The success of the internationally acclaimed Calabash Literary Festival hinged not only on the drive and expertise of Colin Channer and Kwame Dawes but on the sharp eye for detail and incredible work ethic of Justine Henzell (right, in photo above), who was never spotted at the annual Treasure Beach event without her walkie-talkie – and those flattering shorts. In the wake of the cancellation of Calabash, Henzell looks back on the moments from the traditional literary fest that never fail to make her face light up.
Calabash expanded my world and my skills in ways I didn’t even imagine. Working with Kwame [Dawes] and Colin [Channer] taught me a tremendous amount. Calabash put Treasure Beach on the world map as a mecca for book lovers globally and the community gave it love in return. It filled me with pride to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jamaican organisers and audiences are capable of greatness together.
How difficult was it to agree to a decision for its cancellation?
What are your fondest memories of the festival you take from the past 10 stagings?
There are so many! Kwame opening the festival on time every year for ten years with his special welcome. The audience of thousands laughing when the US Poet Laureate Billy Collins read his poem “Suddenly.” Escorting Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka to the Calabash stage. Seeing Mervyn Morris’ silver beard in the audience every year. Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz reading together on a rainy night. Jamaican poet/author Kei Miller making me laugh so hard I had tears in my eyes. Watching Tent City put up tents, with John DaCosta supervising the placement. Watching Colin Channer put out thousands of white chairs precisely in place. When Staceyann Chin read at the first Calabash on the first night and was embraced by Muta afterwards. Tarrus Riley, Etana, Chalice, Rootz Underground and Tony Rebel’s performance at Calabashment. Watching my niece dance to the Calabash Acoustic Ensemble as the sun set. Saying the farewell prayer with Colin and Kwame on Sunday afternoons, tired and happy.