Caribbean Beat Magazine

Calabash 2007: a pot of gold

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize to be announced at the Calabash Literary Festival

  • British author Geoff Dyer reads at Calabash 2006 as Colin Channer, founder and artistic director of Calabash, listens. Photograph courtesy the Calabash International Literary Festival
  • Elizabeth Nunez reads at Calabash 2006. Photograph courtesy the Calabash International Literary Festival
  • Actor Delroy Lindo reads from Colin Channer’s short story How to Beat a Child the Right and Proper Way at Calabash 2006. Photograph courtesy the Calabash International Literary Festival

The winner of the 21st Commonwealth Writers’ Prize will be announced on May 27 at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica.

The annual festival has been described by the New York Times as ”a world-class Caribbean literary festival”. This year it will be held from May 25 to 27.

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is presented annually by the Commonwealth Foundation. It aims to reward the best Commonwealth fiction written in English, by both established and new writers, and to take their works to a global audience. The overall winners are selected from more than 300 entries, and the author of the overall Best Book is awarded a prize of £10,000.

There is also an award of £5,000 for the author of the overall Best First Book, and other prizes for regional winners. Entries are first assessed by four regional panels of judges, and the overall winner is chosen by a pan-Commonwealth panel which meets in a different Commonwealth country each year.

Mark Collins, director of the Commonwealth Foundation, commented:“We are delighted to be taking part in the renowned Calabash International Literary Festival. It promises to be a vibrant and exciting experience for the winning writers and judges. This partnership emphasises the Foundation’s commitment to promoting high-quality world literature to a global audience and we aim to deliver that in many exciting ways.”

Novelist Colin Channer, who founded the Calabash International Literary Festival in 2001 with the support of poet Kwame Dawes and producer Justine Henzell, says: “The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is one of the most significant literary prizes in the world and competition between writers is strong. The Calabash International Literary Festival Trust is really thrilled to be the foundation’s partner in celebrating global excellence in literature at Calabash 2007. This is a significant moment for a festival that dared to re-imagine what a literary festival could be. It’s also a significant moment for Jamaica, the Caribbean and the writers and literature from this part of the world.”

This will be the second time the final segment of the prize contest has been held in Jamaica, the last time being in 1998.

The 2006 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize overall winner was Kate Grenville, for The Secret River. She joins a host of past winners—from V S Naipaul to Margaret Atwood—whose work has made a mark on the literary world. The 2006 winner of the overall best first book was Mark McWatt of Guyana for Suspended Sentences: Fictions of Atonement.

Previous Calabash winners: 2006-2001

Best Book: Kate Grenville, The Secret River
Best First Book: Mark McWatt, Suspended Sentences: Fictions of Atonement

Best Book: Andrea Levy, Small Island
Best First Book: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

Best Book: Caryl Phillips, A Distant Shore
Best First Book: Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Best Book: Austin Clarke, The Polished Hoe
Best First Book: Sarah Hall, Haweswater

Best Book: Richard Flanagan, Gould’s Book of Fish
Best First Book: Manu Herbstein, Ama, A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Best Book: Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang
Best First Book: Zadie Smith, White Teeth


The Caribbean’s premier literary festival, Calabash is the place to meet the who’s who of the region’s publishing industry. It’s also a great lime.

Held each US Memorial Day weekend (May 25-27 this year) at Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, Jamaica, the festival is a packed programme of readings, concerts, talkshops and open-mic sessions by established and rising stars of world literature. But it’s equally possible to ignore the serious goings-on in favour of a soul-talk on the beach tantalisingly visible behind the outdoor stage. Patrons of the free festival enjoy Jamaican favourites—escovitch fish, jerk pork, bammie—served in the courtyard of Jake’s, the resort that has hosted Calabash since its inception in 2001.

Calabash 2007 will feature Caryl Philips, Paul Muldoon, Maryse Condé, Elizabeth Alexander, Michael Ondaatje, Kendel Hippolyte and others. It has also spawned its own short fiction anthology, Iron Balloons (Akashic Books, 2006), springing from the annual writing workshops surrounding the festival. That and other titles are available in the on-site bookstore.

A rustic community on the south coast, Treasure Beach has become more touristy since the festival started but accommodation is still relatively scarce. Calls to the guesthouses and hotels on the official site,, at this point will get you little more than a laugh. Bookings are made a year in advance. But you might get lucky; either that or rent a car and sleep in it for the weekend, as some have done. For the serious fan of Caribbean lit, consider it a must-do.