NGC Bocas Lit Fest

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest is the Trinidad and Tobago literary festival that takes place annually during the last weekend of April in Port of Spain. Inaugurated in 2011,[1] it is the first major literary festival in the southern Caribbean[2] and largest literary festival in the Anglophone Caribbean.[3][4][5] A registered non-profit company, the festival has as its title sponsor the National Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NGC).[6] Other sponsors and partners include First Citizens Bank, One Caribbean Media (OCM), who sponsor the associated OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, CODE (sponsors of the Burt Award), and the Commonwealth Foundation.[7][8]

NGC Bocas Lit Fest
Location(s)Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Founded2011; 10 years ago (2011)
FounderMarina Salandy-Brown
SponsorNational Gas Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NGC)

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest also works in collaboration with other international festivals and initiatives, and has hosted events showcasing Caribbean writing talent in New York,[9] at the Brooklyn Book Fair,[10][11] the Harlem Book Fair[12][13] and elsewhere in the US. In 2012, Bocas partnered with the Edinburgh World Writers Conference (EWWC) as part of a lineup of 14 countries delivering a multinational series of talks marking the 50th anniversary of the five-day meeting of "an impressive, sensational and sometimes scandalous group of writers" at the first Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama.[14] The Bocas Lit Fest was described by Claire Armitstead of The Guardian as "expansive in its cultural reach, reflecting a region that has responded to its own colonisation over the centuries by seeding its people to every continent".[15]


The Bocas Lit Fest organising team comprises Marina Salandy-Brown, founder and managing director; programme director Nicholas Laughlin,[16] editor of the Caribbean Review of Books and of Caribbean Beat; Funso Aiyejina, prize-winning author and dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine; Marjorie Thorpe, former professor of literature at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, independent bookseller Joan Dayal of Paper Based Bookshop;[17][18] Danielle Delon, editor of The Letters of Margaret Mann; local businesswoman Lucita Esau; and Patrice Matthews, a marketing and media professional.[19] In 2019 Rani Lakhan-Narace was appointed as president of the Bocas Lit Fest.[20]

The festival's name derives from the Spanish word for mouth, boca – the organ of speech and song and storytelling – while also referencing the Bocas del Dragón (the Dragon's Mouths), which are the narrow straits off Trinidad’s north-west peninsula that connect the Gulf of Paria to the Caribbean Sea. For centuries, the Bocas were the gateways connecting Trinidad to the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean.

The festival's strapline is: "Celebrating books, writers, and writing from the Caribbean and the rest of the world".

The main venues are the National Library (NALIS)[21] and the Old Fire Station, in downtown Port of Spain,[22] with satellite evening events at venues around the city.

There is also a full programme of activities for young readers, sponsored by KFC, and in the run-up to the festival storytelling events take place in Tobago, Couva, Chaguanas, San Fernando, Point Fortin, Mayaro and Arima.

A new venture is a year-round programme of events at The Writers Centre (TWC) at Alcazar Street, Port of Spain, and the 10th anniversary celebrations of Bocas in 2020 include plans for Caribbean writers with new books to participate in UK literary festivals as well as events at the British Library, Oxford University and the University of East Anglia.[20]


The Bocas Lit Fest was held for the first time in 2011 – from Thursday, 28 April to Sunday, 1 May[23] – including readings, panel discussions, workshops, film screenings and art exhibitions.[24] Attracting 3,500 attendances over the four days.[25] the festival reflected its founder's aims "to promote literature and publishing in Trinidad and Tobago and the need for Caribbean writing to be celebrated everywhere".[26]

The scores of writers taking part in the 2012 festival, both locally based and from abroad,[27] included Fred D'Aguiar, Earl Lovelace, Vahni Capildeo, Chika Unigwe, Monique Roffey, Kenneth Ramchand, Mervyn Morris, Achy Obejas, Rabindranath Maharaj, George Lamming, professor of genetics Steve Jones, Merle Hodge, Rahul Bhattacharya, and Michael Anthony. The festival featured readings, discussions, performances, workshops, screenings of films based on Caribbean writing and music.[28]

In 2013, the South+Central NGC Bocas Lit Fest, scheduled to take place annually in November, was inaugurated.[29][30] In November 2014, NGC Bocas Lit Fest South was hosted by Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA) in San Fernando, birthplace of the writer Sam Selvon, and the festival commemorated the 20th anniversary of his death.[31]

In 2014, "Festival Radio" was inaugurated, to "bring the festival experience to listeners around the globe",[32] as well as attracting "a lot of attention on social media, spurred on in part by the active new media presence of the festival itself".[33]


In February 2017 the Bocas Lit Fest was named as one of "the world’s very best literary events" in a list of "20 Best Literary Festivals Around the World That You Should Attend" chosen by Penguin Random House - The Writers' Academy, alongside other prestigious festivals including Hay, Edinburgh and Jaipur.[34][35][36]

Another accolade, from Jonathan Ford of the Financial Times in May 2017, noted: "In the seven years since Bocas launched, Caribbean writers have been heaped with international accolades — the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, four Forward Prizes for Poetry between 2014 and 2016, and a slew of National Book Awards. Virtually all the writers honoured — including Marlon James, Kei Miller and Vahni Capildeo — were first recognised at this extraordinary little festival in the tropics, a place that is only far away to those who refuse to read."[37]

Associated initiativesEdit

The OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean LiteratureEdit

The centrepiece of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest festival is the announcement at an award ceremony of the overall winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.[38] Entries for the prize are in the categories of fiction, non-fiction and poetry for a book by a Caribbean writer published in the previous year, with the overall winner being chosen by a panel of judges from the three genre winners. The winners have been: in 2011, Derek Walcott's poetry collection White Egrets, in 2012 Earl Lovelace's novel Is Just a Movie, in 2013 Monique Roffey's novel Archipelago, in 2014 Robert Antoni's novel As Flies to Whatless Boys, in 2015 Vladimir Lucien's Sounding Ground (poetry), in 2016 Olive Senior's The Pain Tree (fiction), in 2017 Kei Miller's Augustown (fiction), in 2018 Jennifer Rahim's Curfew Chronicles (fiction), and in 2019 Kevin Adonis Browne's High Mas (non-fiction).[39][40]

The Emerging Caribbean Writers Prize (formerly the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize)Edit

The Emerging Caribbean Writers Prize, formerly known as the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, is jointly administered by the Bocas Lit Fest and the creative writing organisation Arvon, and is an award that allows an emerging Caribbean writer living and working in the Caribbean to devote time to developing or finishing a literary work in-progress, with support from an established writer as mentor.[41] Sponsored by the Hollick Family Charitable Trust for a period of three years (2013–15), and announced at the Bocas Lit Fest in 2012 by Sue Woodford-Hollick,[42] the prize was awarded to writers in three literary genres over consecutive years: fiction in 2013; non-fiction in 2014; and poetry in 2015.[43][44] The first winner in 2013, for fiction, was Barbara Jenkins of Trinidad & Tobago.[45] The winner in 2014, for non-fiction, was Jamaican Diana McCaulay.[46] In 2015, the prize was awarded to poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné.[41]

The Bocas Henry Swanzy AwardEdit

The Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters (named after the influential producer of the BBC radio programme Caribbean Voices that ran from 1943 to 1958) was inaugurated at the 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest,[47] as an "annual lifetime achievement award to recognise service to Caribbean literature by editors, publishers, critics, broadcasters, and others".[47][48] In 2013 the award was made to John La Rose (posthumously) and Sarah White of New Beacon Books.[49][50] In 2014, the award was jointly won by Professors Kenneth Ramchand and Gordon Rohlehr.[51] The 2015 recipient was Margaret Busby.[52][53][54] The 2016 award went to Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press.[55][56] In 2017 the award went to Joan Dayal, the owner of one of Trinidad and Tobago's leading independent bookshops, Paperbased Book Store.[57] The 2018 honor went to Anne Walmsley, previously an editor and publisher for Longman Caribbean and Africa, who produced two key Caribbean literature anthologies: The Sun’s Eye and Facing the Sea.[58]

The Burt Award for Caribbean LiteratureEdit

The Bocas Lit Fest additionally administers the Burt Award sponsored by CODE (Canadian Organization for Development Through Education)[59] for Caribbean authors of literature for young adults, launched in 2013.[47]

The first-place winner in 2014 was A-dZiko Gegele, in second place was Joanne Hillhouse and in third place Colleen Smith-Dennis.[60][61] In 2015, first prize went to Imam Baksh. In second place was Diana McCaulay and third was Lynn Joseph.[62] The 2016 prize winner was debut novelist Tamika Gibson, with Florenz Webbe Maxwell of Bermuda second, and Danielle Y. C. McClean in third place.[63] The 2017 winner was Viviana Prado-Núñez (Puerto Rico/USA), with Kevin Jared Hosein (Trinidad & Tobago) as runner-up, and Lisa Allen-Agostini (Trinidad & Tobago) in third place.[64]

Caribbean Literature Action Group (CALAG)Edit

Launched in 2012[65] was the Caribbean Literature Action Group (CALAG),[66] a new partnership between the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, the British Council,[67] and Commonwealth Writers, aimed at supporting the development of Caribbean writing and publishing.[68][69] Public initiatives of the project use the "CaribLit" brand.[70]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Bocas Lit Fest: The Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival", Repeating Islands, February 2011.
  2. ^ "3 shortlisted for Bocas Prize", UWI Today, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, April 2011.
  3. ^ "NGC Bocas Lit Fest Debate on TV6 today", Trinidad Express Newspapers, 22 April 2012.
  4. ^ Carolyn Cooper, "T&T Lit Fest Puts Us to Shame", Jamaica Gleaner, 8 May 2011.
  5. ^ "NGC Bocas Lit Fest Debate on TV6 today", Tun Up TV.
  6. ^ Iana Seales, "Lit Fest opens up to non-English writers", Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 19 March 2015.
  7. ^ "NGC Bocas Lit Fest launched at NALIS", Loop, 19 March 2015.
  8. ^ "Our Sponsors", NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
  9. ^ Mark Fraser, "Bocas goes to Harlem! TT’s literary festival joins fiction programme in New York City", Trinidad Express Newspapers, 4 July 2014.
  10. ^ "Bocas at the Brooklyn Book Fest", 2013. NGC Bocas Lit Fest website.
  11. ^ Johnny Temple "Bookish in Brooklyn" (on the Caribbean element in the Brooklyn Book Festival). Word of Mouth, Caribbean Beat, Issue 117, September/October 2012.
  12. ^ "Coming from Far: Caribbean Writers on Home and Otherness (Readings and Discussion)". Presented by the NGC Bocas Literary Festival. Harlem Book Fair 2014.
  13. ^ Ivette Romero, "Bocas Goes to Harlem", Repeating Islands, 5 July 2014.
  14. ^ "World Writers at Bocas", Trinidad Express newspapers, 10 March 2013.
  15. ^ Claire Armitstead, "Marlon James makes hero's return to the Caribbean at Bocas festival", The Guardian, 5 May 2016.
  16. ^ Nicholas Laughlin's website.
  17. ^ Paper Based Bookshop website.
  18. ^ Aneka Lee, "Paper Based at The Normandie a bibliophile’s hidden dream", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 30 April 2014.
  19. ^ About the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
  20. ^ a b Julien Neaves, "Bocas president: Festival keeps on growing", Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 1 April 2020.
  21. ^ Annie Paul, "The Bocas Lit Fest 2011", Active Voice, 7 May 2011.
  22. ^ Marina Salandy-Brown, "What’s in a festival", Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 26 April 2012.
  23. ^ "2011 Bocas Lit Fest programme announced".
  24. ^ "Trinidad and Tobago's Bocas Literary Festival: Ready, set!",, 24 March 2011.
  25. ^ A. J. Theolade, "Bocas Lit Fest continues to blossom", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 23 April 2014.
  26. ^ "Bocas Lit Fest a hit in London", Trinidad Express Newspapers, 24 June 2011.
  27. ^ Julien Neaves, "Literary meals at Bocas Lit Fest", Trinidad Express Newspapers, 26 April 2012.
  28. ^ Cherisse Moe, "Bocas Lit Fest to showcase creative talent", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 26 April 2012.
  29. ^ Shivanee Ramlochan, "The NGC Bocas Lit Fest’s South+Central Weekend".
  30. ^ "NGC Bocas Lit Fest goes south, central", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 25 October 2013.
  31. ^ Shivanee Ramlochan, "Bocas South grows", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 16 November 2014.
  32. ^ "NGC Bocas Lit Fest makes radio debut", Trinidad Express Newspapers, 22 April 2014.
  33. ^ Matthew Hunte, "Bocas Literary Festival Showcases Caribbean Literature", Global Voices, 2 May 2014.
  34. ^ "20 Best Literary Festivals Around the World That You Should Attend", The Writers' Academy, Penguin Random House, 10 February 2017.
  35. ^ "Bocas Lit Fest named among the world’s top literary festivals", 103fm, 14 February 2017.
  36. ^ "Bocas Lit Fest Named Among Top 20 Literary Festivals Worldwide", C News, 17 February 2017.
  37. ^ Jonathan Ford, "Trinidad Diary", Financial Times, 26 May 2017.
  38. ^ "Bocas Lit Fest – The Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival", Creative Caribbean Network.
  39. ^ "OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature" on NGC Bocas Lit Fest website.
  40. ^ "The OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature", NGC Bocas Lit Fest, 2019.
  41. ^ a b "The Emerging Caribbean Writers Prize" Archived 17 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine, NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
  42. ^ "Announcing the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize" Archived 3 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Caribseek News, 1 May 2012.
  43. ^ "New literature prize opens for entries", Newsday, 25 June 2012.
  44. ^ "New prize seeks to grow Caribbean writing", Trinidad & Tobago Guardian, 26 August 2012.
  45. ^ "Emerging writers prize opens for entries", Guardian Media, 24 July 2013.
  46. ^ Ivette Romero, "The 2015 Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize—Deadline Approaching", Repeating Islands, 10 September 2014.
  47. ^ a b c Zahra Gordon, "Bocas Lit Fest adds new award", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 21 March 2013.
  48. ^ "Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters" Archived 2 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine, NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
  49. ^ Marina Salandy-Brown, "Swanzy meets La Rose", Trinidad & Tobago Newsday, 18 April 2013.
  50. ^ Sarah White, "Sarah's Backchat from the Bocas Litfest", George Padmore Institute, 6 June 2013.
  51. ^ Michaelle Loubon, "Lit Fest honours for 2...Ramchand, Rohlehr to get awards" Archived 29 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Trinidad Express, 19 March 2014.
  52. ^ "The 2015 Bocas Henry Swanzy Award Recipient – Margaret Busby, OBE" Archived 3 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters.
  53. ^ "Swanzy Award for Margaret Busby" Archived 22 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Trinidad Express Newspapers, 19 April 2015.
  54. ^ Shereen Ali, "Sharing Our Voices", Trinidad Guardian, 29 April 2015.
  55. ^ "Bocas Swanzy Award To Honour Publisher Jeremy Poynting", Bocas Lit Fest, 16 March 2016.
  56. ^ "All aboard for Bocas Lit Fest", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 21 April 2016.
  57. ^ Shereen Ali, "Bocas Lit Fest gives Henry Swanzy Award to Joan Dayal", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 23 March 2017.
  58. ^ "Anne Walmsley to receive Bocas Swanzy Award", Repeating Islands, 21 March 2018.
  59. ^ "Burt Award for Caribbean Literature" at CODE.
  60. ^ 2013 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature Winners, CODE.
  61. ^ "Burt Award for Caribbean Literature Winners Announced", ARC magazine, 27 April 2014.
  62. ^ "Guyanese Author Imam Baksh wins CODE's 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature first prize", ARC magazine, 11 May 2015.
  63. ^ "Tamika Gibson wins CODE’s 2016 Burt Award For Caribbean Literature", ARC magazine, 9 May 2016.
  64. ^ "Winners of CODE' 2017 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature Announced", Burt Literary Awards, 27 April 2017.
  65. ^ "Announcing the Caribbean Literature Action Group, NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
  66. ^ "About Us", Caribbean Literature Action Group.
  67. ^ "Cariblit", British Council - Literature.
  68. ^ "British Council, Commonwealth Writers and NGC Bocas Lit Fest announce new partnership", British Council, 6 March 2012.
  69. ^ "New partnership formed to support Caribbean literary scene", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 6 March 2012.
  70. ^ "About Us", CaribLit – Caribbean Literature Action Group.

External linksEdit