Kamila Shamsie: Bocas and Bogotá (Part 3)

| by Kamila Shamsie

In the third instalment of her blog from the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago, Kamila Shamsie reflects on how the imagination and national borders interact.

Before I leave for Tobago...


Festivals are often reminders of the ways in which the imagination and national borders interact. During my one on one session with Shivanee Ramlochan at BOCAS I read part of a story I had written for 'Lunatics, Lovers and Poets' - the Shakespeare/Cervantes tribute album...I mean, anthology, to which I've contributed. The Quixotic lead character in my novel is prevented from going to Spain on a quest by the bureaucracies of passport and visa applications -  it's a subject close to my heart. Before I had a British passport I spent a large part of my life applying, on my Pakistani passport, for visas to attend literature festivals - often a frustrating process; sometimes I had to say no to invitations because the visa process was too involved or cumbersome or my passport was being held by some other visa department. So arriving at literature festivals to hear that writers are 'global citizens' was always a line I pushed back against. If we want to travel we're entirely the citizens of the nation(s) that have given us passports. 

But of course there is another side of the story, and BOCAS was a fine reminder of that. The instantly recognisable cardboard cut-outs of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza at the festival, with empty ovals where passers by could place their faces and pose for pictures, was one reminder - the Shakespeare themed events were another. But to prevent us moving into the easy but false notion that literature doesn't only travel but does so unproblematically, there was a 50th anniversary event around Jean Rhys' brilliant 'The Wide Sargasso Sea' which transforms any reading of 'Jane Eyre' by taking Charlotte Bronte's  'madwoman in the attic' and giving her centre stage as a Creole woman who doesn't fully belong in any section of society.   That Rhys was in a contentious relationship with Bronte, while the contributors to 'Lunatics, Lovers and Poets' have an easier relationship with Shakespeare and Cervantes makes for interesting contrast -  and briefly made me wish I had found something in Cervantes that offended or at least infuriated me as a point of departure for my story.

But it's hard to hold thoughts of infuriation or offence for very long at BOCAS. Before you know it you're sipping fresh coconut water in the company of other writers, or sitting on a bar stool in a club with a disco ball hanging from the ceiling  listening to readings from 'New Worlds, Old Ways'  a new anthology of speculative fiction by young Caribbean writers - while trying to imagine the stories Shakespeare and Cervantes and Jean Rhys and Charlotte Bronte might have written if they'd been asked to contribute to such an anthology.


Read part one of Kamila's blog here

Read part two of Kamila's blog here.

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Kamila Shamsie by Salma Raza website

Kamila Shamsie, novelist, was born in 1973 in Pakistan.Her first novel, In the City by the Sea, was ...


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