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WORD VIEW: After Bim LitFest

Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW: After Bim LitFest

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This follow-up of the 2014 Bim LitFest was delayed as a result of my being in recovery mode. But I’ve also been taking advantage of the surge of creative energy that comes in the wake of such festivals by making good headway towards completing an overdue manuscript.
I have to say that the 2014 Bim Literary Festival & Book Fair has left me with an undiminished enthusiasm to continue this much-needed biannual literary event. Nothing, in my view, should be allowed to stand in the way of a national event that encourages reading, writing and love of books. All that is necessary should be done to facilitate the cross-fertilisation of ideas that have the capacity to stimulate the imagination and the intellect of both audience and participants.
Edward Baugh’s brilliant keynote address at the well attended opening ceremony on 15 May was memorable. Baugh’s address, Crossings And Crosses Of West Indian Literature, will be published in part in the coming November issue of Bim magazine.
Speaking of which, it was cause for celebration when the Honourable Stephen Lashley, Minister of Culture, Sport and Youth, announced that the continuation of Bim was now a matter of Cabinet approval. The Barbados Government must be commended for its foresight in keeping alive this major marker of Barbados’ literary heritage.
Another high point of the festival was the inaugural Bridgetown Literary Tour, which was an outstanding success, by all reports. The lifting of the Chamberlain Bridge and the crossing of the Honey Bea proved a moving experience for several of the spectators gathered on the bridge and in the Square. The symbolism of the “crossing” was further brought home by a reading accompanying the event.
Additionally, while some of the panel discussions held at the National Library Service could have been better attended, exchanges were lively and reflected much of what we were aiming for: people talking together across divisive issues such as ethnicity, race, culture and sexuality.
Participants enjoyed the writers’ workshops. In fact, Erna Brodber extended hers by a full hour after enthusiastic participants begged her to continue. A deeply moved Erna said to me afterwards, “some of the [written] responses were so good, they brought tears to my eyes. I’m going back [home] stronger.” Brodber and Edward Baugh’s readings at the Waterfront Café were unforgettable as well.
The Children’s Fair on Saturday 17 was an unqualified success. The image of happy children, parents, writers and performers gathered under tents, on stage and in the green spaces in Independence Square embodying the theme, Words Need Love Too, will long remain.
We experienced some difficulties with the Book Fair aspect of the festival, but we are aware of the shortcomings and will improve on them for 2016.
The above said, the point I really intend to emphasise in this article is the need for this literary festival to be properly funded. Not to support an event that aims to promote love of literature and improve the nation’s language and its analytical skills is a near-tragedy.
We understand that in difficult economic times bread becomes a priority. But while a hungry man is an angry man, an illiterate one may prove more dangerous to a society.
Furthermore, if entrepreneurship is to be encouraged, surely basic communication skills are necessary. If the corporate world complains daily about employees’ poor language skills, why fail to support a festival that attempts to correct the problem?
And please! I’m really tired of the hypocrisy of those who pretend not to understand the need for Barbadians to be “bi-lingual” (dialect and standard) when these same individuals are themselves proficient in the use of Standard English. And if such competency is not necessary, why even bother to include English language on the school syllabus?
The Minister of Education, the Honourable Ronald Jones, recently lamented the poor use of language as evidenced in the Common Entrance Examination. As if it wasn’t already known that eleven-year olds are entering secondary schools unable to read, and 16-year olds are leaving school just barely able to do so.
The Bim Literary Festival unapologetically celebrates good writing expressed through the wonderful gifts of the imagination. The festival also creates, through workshops and exposure to various readings as well as opportunity for book sales, a fantastic opportunity for national development.
Writers Ink thanks the sponsors who see the value of the Bim LitFest. This enterprise, from which everyone stands to benefit, is surely worthy of full national support.
• Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century.