COVID cancels Calabash, again

BY RICHARD JOHNSON, Observer senior reporter

For the second year running, the Calabash International Literary Festival will not be held in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, due to the ongoing global health crisis.

The biennial event was originally scheduled for May 2020, but the organisers of the event were forced to reschedule to May 2021. However, due to the fact that the pandemic has continued, the event will not be held this year. the new date is May 2022.

“We are just not in a position to stage the festival at this time,” said Justine Henzell, executive producer of the event, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

“We still can’t at this time. So, Calabash is off for this year. We don’t want to limit audience numbers… that goes against what we would want for the event. And based on where we are with the virus in Jamaica, there is no way the Government is going to give us the go-ahead to have thousands of people congregating at an event,” she continued.

While a number of entertainment events have been taking the virtual route due to the pandemic and the resulting ban on mass gatherings, Henzell noted that this format will not work for the literary festival.

“One of the big things that Calabash prides itself on is what it does for the rural, seaside, fishing community of Treasure Beach. The entire community gets involved with Calabash, so a virtual staging just wouldn’t work for us… it just doesn’t do our festival justice, so that’s not an option for us. Everybody is understanding: the authors, our sponsors and the patrons. We all want the in-person staging and that is just not possible at this time,” Henzell noted.

This year’s staging would have marked the 20th anniversary of the Calabash International Literary Festival, which was founded in 2001 by novelist Colin Channer, poet Kwame Dawes, and Henzell. Over the years, an impressive raft of literary greats has presented at the festival. They include late Nobel laureate Sir Derek Walcott, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Man Booker Prize winner Jamaican Marlon James, British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, famous for his best-selling work The Satanic Verses, which sparked a major controversy provoking protests from Muslims in several countries.

Photo – A section of the audience at a previous staging of the Calabash International Literary Festival/Observer File

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