March 26, 2009

An Open Letter to the Hon. Bruce Golding, Prime Minister of Jamaica

Update: March 28, 2009---Calabash is back on!

From Justine Henzell:

Miracles happen. At Calabash we’ve always known this to be true. At the first Calabash in 2001, a flock of yellow butterflies hovered like a mist over the festival tent on the first day. They stayed with us until the final day, when they disappeared. What could that have been but a miracle?
On Friday, March 27, we experienced our most recent miracle.
Due to an amazing outpouring of sadness, disappointment, and disbelief from all around the world the government of Jamaica has restored our funding for 2009.
Calabash 2009 is on!
In addition to the restored allocation from the government we’ve received a hefty three-year grant from a philanthropic agency. Our present and future are secure.

27 March, 2009

The Hon. Bruce Golding
Prime Minister of Jamaica

Dear Mr. Golding,

Since its founding in 2001, the Calabash International Literary Festival has played a huge and invaluable role in promoting the work of Jamaican and Caribbean writers, and exposing new audiences to the region's literary heritage. Calabash is now considered the major event on the Caribbean's literary calendar, and is celebrated internationally not just for the calibre of the world-class writers who participate in the festival, but for its uniquely Jamaican energy and verve.

Further, by insisting that attendance at Calabash remain free, its organisers have ensured that Jamaicans from all backgrounds can participate. And the festival is a remarkable model for sustainable community-based tourism, with direct benefits to the people of Treasure Beach and the rest of St. Elizabeth.

It is shocking and deeply disappointing, therefore, to hear that the 2009 Calabash Festival has been cancelled due to insufficient funding. The rewards of Calabash -- to its audiences, to the region's literary culture, and to Jamaica's international reputation -- far outstrip the financial costs of staging the festival. Jamaica, like many other countries, now faces difficult economic circumstances, and Jamaica's leaders are forced to make difficult decisions about financial priorities. However, we respectfully suggest that allowing Calabash 2009 to be cancelled is not in the best short- or long-term financial interests of Jamaica.

It is impossible to quantify the Calabash Festival's contribution to Caribbean literature, and to the promotion of books, reading and education. But a glance at the international press coverage of the festival over the last eight years, and at the numbers of foreign visitors in attendance, gives a sense of how effectively Calabash showcases Jamaica's culture to the world. Most of all, Calabash has been an economic lifeline to the people of Treasure Beach and other communities in St. Elizabeth. They are the ones who will suffer most from its cancellation.

We the undersigned -- writers, editors, publishers, and literary scholars from across the Caribbean and further afield -- therefore urge you to reconsider how your government and its agencies can support Calabash 2009, in the hope that it is not too late for the festival to proceed as planned. We believe the question is not whether Jamaica can afford Calabash, but rather how Jamaica can afford to let it disappear. Now, more than ever, this cultural asset needs and deserves and will repay Jamaica's investment

Yours respectfully,


Nicholas Laughlin
Geoffrey Philp
Sasenarine Persaud
Lasana M. Sekou
Opal Palmer Adisa
Dear Reader,

If you would like to add your name to the open letter, leave a comment with your full name below. I'd really appreciate it and please pass this post on to all your friends in your distribution list.



FSJL said...

I support this wholeheartedly.

FSJL said...

It is worth noting that the Minister of Tourism is a graduate (and former head boy) of the St Elizabeth Technical High School (he's from Westmoreland), and should have some concern for the development of the parish.

Marcia Mayne said...

Thanks for doing this, Geoffrey!
I am profoundly saddened by this. Contemplating where to pour my outrage. Maybe can turn it into a way to raise some $$$ for them. Am still going, festival or no festival (I pray there is one. Correction: There will be one!).
How can the govt/JTB put extra money into the Jazz and Blues Festival and shortchange Calabash?
Our priorities are seriously out of whack.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine not having the Calabash festival. I hope that this letter will move the powers-that-be to reverse the decision.

Anonymous said...

Add my name too, please. I've been a guest writer at Calabash, and I've seen the magic they are able to produce with some support. Calabash brings together wordsmiths in every genre, from reggae music to science fiction, from Jamaica and elsewhere. It treats us all with love and respect, and gives us an eager Jamaican audience. In its few short years, Calabash has become a Jamdown literary tradition that I am happy to big up anywhere in the world as an example of my birthplace's generosity and its artistic vision and foresight. Please don't destroy the vision.

JAJurnywmn said...

Thanks Geoffrey for placing attention on the matter. Trust Jamaica to not understand it's own worth. Bloody Shame! What is the real excuse!!? Can JA not take a page from Ms Lou and "tun we han mek fashin". Next year, launch a competition to erect the festival venue and make it a model "sustainable" new age wattle and daub city and it will do double duty as a tourist destination and create some jobs down there. We have a wealth of sun. Green people in the US are purple with envy at our year round resource of sunshine. It's a bloody shame! As for this year, outside of holding said govt min. upside down and shaking out the pockets what choices do you have? It would be cool to approach more than one corporate sponsor to spread the burden: JPS to absorb power costs for a weekend and so on. Maybe the culture min. -- if this person is in tune with life -- could approach some coporate sponsors on behalf of the festival. Lastly though Geoffrey do you think posting the areas of gravest need on your blog might be a motivator to raise some $$$ in the next two weeks? Boy oh boy. What a shame having a govt blind to our attempts to nurture ourselves. It's madness!

Anonymous said...

I most definitely will lend my support to this effort to encourage the Minister of Tourism to rethink his decision regarding the Calabash Festival. This event has provided a wealth of literary enlightenment and revenue for the area of TB, as well as an enormous amount of pleasure, fun and creative stimulation to the attendees of this Event. It would be a great disservice to both parties if this vision is interrupted, and it would be a shame if the positive efforts of the organizers are thwarted.

Unknown said...

CALABASH put us at another level. It proves Jamaica and the Caribbean as a literary entity. Support, don't extinguish, this event; do not kill our own written word.

Music festivals appeal to entrepreneurs who want to "make a buck", but in words and literature, there is power. We have to support this festival to nurture the West Indian literary voice. If we do not do for ourselves to give our peoples' stories to the world, then who will? It is my hope that Mr. Golding and his party is wise enough to discern the potential benefits of sustaining Calabash.

annec said...

Thanks for this initiative. This is a unique festival that showed a different side of Jamaica in so many ways. Lets all be praying for a change of position and a loosening of wallets. I can't believe that a festival of this calibre would be cancelled because of such a small sum of money relative to the millions that are spent on other promotions.

Unknown said...

I am disappointed beyond measure. This is to be my first Calabash experience, and I am in disbelief that ‘someone’ saw it necessary to ensure that it would not take place. I specifically selected my summer school courses (overseas) so that I would be able to attend the festival without missing any classes. Thus, deciding to overload my schedule during the latter part of the semester. I was married at Calabash Bay last July and have been longing to return for the ambiance, people, food, and just general mellow vibes of Treasure Beach. How is it that a country significantly reliant on tourism chooses to sabotage its very lifeblood by failing to ensure that an uplifting, meaningful, profitable (for Treasure Beach and surrounding communities) community such as Calabash is not fully supported? We are in an economic downturn, but our response should not exacerbate the situation. Rather, we should identify, promote and fund those programs that have a positive impact both socially and economically. Who will answer to the people of Treasure Beach that rely heavily on the revenues generated from the patrons of the festival? Who will assure the various authors and patrons that Jamaica is serious about intellectual development and stimulation? Who will trust the JTB to do what is best for the positive and productive development of the country?

Unknown said...

I can't believe, in this day and age, after all the government talk all over the region, and the supposed "nurturing our culture and communities" - that a government doesn't recognize the value of the unique Calabash Festival! Even if it is for the tourism value, at least! I whole-heatedly support any effort to keep it alive. Shame on leaders without vision. If the festival really can't afford the artists - I do hope whoever is in Jamaica or can afford to get there somehow, and the great audience who have enjoyed it year after year, still gather to celebrate and protest through media and writing.
More fire - you can't keep a good thing down!

Anonymous said...

Please add my name to the list of Calabash supporters.


Anonymous said...

I also support your open letter to PM Golding.

--Anita Waters
Soc/Anth and Black Studies
Denison University
Granville, OH

CassMac Foundation said...

We sat and watched manufacturing companies close their doors in Jamaica and move their business to a more business-friendly Caribbean country. Are we going to do the same thing with our literature? This festival is of utmost importance to Jamaica. Mr. Prime Minister, please take immediate action to save it NOW!!

clarabella said...

On the road now, so communications irregular. Due to be so for a while. Please add my name, Geoff. Calabash is very important. 1Love

Anonymous said...

Your letter says it all, Geoffrey. I had been so looking forward to Calabash 2009 - I can't believe it's been cancelled. I've been to the last 5 and each year is better than the one before. JTB gave US$500,000 to Jazz Fest. They are so short sighted. Don't they understand the value of Calabash? We have to get out there and tell them.

Kathy Stanley said...

It would a cultural tragedy to see the loss of Calabash. I support all efforts to make sure the festival is continued. Thanks for your advocacy efforts.

AnnaB said...

For several in Jamaican the chance to attend an international literary festival may be the catalyst they need to launch an interest in literature. Are we stifling a Lorna Goodison in the making? Where is the TEF? Can't it help to fund this? Come on Gov't! Support it.

Anonymous said...

The Calabash literary festival is truly a gift for individuals to share their talent. I am glad Jamaica realised the potential of people and made this an open event for individuals to share their thoughts and experience. Only in Jamaica can you embrace such art of that calibre, I love it! I look forward to it every year since 2001 It is always well received by the audience who enjoys every moment of it as they get lost into what is being said.

I emplore anyone and everyone to visit Jamaica and attend the Calabash Literary Festival. As it is a unique and respected experience

Anne said...

Where be the presumtion/(u)ousness??

Marlene Soares-Long said...

Please add my name. Mr Golding doing this is helping the parish that his mother is from. She is from a community not far from where Calabash occurs. This festival would not only be a boost to the island, but to the surrounding communities in St. Elizabeth, which need the financial boost. Most of the people earn their living by farming, fishing, or from making crafts. How do I know? His mother was my grandmother's sister and I am from the Southfield area.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Marlene Soares-Long,


Thankfully, the issue has been resolved.

Give thanks for your support.