Jamaica’s Calabash Literary Festival is truly a book lover’s mecca that draws the likes of Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Salman Rushdie, Eleanor Catton, and other illustrious literati from different corners of the world to read on its stage. In fact, Vogue Magazine has dubbed this literary festival one of Jamaica’s best-kept secrets.
Held in the fishing village of Treasure Beach, on the southwest part of Jamaica and away from touristic enclaves, visitors are rewarded with the sight of rustic cottages clad in vibrant bougainvillea and fishermen docking their brightly colored canoes on miles upon miles of sand.
The festival’s audience contributes to this special magic. You will mingle with members of every race, class, and gender, all convening for one singular purpose: a love of literature and community. Diversity of voice, style, genre and point of view is also present on the stage. At night, after the readings, musical performances and live DJs will get your hips moving until early morning. The whole thing is a beautiful, some even say, even spiritual experience. Another amazing thing about the festival: It is FREE.
In early June of this year, 30 authors from around the world delivered some of their life’s work to an enraptured audience over the course of three days. Their work elicited laughter, tears, and even singing—another communal vibe of the Calabash festival— with the sound of waves crashing in the background the entire time.
The theme, LIT UP, celebrated the power of words to ignite passion and spur action. It also recognized the voice of many incredible women authors, including poet Warsan Shire, whose work is featured on Beyoncé’s Lemonade interludes, poet and playwright Carol Ann Duffy, and author Tayari Jones, whose book An American Marriage is currently in talks to become a movie.
The Calabash Literary Festival was founded in 2001 by poet Kwame Dawes, novelist Colin Channer, and producer Justine Henzell. In addition to international visitors, locals travel by moped, bus, and car from all around Jamaica to attend.
How to get there: Montego Bay is the closest international airport. From there, Treasure Beach is about a 2.5 hour drive. From Kingston, it is a 3 hour drive.