7 May

The 2009 Calabash Literary Festival, hosted nine years in a row (almost cancelled because of red tape and numbers in that ninth year), persevered and was held as always at the colourfully rustic Jake’s in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. The resort played host for three days to no less than the standard array of multi-national etymology experts that give you best the dictionary has to offer. This was my second year in attendance. I, stayed at my usual place, Ital Rest, with a proprietor that, it seems, should not have burnt her bra in the 60s – it would serve her quite well these days – and does not have company often and so every conversation is like reverse double-dutch: you’re weaving and bobbing, waiting for that split-second moment when you can get out.


A Cottage at Jake’s

I think Calabash was extra special because so many people didn’t think it was going to happen. Junot, Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Robert Pinsky, Xu Xi, Marilyn Chin, Stacey-Ann Chin, my former classmate Millicent Graham, the line-up this year was hot. Like Paris-Hilton-vote-of-confidence-hot. I, however, had a few fizzling moments that may warrant the query: “what was up with you?”


The Calabash Reading Stage

  • I arrived so late on Friday night (11:30 pm, and there was a good excuse) that I missed Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz. Was I aware that the festival started earlier? Yes. Was I doing anything all day Friday? Nope.
  • I knew I was going to my rustic Ital Rest – no electricity, mosquito nets over the beds, cold showers. I did not bring a flashlight. The backlight of a Blackberry Pearl is surprisingly bright however.
  • Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz came over to our (me, mom, and my sis) table and I did run in crazy butterfly pattern over to the bookshop and purchase their books and come back for autographs. It doesn’t matter that I hadn’t read any of their books yet. I’ve meant to, as soon as I get through all the other trillion books I keep meaning to read. But it’s the autographed copies, dammit; it’s all about the autograph.
  • I met Edwidge Danticat’s significant other, Fredo (or Fraideau, if he rolls like that) with their daughter, Mira, and asked him so many questions about their daughter, a little girl who could clearly speak for herself (she was 4), that he finally said, “She can speak.” Why didn’t I think of that? See, mothers, or those with the instinct, talk to children. My approach? They aren’t in their 20s, therefore they have nothing to contribute.
  • I ate from the long, exhausting buffet line manned by people wearing Jake’s shirts, thinking it would personalized, savory and flavourful. Ha!
  • I bought Robert Pinsky’s book – as a result of his reading, I will never look at a shirt the same way again – and went for the obligatory autograph. Marilyn Chin was also there, and there was an awkward double-dutch moment when I said I was here for Robert, she said “You want me to sign”, I revealed the Robert Pinksy book and she said “Oh, well, no, blah blah blah blah.” I didn’t know what happened.
  • I asked Robert Pinsky if I could send him something and he told me to have a professor of mine pick something and they would have his email. I walked away, was by the restaurant for about 20 minutes when it occurred to me: did he say he would give me an email? The autograph in the book was sans email. What had he said?! I went back to the autograph table and he repeated himself. The thing about me is that my charm always gets them later, despite those initial impressions of WTF.
  • I showed up late to the café conversation (I think that was Colin Channer‘s term) on the International Writers Residency at the University of Iowa and asked one of the first questions that had already been answered: yes, it is only for published writers. Really, I’m usually much more punctual.
  • My mother and my sister and even a professor that had recently looked at my work suggested I try something at open mike. What happened? I left all my printouts. Did I know I was coming to a literary festival? Yes, that was mentioned in the memo. Really, I’m usually much more organized.
  • And the coup de grâce of this lovely, literary weekend, the last cherry that brings the whole sundae tumbling down – at the lunch table with sister and mother and my 11-month old niece Isabel, I asked my sister if I could give Isabel a piece of Spicy Nacho Doritos. Yes, you heard correctly, 11 months old, spicy nacho fakeness. I’m an adult and I find the spicy nacho spicy. It’s a miracle I asked, I almost just did it on my own. My mother, who had missed this exchange, said she thought I was ready for children. Well, let’s test that theory: a few days later, while visiting said sister on the way home, I was changing my niece and I left her on the change table to get a onesy. This is the same niece who is very quick and big enough to roll over and dive off the change table if she felt like. I knew this before I stepped away on my onesy hunt, but I still did it. And my mother thinks I am ready for children. And why would that be, because I have ovaries. Oh contraire, Mother, contraire, ovaries does not a mother make.


The Calabash Bookshop

Shenanigans aside, Calabash was worth the 3-hour drive and constant search for food. Sitting under the tent, listening to writers from all over with every kind of story – the immigrant hustle, the language barrier, the historical recount, the lesbian trial and tribulation, the Buddhist connection to all things in the world – with the St Elizabeth coastline jutting and jagging behind them and the writers and listeners so appreciative of this event, this place, this time. It is a reminder of the power of passion, and pursuit, and that if you build it, they will come.


One Response to “Calabashness”

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