The British Council in partnership with Bocas Lit Fest supported the participation of Afua Hirsch, at the 2018 staging of the festival from 25-29 April. Afua Hirsch is a writer, journalist and broadcaster. She is a columnist for The Guardian Newspaper, and a presenter on current affairs debate shows The Pledge on Sky News and Talk on CNN. She is the author of Brit(ish): on race, identity and belonging, published in 2018 by Jonathan Cape, and winner of the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Prize. Here is a brief documentation of her experience.
On the long flight from London to the 8th Bocas Literary Festival, I was reading a recent interview with Tony Martin. I had long been familiar with the famous Trinidadian historian’s work on Marcus Garvey, but was catching up with his more recent analyses of Obama, the American far right, and contemporary Black Nationalism. It recalled Stokely Carmichael’s work in The Myths of Coalition, interrogating the presumption that for historically oppressed minorities to enter into mainstream organisations represents true progress. Both of their famous works could easily have been written today.
It got me thinking about the enduring influence of Trinidadian thought and culture - the perfect context for arriving into the midst of its celebrated hub at Bocas; the Caribbean’s biggest festival of words, stories and ideas. The theme for this year’s festival was “island stories”, celebrating voices not just from the Caribbean, but islands across the world as diverse as Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Britain.
My first session on Friday 27th April - a one on one with the great Bocas founder Marina Salandy Brown - gave me an opportunity to talk about my book Brit(ish) with someone who understands both Caribbean and British identities, and, as a former BBC journalist, has been part of media as well as literary spaces. It also revealed the audience’s perspective on identity and belonging, through a lively set of questions about race, Empire, narrative and how to write and tell these stories - which for me, offered a first glimpse into what others at Bocas are engaged with, in their own thought and work.
On Sunday 29th April I joined a panel with Muli Amaye, Anthony Joseph, Debbie Jacob, chaired by with Alison Donnell, discussing “Reckoning with identity in the age of Trump and Brexit, and the Caribbean’s contribution to global culture”. It was a lively discussion by three very different writers; with Anthony’s incredible work on the life and love of Lord Kitchener, Muli’s captivating reading of a young black girl in Manchester, and Debbie’s analysis of America’s ignorance of the contribution and importance of Caribbean influence in the contemporary US. The audience - in line with the fearless atmosphere of the event - asked challenging and thought-provoking questions ranging from Brexit to the role of the British Council in post-colonial discourse.