Co-Founder, Artistic Director
The Calabash International Literary Festival Trust
2a Bamboo Avenue #4
The Calabash International Literary Festival was founded in 2001 by three Jamaicans the novelist Colin Channer, the poet Kwame Dawes and the producer Justine Henzell. Their aim was simple—to create a world-class literary festival with roots in Jamaica and branches reaching out into the wider world.
A three-day festival of readings and music with other forms of storytelling folded in the mix, Calabash is earthy, inspirational, daring and diverse. After 10 successive years Calabash is now staged on a biennial basis on even years. All festival events are free and open to the public. Passion is the only price of entry. But voluntary contributions are welcomed.
The festival is produced by the Calabash International Literary Festival Trust (the Trust), which also produces publishing seminars and writing workshops. The Trust is affiliated with the Friends of the Calabash International Literary Festival, a registered 501(c)(3) corporation in the United States.
“Calabash is far and away the best literary festival I’ve ever attended or participated in.”
Russell Banks – author
“In keeping with the town’s anything-goes vibe, Calabash is free and open to the public. At each event, as many as 3,000 people ranging from local fishermen to New York literati gather at Jake’s, on a lawn by the sea, to listen and learn.”
- New York Times T Magazine May 2014
“ It’s the Calabash International Literary Festival, Jamaica’s unique, spirited take on the world of literary gatherings,….”
“(Salman) Rushdie said it’s no wonder that Calabash has steadily earned a name as a festival of choice for some of the world’s most gifted authors “It is an extraordinary event. The audience is big, extremely appreciative, very focused. And the setting is spectacular,” he told The Associated Press on Sunday, a day after he took to the stage to discuss his writings and career in front of an eager, diverse crowd of a few thousand people.”
Associated Press June 2014
“Treasure Beach is untouched and almost defiant in its beauty, which is why every two years numbers of authors and lovers of words travel to this stretch of land for Calabash Literary Festival. Founded in 2001, the festival draws in top literary figures from all over the world to Jakes Hotel, and this year was no exception.”
- Ebony June 2014
"Calabash is the sort of literary festival to whom the label “literary festival” applies only because there’s no neat phrase for “reggae-fied, rootsy-intellectual, interdisciplinary extravaganza for those who worship words, abhor pretension and believe that ‘smart’ and ‘fun’ need not be mutually exclusive."
"Calabash is, in a nutshell, all that's right with Jamaica"
- Wall Street Journal June 2010
“Why go to Hay-on-Wye and get your feet wet when you can head to Jamaica for rum punch and reggae at the world’s most frisky literary festival?”
- Conde Nast Traveller Oct 2014
Grandmothers in flowing gowns dance with girls in busty T-shirts. Novelist Bernice McFadden embraces a fan and bursts into tears. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka toasts the crowd with a glass of Jamaican Red Stripe, and the crowd — 3,000 strong, ranging from taxi drivers to college professors — erupts with joy. This is a literary festival?”
“In its 10th triumphal year, Calabash is one of the most improbable, beloved, literary-musical-human -gatherings in the world.”
- Boston Globe, Dec 2010
In a vast, Hay-sized festival marquee, packed from noon to night, an audience of several hundred devoured poetry, prose, debate and music with rapt attention as the waters of Calabash Bay lapped at the sands just behind the podium. Dawes – prolific poet, dramatist, professor and editor – upholds a "reggae aesthetic". But don't mistake that for easy populism. For all the mellow background beats, vernacular tradition and literary ambition mingle as sweetly here as rum and juice in the cocktail bar.
"We have a fantastic audience, and a wonderful vibe," as Dawes said in his valediction. "Somehow they transform into a community." Other festivals could learn so much from it.
The UK Independent June 2012
There's a stretch of beach in the small Jamaican fishing village of Treasure Beach where booths sell poetry books right alongside jerk chicken, and local villagers mix with international literati. On a weekend in late May, some 2,000 people sit entranced as author and poet Fred D'Aguiar reads them his work from a bamboo lectern.
This is Calabash, a three-day international literary festival that celebrates language with a distinctly Caribbean twist. And while everyone knows Jamaica as a mecca of music, the birthplace of Bob Marley and reggae, this decade-old event is putting the island on the art world's map for something else.
…the Jamaican festival has also raised the bar for lit fests in general — attend one Calabash and you may never see those other wine-and-cheese shindigs in the same way again.
NPR July 2012
“The island is a literary hotbed. Look up Calabash Literary Festival and Jakes and you'll uncover what is becoming a world-class celebration of books, with a funky fusion of music and spoken word.”
Toronto Star, June 2012
“In that instance, the divides of cultures, races and nations were collapsed, and people found their way around the idea of humanity, community and a shared struggle for what is right and proper in our world. It was, undoubtedly, a magical moment. We could not have timed it perfectly-the sea sparkled with an unreal brilliance, then softened as the sunset began to change the light behind the stage.”
South African Broadcasting Corporation, June 2012
“The island's first, and now largest such festival, is seen as a celebration of the spirit of the country. Musicians and authors from Jamaica and around the world attend the annual event to pay homage to the written and spoken word.”
Al-Jazeera English, June 2012
“The Calabash Festival was a unique experience for me. Writing is a solitary activity. You plunge deep inside yourself in search of feelings, memories and sensations. Your only confidante is your computer. It is no longer an inanimate object. It becomes a part of you. At Treasure Beach I was forced to meet people and new faces. I had to smile and converse with strangers. To my surprise, very soon it became a pleasure since I encountered so much interest and understanding in people who hardly knew me and who had just read one or two of my books. I had the feeling that I was discovering friends whom I did not know I had and that my life was becoming fuller and richer. I shall never forget reading my childhood memoirs under the pouring rain while the wind was turning the pages.
I would like to thank the organizers of the festival who made every moment so precious.”
- Maryse Conde author
"I think Calabash is one of the great festivals. A perfect blend of literature, music and audience. A brotherhood of cultures. You will never forget it or get over it"
- Michael Ondaatje author
“I had heard that Calabash was a major international literary festival, but I had no idea how 'major' or how 'international' until I participated in Calabash 2007. The knowledge and enthusiasm of the huge audiences made it a privilege to read before them. As writers we were treated regally throughout the event. The organizers have really achieved something both wonderful and unique. I'm very proud that such a festival exists in the Caribbean.”
- Caryl Phillips author
"So Much Things to Say, an anthology of poems read at the festival over its first decade, is a who’s who of international contemporary poetry"
- The Daily Beast, June 2010
“Calabash is easily the best literary festival we have covered - and we have covered a lot of festivals!”
- Rachel Harry – Book TV Canada
Calabash is a serious literary festival with serious literary merits. It combines this with good humour and merriment.
- Times Literary Supplement (UK)
Cameras were everywhere as documentary teams from Canada, the United States and Britain vied to cover the excitement — all of which suggests that, after five years, the Calabash International Literary Festival has come of age.
The Globe & Mail (Canada)
Where will you find a Malian writer waxing rhapsodically about Led Zeppelin, or a poet inspired by dancehall? Jamaica’s Calabash, based in a small fishing village, is a new sort of literary festival.
- The Independent On Sunday (UK)