LargeUp Interview: Kwame Dawes + Justine Henzell on Jamaica’s Calabash Festival

May 30, 2014


LU: Are there any new authors you are hoping people will discover at Calabash, Jamaican or otherwise?

KD: Some writers who people may not have heard from the Caribbean would be people like Millicent Graham, a poet who will be reading; Karen Lord, who is a relatively established writer and novelist but a lot of Jamaicans may not have heard of her. Roland Watson-Grant is probably the big find but I wouldnโ€™t say we discovered him. He has published one novel and has another coming out. Heโ€™s a very exciting young Jamaican writer and I think heโ€™s going to go places.

JH: Roland Watson-Grant is a fantastic talent. Another Jamaican/Nigerian, A-dZiko Simba Gegele, her young adult book just won a prize and she came out of the Calabash writers workshop. Saturday morning we have four Jamaican poets who are reading, and the newly installed poet laureate of Jamaica, Mervyn Morris. We have not had a poet laureate in Jamaica for over 50 years. He was just appointed a week ago and his first reading is going to be at Calabash.

LU: Anything you’re doing differently this year?

KD: One thing we do every year is a celebration of a great, historical reggae album. This year we’re doing Judy Mowattโ€™s Black Woman, she’s the first woman we are celebrating in that way. It is usually the climactic moment of the festival, where everybody gets up and dances. Itโ€™s a feelgood moment. And Judy Mowatt [is] actually coming to sing a couple of songs [with] Wayne Armond, Ibo Cooper, Steve Golding and the rest of the Calabash Acoustic Ensemble. Sheโ€™s been very enthusiastic about this effort. And listen man, Black Woman is historical. Itโ€™s a great album. For a woman producing that album at a time when so few women were in reggae, itโ€™s important. Artists like Etana and Jah 9 can take their hats off to Judy and the work sheโ€™s done as a pioneer.

JH: [On Friday] We have BeLo and Jah9, two singer songwriters, a man and a woman, a Haitian and a Jamaican, with very different styles but I think theyโ€™re going to be fantastic together. On Saturday night we have Prodigy for the beach party. Prodigy is an interesting story. Here is a hip-hop artist turned author turned publisher. We thought that was a fascinating journey. He is going to read his work on Friday night and perform on Saturday night.