Largely known as an in-demand travel destination due to its pristine white sand beaches, the island of Anguilla hasn’t quite emerged as a hub of artistic endeavor. But the small British territory is seeking to change that with its annual Literary Festival (LitFest), which is held over Memorial Day Weekend at Paradise Cove Resort.
ESSENCE joined this year’s LitFest—a combination of readings and workshops with authors such as Zane, Elizabeth Nunez, and former ESSENCE editors Stephanie Stokes-Oliver and Benilde Little, as well as local Anguillian talents like Alexis Ryan and Cimone Richardson, both winners of the country’s 2015 Malliouhana Poetry Competition. Since 2012, Anguilla’s efforts to nurture its artists, poets and writers have culminated with the LitFest, bringing them together with prominent American and Caribbean authors looking to share their insights on the world of publishing.
In one workshop attended by students from a nearby school and other community members, Zane shared tips on discipline, time management and honing your craft. The Addicted author talked about juggling her career and motherhood (she’s been the PTA president and a Boy Scouts leader all while working on her über popular novels), as well as the importance of giving back and helping other writers. Through developing her own imprint, Strebor Books International, Zane says she’s fulfilling her mission of “discovering and publishing the best in minority literature.”
Zane also imbued in the student participants a sense of urgency about reading. “How do you know what good writing is if you don’t read?” she queried the audience.
Over a lunch discussion, Trinadadian-American award-winning author Elizabeth Nunez spoke about the introspection and self-discovery that comes with writing a memoir. In the case of 2014’s Not for Everyday Use, Nunez contemplates the death of her mother and the lives her parents lived together—how they raised their children, how they loved each other, how they existed in the world. She encouraged attendees to find their truths through writing, while remaining open to uncomfortable revelations.
Some Anguillians shared that they were eager to tell their family stories through memoirs, in hopes of bringing light to the country’s rich, untold history.
Author Benilde Little, whose memoir Welcome to My Breakdown chronicles her descent into depression after the loss of her beloved mother, spoke candidly about the power of connecting with people through books. As a rule, she insists on purposeful writing, and advised against “writing just to write.” She encouraged Anguillians to figure out which stories they think would resonate deeply with a larger audience, and to pursue those. Little also gave thanks to the island (which figures prominently in her book), since it helped in her recovery after she sought solace there during her depression.
Writers from other Caribbean nations, such as novelist Joanne C. Hillhouse of Antigua, also played a part in the discussions, drawing on the vastness of voices from the African diaspora. In a side conversation, Hillhouse emphasized the significance of having role models to help nurture one’s writing spirit. Jamaica Kincaid, also from Antigua, provided that for Hillhouse—showing her the possibilities for a Black Caribbean woman in the literary world. Drawing ironically on this principle, Hillhouse was surprised to learn from one of the student participants that her book The Boy from Willow Bend, about an Antiguan boy finding his way through life, is required reading in some Anguillian schools.
The two-day festival helped forge connections between writers across cultures and backgrounds. Open to all who have a love of books and writing, next year’s festival will take place from May 19-22, 2016. For more information, visit anguillalitfest.com.