Calabash will also include four poet laureates: Carol Duffy of the UK, Lorna Goodison (Jamaica), Georgette LeBlanc (Canada) and Tracy K. Smith (USA). 

Rivers Solomon (An Unkindness of Ghosts), Malika Booker (Pepper Seed), Ishion Hutchinson (House of Lords and Common), Warsan Shire (Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth and the poetry behind Beyonce’s Lemonade), Akala, and Safiya Sinclair (Cannibal) as well as Michael Imperioli bof the Sopranos) with his debut novel The Perfume Burned His Eyes are among this year’s line-up.

In addition to the writers who will be participating in the festival, the 2018 fest will also be celebrating three Caribbean greats: Don Drummond, Derek Walcott, and Kamau Brathwaite. While the celebration of Walcott will take place throughout the festival, the Brathwaite and Drummond celebrations will bookend the Sunday schedule. Sunday, June 3 will open with a tribute reading of Brathwaite’s The Arrivants while the Calabash Acoustic Ensemble will end the festival with ‘Valley Prince: A tribute to the genius of Don Drummond’.

The biennial 3-day festival is currently in its 14th staging but has been on the Caribbean literary landscape since 2001. One of the hallmarks of Calabash is that all events are free and open to the public. 

Co-founder and programming director Kwame Dawes notes that “Since we knew that we could not afford to pay these writers what they would normally charge it would be churlish of us to charge.” 

Dawes points out that the author donation of time and talent has reached in the millions of dollars since the inception of the festival.

So, as June 1 rolls closer, it’s important to remember that passion remains the only price of entry.