Looking back at the 2017 Literary Festival – “Telling Our Stories”

By Cathy Buffonge

For the past nine years the University of the West Indies Open Campus here in Montserrat has been organizing an inspiring Literary Festival. Led by Campus Head Gracelyn Cassell, the Festival is dubbed Alliouagana Festival of the Word after Montserrat’s original Amerindian name, and takes place in November each year. Last November’s Festival was entitled “Telling our Stories” and as the name suggests focused on all aspects of storytelling.

For the first time the Festival teamed up with the Ministry of Education’s Reading Week, and this featured an impressive Book Parade in which children from each school wore costumes depicting storybook characters. The parade started in Carr’s Bay area and ended at the Basketball Complex in Little Bay, with a host of imaginative costumes. In addition some of the visiting storytellers from the “Lit Fest” visited the schools and met with school children for stories and interactive discussions.

The big event on the Thursday afternoon was the Memorial Symposium, continuing the annual lecture series held in recognition of Montserrat’s hero and international singing star, the late Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell. For the first time the symposium started at 2pm, in order to facilitate school children’s attendance, and this did attract a good number from three schools, some of whom participated well in discussions.

The symposium featured seven resource persons from the Caribbean and further afield, all touching on storytelling from different angles. The keynote speaker was Dr Amina Blackwood- Meeks from the Edna Manley College in Jamaica. In her presentation “Forgetting we-self”, she pointed out that here in the Caribbean we are still singing about “dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh” instead of focusing on themes more relevant to the Caribbean.

Jamaican storyteller and dramatist A-dZiko Simba Gegele, well known locally, told an entertaining story, while Antiguan bookshop owner and reading promoter Barbara Arrindell, a long time supporter of the Festival, spoke on “Presenting our history”, and also played a part in other sections of the Festival.

Other speakers included Nicole Plummer from UWI, Jamaica, who spoke on “Constructing knowledge through storytelling”, Wendy MacBurnie from Howard University on “Filmic folklore and storytelling in Slumdog Millionaire”, and Gracelyn Cassell herself, the main organizer of the Festival,  whose topic was “Hot Hot Hot: Arrow’s story revisited”. Akini Gill from the University of Trinidad and Tobago talked about his personal experience growing up as an unrecognized dyslexic, and how he now teaches children with learning disabilities through music.

Friday saw the official opening of the Festival, starting with a reception hosted by Montserrat’s then Governor, HE Elizabeth Carriere. Welcome remarks at the opening were given by Minister of Health Hon Delmaude Ryan, the official Patron of the Festival, and there was enjoyable entertainment from Montserrat’s traditional Masquerades and from three of our veteran calypsonians, Cupid, Tabu and Belonger.

A highlight of the opening was the launch of two books. Claytene Nisbett presented her book “Life as Josephine”, depicting the life of a young black girl as she grows up in the US and later in the UK. Sarah Dickinson presented her new book “Plenty Mango”, illustrated by her husband, John Renton. In the book she takes a sardonic and light hearted but sympathetic look at many aspects of Montserrat life, with several well known characters being mentioned.

The weekend was as usual full of interesting activities and presentations. A new feature of the Festival was an imaginative dramatization of the children’s book “Who’s in Rabbit’s House?” This was organized and coordinated by Pat “Belonger” Ryan with support from parents, especially Mr and Mrs Rolando Kassie. Children took the parts of the various animals in the story, which was narrated by Hayley-Shai Kassie in front of creative scenery made by parents and the “house” built by Kirk Brade.

Another new and quite challenging event was a spelling and reading competition for children, entitled “Spell-like a champion”. This was sponsored by book publishers Harper Collins, whose first time involvement in the Festival was greatly appreciated, and who generously donated books for the prize winners and other children. The event was coordinated by Barbara Arrindell and librarian Sonja Smith.  

There was also a dramatic event put on by Brandelle Knight and a group of secondary students and these all received books donated by CODE (Canadian Organization for Development through Education) who have been another sterling supporter of the Lit Fest.

An annual feature of the Festival is the prize giving ceremony for the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) creative writing competition. This year the children, and some adults, competed to write poems on the theme “Restless Earth”. There were over 170 entries, many of them illustrated, so the judges had an extremely hard job, as there was a high standard throughout. Prize winners read their poems to an appreciative audience. The competition was ably coordinated by MVO information/ outreach officer Natalie Edgecombe.

There were several other interesting sessions during the weekend conducted by Sarah Dickinson, Barbara Arrindell, A-dZiko Simba and Nigerian born author/ story teller Atinuke Akinyemi, who kept the audience spellbound. Well known Trinidadian comedian Paul Keens-Douglas wrapped up the Festival with his lively performance “Let’s tell stories”.

As usual a host of interesting books for children and adults, many of them with Caribbean themes, were on sale at the UWI bookstall, and also from Barbara Arrindell’s Antigua bookshop, Best of Books. There was a lovely display of crafts by Juliana Meade, and as always Claude Browne’s bouncy castle was there for the children’s enjoyment.

“Word up”, now an annual event (originally coordinated by Coretta Ryan and her sister, former Festival Queen Sharissa Ryan), was held at the Community College and was reported to be a well attended and lively event, with young people reading and performing their writing creations

I would like to encourage as many people as possible, especially teachers and their students, to attend the Alliougana Festival every year. Most of the presenters come down for just a few days and this is a unique opportunity to listen to what they have to say and interact with them. It was good to have more participation from school children this time. Well done to Miss Cassell and her hard-working staff and volunteers.

Continued funding assistance from the Montserrat Arts Council and the Montserrat Foundation was a great help, as was fundraising in Toronto and Montreal by Mary Glavassevich and Evans Lewis respectively. Thanks too to Radio Montserrat for helping promote the Festival, and to those who provided accommodation free of charge to the visiting presenters. Committee Chair, Gracelyn Cassell extends sincere thanks to the hard-working members of the Steering Committee and to the Sponsors and Partners, old and new for making the 9thAlliouagana Festival of the Word possible.

One Response to “Looking back at the 2017 Literary Festival – “Telling Our Stories””

  1. Amina Blackwood Meeks says:

    Miss Cathy Buffonge,
    I came across this article quite by chance. I read the entire article and noted the one paragraph purporting to be a report on the keynote address. To reduce my presentation to a reference to a North American christmas carol would have been a great dis-service in and of itself. But since I made not one single reference to any Carol from any part of the world, nor did I even hint of what themes such carols should carry, I have to conclude that either you were not at the presentation of did not hear a word that I said. I am referring this matter to the organisers of the festival because of the serious damage which falsehood has done. I shall be apprising them of what measures I intend to pursue.

    Amina Blackwood Meeeks

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By Cathy Buffonge

For the past nine years the University of the West Indies Open Campus here in Montserrat has been organizing an inspiring Literary Festival. Led by Campus Head Gracelyn Cassell, the Festival is dubbed Alliouagana Festival of the Word after Montserrat’s original Amerindian name, and takes place in November each year. Last November’s Festival was entitled “Telling our Stories” and as the name suggests focused on all aspects of storytelling.

For the first time the Festival teamed up with the Ministry of Education’s Reading Week, and this featured an impressive Book Parade in which children from each school wore costumes depicting storybook characters. The parade started in Carr’s Bay area and ended at the Basketball Complex in Little Bay, with a host of imaginative costumes. In addition some of the visiting storytellers from the “Lit Fest” visited the schools and met with school children for stories and interactive discussions.

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The big event on the Thursday afternoon was the Memorial Symposium, continuing the annual lecture series held in recognition of Montserrat’s hero and international singing star, the late Alphonsus “Arrow” Cassell. For the first time the symposium started at 2pm, in order to facilitate school children’s attendance, and this did attract a good number from three schools, some of whom participated well in discussions.

The symposium featured seven resource persons from the Caribbean and further afield, all touching on storytelling from different angles. The keynote speaker was Dr Amina Blackwood- Meeks from the Edna Manley College in Jamaica. In her presentation “Forgetting we-self”, she pointed out that here in the Caribbean we are still singing about “dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh” instead of focusing on themes more relevant to the Caribbean.

Jamaican storyteller and dramatist A-dZiko Simba Gegele, well known locally, told an entertaining story, while Antiguan bookshop owner and reading promoter Barbara Arrindell, a long time supporter of the Festival, spoke on “Presenting our history”, and also played a part in other sections of the Festival.

Other speakers included Nicole Plummer from UWI, Jamaica, who spoke on “Constructing knowledge through storytelling”, Wendy MacBurnie from Howard University on “Filmic folklore and storytelling in Slumdog Millionaire”, and Gracelyn Cassell herself, the main organizer of the Festival,  whose topic was “Hot Hot Hot: Arrow’s story revisited”. Akini Gill from the University of Trinidad and Tobago talked about his personal experience growing up as an unrecognized dyslexic, and how he now teaches children with learning disabilities through music.

Friday saw the official opening of the Festival, starting with a reception hosted by Montserrat’s then Governor, HE Elizabeth Carriere. Welcome remarks at the opening were given by Minister of Health Hon Delmaude Ryan, the official Patron of the Festival, and there was enjoyable entertainment from Montserrat’s traditional Masquerades and from three of our veteran calypsonians, Cupid, Tabu and Belonger.

A highlight of the opening was the launch of two books. Claytene Nisbett presented her book “Life as Josephine”, depicting the life of a young black girl as she grows up in the US and later in the UK. Sarah Dickinson presented her new book “Plenty Mango”, illustrated by her husband, John Renton. In the book she takes a sardonic and light hearted but sympathetic look at many aspects of Montserrat life, with several well known characters being mentioned.

The weekend was as usual full of interesting activities and presentations. A new feature of the Festival was an imaginative dramatization of the children’s book “Who’s in Rabbit’s House?” This was organized and coordinated by Pat “Belonger” Ryan with support from parents, especially Mr and Mrs Rolando Kassie. Children took the parts of the various animals in the story, which was narrated by Hayley-Shai Kassie in front of creative scenery made by parents and the “house” built by Kirk Brade.

Another new and quite challenging event was a spelling and reading competition for children, entitled “Spell-like a champion”. This was sponsored by book publishers Harper Collins, whose first time involvement in the Festival was greatly appreciated, and who generously donated books for the prize winners and other children. The event was coordinated by Barbara Arrindell and librarian Sonja Smith.  

There was also a dramatic event put on by Brandelle Knight and a group of secondary students and these all received books donated by CODE (Canadian Organization for Development through Education) who have been another sterling supporter of the Lit Fest.

An annual feature of the Festival is the prize giving ceremony for the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) creative writing competition. This year the children, and some adults, competed to write poems on the theme “Restless Earth”. There were over 170 entries, many of them illustrated, so the judges had an extremely hard job, as there was a high standard throughout. Prize winners read their poems to an appreciative audience. The competition was ably coordinated by MVO information/ outreach officer Natalie Edgecombe.

There were several other interesting sessions during the weekend conducted by Sarah Dickinson, Barbara Arrindell, A-dZiko Simba and Nigerian born author/ story teller Atinuke Akinyemi, who kept the audience spellbound. Well known Trinidadian comedian Paul Keens-Douglas wrapped up the Festival with his lively performance “Let’s tell stories”.

As usual a host of interesting books for children and adults, many of them with Caribbean themes, were on sale at the UWI bookstall, and also from Barbara Arrindell’s Antigua bookshop, Best of Books. There was a lovely display of crafts by Juliana Meade, and as always Claude Browne’s bouncy castle was there for the children’s enjoyment.

“Word up”, now an annual event (originally coordinated by Coretta Ryan and her sister, former Festival Queen Sharissa Ryan), was held at the Community College and was reported to be a well attended and lively event, with young people reading and performing their writing creations

I would like to encourage as many people as possible, especially teachers and their students, to attend the Alliougana Festival every year. Most of the presenters come down for just a few days and this is a unique opportunity to listen to what they have to say and interact with them. It was good to have more participation from school children this time. Well done to Miss Cassell and her hard-working staff and volunteers.

Continued funding assistance from the Montserrat Arts Council and the Montserrat Foundation was a great help, as was fundraising in Toronto and Montreal by Mary Glavassevich and Evans Lewis respectively. Thanks too to Radio Montserrat for helping promote the Festival, and to those who provided accommodation free of charge to the visiting presenters. Committee Chair, Gracelyn Cassell extends sincere thanks to the hard-working members of the Steering Committee and to the Sponsors and Partners, old and new for making the 9thAlliouagana Festival of the Word possible.