Kingston Book Festival: Celebrating the Creative City, Nurturing a Love of Books


The Kingston Book Festival is about to spring into action, for the fifth year.

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The first public (free) event will be on Sunday, March 6 at 11:00 a.m. – Love Affair With Literature 5 at the N1 Lecture Theatre, Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona campus. Beloved Jamaican author Olive Senior will be reading (and perhaps giving us a taste of her new book, The Pain Tree, which she will be launching here on Thursday March 8). Writer-in-Residence at UWI Vladimir Lucien, whose début poetry collection Sounding Ground won the 2015 OCM Bocas Caribbean Prize for Literature, will also be reading. I interviewed Lucien recently and you can read it here: https://globalvoices.org/2016/02/15/an-unapologetic-independent-thinker-a-conversation-with-st-lucian-poet-vladimir-lucien/ They will be joined by Jamaican writer and winner of the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean Literature A-dZiko Simba Gegele and poet Mel Cooke – both published by the local Blue Moon Publishing. What a bright and lovely start to the week!

The 2016 edition of the Kingston Book Festival will tap into the expertise of Canadian publisher Michael Katz (Tradewind Books) and Troy Johnson, founder and president of the African American Literature Book Club who will join Chair of the  Latoya West Blackwood in a panel discussion hosted by new Film Commissioner for Jamaica and Manager of the Creative Industries Renee Robinson at JAMPRO

The final event will be the Kingston Book Fair (10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) at Devon House on Saturday, March 12. Like the vast majority of events throughout the festival, these activities are free and open to the public; but please – bring a little money with you to buy books!

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As they say, the Festival is “bigger and better” this year, with a total of 30 events over eight days – and fifty-plus writers. Something for everyone, indeed – including important discussions on the Business of Books, Storytelling for Social Change and much more. You can download the full schedule at http://bookindustryja.com/event/kingston-book-festival/ and follow the Festival on Instagram and Twitter @kgnbookfest. The Facebook page is updated frequently with further information.

Latoya West-Blackwood enjoying those books. I recognize her surroundings - my lovely neighborhood bookstore, Bookophilia1
Latoya West-Blackwood enjoying those books. I recognize her surroundings – my lovely neighborhood bookstore, Bookophilia!

I fired a few questions at Latoya West-Blackwood, CEO of iPublish Consultancy and iMagiNation Books. West-Blackwood chairs the Book Industry Association of Jamaica (BIAJ) and spearheads this ambitious project, along with Festival Chair, writer Kellie Magnus.

Tell us a bit about the history of Kingston Book Festival. How did it happen?

I joined the board of the BIAJ officially in May 2013. This was also the year of my first festival. I will say that the Festival has its genesis in the need to collectively showcase our industry. The BIAJ is unique. It represents all major players in the industry – including publishers, authors, booksellers and distributors. We use this Festival as a platform to leverage this unique relationship in engaging audiences and potential partners, while highlighting the work we continue to do in promoting literacy and the habit of reading.

Jamaican poet Tanya Shirley reads at Kingston Book Festival 2013. (Photo: susumba.com)
Jamaican poet Tanya Shirley reads at Kingston Book Festival 2013. (Photo: susumba.com)

What is the philosophy behind the Kingston Book Festival?

The BIAJ’s mandate is really to promote reading and literacy; we take this mandate very seriously. The Festival recognizes, however, that reading is a habit, and that habit is nurtured by a genuine love of books. We would like the Festival to provide fertile ground where this love of books can grow and flourish. We would also like readers, writers and even those interested in a career in the book industry to find nourishment in this soil!

What are you most excited about at Kingston Book Festival 2016?

I am most excited by the idea of truly celebrating the creative capital of Jamaicans. In 2015, we again saw Jamaican authors dominating the global space and winning several prestigious awards. Marlon James’ Man Booker victory was just one of them. [Kei Miller and Claudia Rankine  also won the Forward Prize in poetry, the UK’s biggest poetry prize, “back to back.”] Though we’ve always known how good we are, it feels as if we are now in a moment, one that we must seize and make the most of. I am also excited by the growing number of young people who are blogging and writing in general. They are showing us the potential of merging new media with traditional modes. 

The Creative Cities Network is currently formed by 116 Members from 54 countries covering seven creative fields: Crafts & Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music and Media Arts. Kingston falls under Music - but other arts are flourishing in Jamaica's capital. (Photo: UNESCO)
The Creative Cities Network is currently formed by 116 Members from 54 countries covering seven creative fields: Crafts & Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music and Media Arts. Kingston falls under Music – but other arts are flourishing in Jamaica’s capital. (Photo: UNESCO)

Kingston has been designated a Creative City by UNESCO. What does this mean to you? How do you think the Book Festival can tap into this?

Kingston has long been the Caribbean’s Creative City. The UNESCO declaration makes it official. Our music continues to inform the charts internationally. We have a natural vibe that inspires others and ignites the imagination. While we celebrate, we must get serious about investing in the Creative City. Safe and curated spaces for creatives are a must in the plans for the renewal of downtown. The private sector and government must see this UNESCO Declaration as more than a “feel good” symbol. We must all partner to properly position Kingston for the creative capital that is waiting to be unearthed. The Kingston Book Festival has led the way for five years now, and we intend to continue to improve and expand each year. We have done tangible things like seeking out private sector partners, who help us to showcase the best of Kingston during the Festival. Our opening cocktail will be at F&B Downtown, an eclectic and charming space in the heart of the City.

What are your thoughts on the health of the book business in Jamaica? What are the challenges and opportunities?

The business of books is a global one with local realities. That’s my view. I never operate solely in a Jamaican state of mind when it comes to my view of publishing. Jamaica has been a predominantly textbook market; but that is changing as Jamaican readers have started to demand more locally produced and culturally relevant content. It is now up to publishers, writers etc to employ new strategies to create an audience for the content they wish to produce.

Some challenges of note include the harsh economic climate which is in no way unique to our industry, rapidly changing technology and accessing investments and financing to execute projects. The challenges can also be opportunities, in that the economic climate has pushed more of us to increase efficiency and get the most out of our usually small teams. Technology has boosted innovation in packaging and marketing content and has also aided audience engagement – not limited to the shores of Jamaica.

West-Blackwood would like to see the Kingston Book Festival become a street book fair, perhaps like this annual fair in Harlem, New York. (Photo: TripAdvisor)
West-Blackwood would like to see the Kingston Book Festival become a street book fair, perhaps like this annual fair in Harlem, New York. (Photo: TripAdvisor)

What are your plans for the future? How would you like to see the Kingston Book Festival develop in the future?

“My dream, my dream, my dream, my dream” (singing like Nesbeth!) is to see the Festival grow to a full street fair! I want to see whole families out in the streets of Kingston, perhaps close to the waterfront, reading, buying books and just enjoying the best of the programming we have to offer. From a business standpoint I would love to see the Kingston Book Fair continue to help our members improve and prosper. I also see Kingston Book Festival becoming the place to shop for rights and spot the hot new emerging talent from this space.

Publisher and children's book writer Tanya Batson-Savage gives an energetic reading at Trench Town Reading Centre. The children loved every minute of it! (My photo)
Publisher and children’s book writer Tanya Batson-Savage gives an energetic reading at Trench Town Reading Centre. The children loved every minute of it! (My photo)

Publisher and writer Tanya Batson-Savage (http://www.susumba.com), whose Blue Moon Publishing will be hosting some events at #KBF2016, comments in a release: “The creative economy has been highlighted as one of the significant growth areas for the Latin-America and the Caribbean with multilateral financial agencies such as the Inter-American Development Bank pointing out the “mindufacture” industries grew by over 134% and exports of up to US$646 billion in the last decade. Through its signature Kingston Book Festival, the Book Industry Association of Jamaica is seeking to strengthen the publishing sector through engagement of local and international players.” Batson-Savage is President of the Jamaican Writers Society (JaWS) and Chair of the Lignum Vitae Writing Awards.

Kingston Book Festival Chair and children's book author Kellie Magnus.
Kingston Book Festival Chair and children’s book author Kellie Magnus.

“The Kingston Book Festival is about the pleasure as well as the business of books,” says Festival Chair Kellie Magnus. “One of the key defining elements of the Kingston Book Festival is that it pays keen attention to strategies and opportunities for the development of the book industry. The KBF is about the pleasure as well as the business of books,” she added.

Yes, books – whether on your Kindle, your smartphone or on your bedside table – are a real joy. Discover the pleasure of reading – or if you have discovered, delve deeper, explore further.

Are you on Twitter? I will be moderating a chat with two Latoya West-Blackwood and Michelle Gordon on Tuesday evening - International Women's Day, March 8. Do join us! @kgnbookfest @petchary
Are you on Twitter? I will be moderating a chat with Latoya West-Blackwood and Michelle Gordon on Tuesday evening – International Women’s Day, March 8. Do join us! @kgnbookfest @petchary

 


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