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A decade of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest


Anna Walcott-Hardy

November 27, 2020

Trinidad and Tobago’s annual literary festival: a lively celebration of books, writers, writing, and ideas, with a Caribbean focus and international scope.  The National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NGC) is the title sponsor of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

Held every year in the heart of Port of Spain in the iconic National Library and Old Fire Station, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, with its parallel children’s festival, marks a decade in 2020. Named one of the 20 best literary festivals in the world by Penguin Random House in 2016, the festival has earned an international reputation in record time. Some of the greatest living writers have graced this intimate festival stage, such as St. Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, British sensations Irvine Welsh and Marina Warner, and Caribbean legends like Earl Lovelace, Olive Senior, Lorna Goodison, and Vahni Capildeo.

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest is known for spotting the next big talent in Caribbean writing, and has been the launching ground of many literary careers. In 2011, Marlon James gave the Bocas audience a preview from his then work-in-progress, a manuscript that would famously become the 2015 Man Booker Prize-winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. Other rising stars have moved from the Bocas New Talent showcase to publish debut work and grab prestigious international awards — among them, local poets Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, winner of the 2019 OCM Bocas Prize for poetry, and Shivanee Ramlochan, shortlisted for the 2018 Forward Prize.

In this small but vibrant country, there is a bubbling up of artistic talent and opportunity, and a quick look at the range of NGC Bocas Lit Fest activities shows how much there is on offer — writing workshops for all levels, new books launched by local writers every year, the epic First Citizens National Poetry Slams, run by Bocas partners the 2 Cents Movement, plus platforms for social change in high-level panel discussions, Extempo debates, and the witty performance commentary of the festival’s annual Ole Mas Competition.

For book-lovers and writers outside Port of Spain, Bocas hosted spin-off festivals in San Fernando, Chaguanas and Tobago, and helped revive U.WE Speak, the open mic series at the University of the West Indies campus, making a space for students to explore social issues through the arts. Plus every April the NGC Children’s Bocas Lit Fest storytelling caravan brings stories to life every weekend, all over T&T.

And most amazingly, nearly all these public events are free and open.