When Marsha Massiah-Aaron migrated to the United States from Trinidad, she realized the Caribbean stories she held close to her heart had always been her compass–a way to navigate foreign spaces.

The belief that Caribbean stories reflected a universal experience led Massiah-Aaron to create the Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival last year.

The Caribbean is a small place of many influences,” she said. “Weve all been colonized by so many European cultures, so in the Caribbean story and in the Caribbean experience, its so easy to find something that lends to understanding to a formerly unknown situation in a foreign context.

Marsha Massiah-Aaron
Photo: Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival

Struggling to find Caribbean stories when she arrived in the U.S., Massiah-Aaron traveled to Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica and other islands in search of more books. The search motivated her to create a foundation celebrating the Caribbeans contribution to the arts, not just in literature, but in music and art as well.

Photo: Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival 2019

For a year before she started planning the festival, Massiah-Aaron only read Caribbean stories by Caribbean writers and made sure they were accessible to the public before confirming her decision.

She said there were three books in particular that changed her life, and incidentally most of those authors were part of this year’s festival.

“The books were written so authentically, so organically, that I knew that our stories deserved to be celebrated and promoted by people who didnt really have anything to gain from this,” she said, adding she wanted to show the beauty and power without a filter and not for profit. “This is our heritage and there is a fine line between creativity and selling it.

The foundation holds a writing contest each year to discover emerging writers from across the Caribbean diaspora. The contest, open to unpublished writers, is part of the Massiah-Aaron’s mission to include as many Caribbean stories as possible.

We want to encourage storytellers to find their voice, find that talent and share their stories, Massiah-Aaron said. We also want to celebrate the writers who have been working before who have yet to be acknowledged.

Photo: Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival, 2019

This year the festival is going virtual amid the coronavirus pandemic and while it remains free, Massiah-Aaron said there would be a certain aspect of togetherness and warmth not felt through the screen, including the passing of shots of Haitian rum around the room.

But, she said, going virtual also meant those unable to attend due to distance would finally have the chance to participate. People from the UK, Africa, the Far East and Europe can attend if they choose to.

As the festival draws near, Massiah-Aaron hopes more people will recognize the Caribbean as more than just sunny beaches, but an area of abundant culture and creativity.

We want anyone who loves literature, who loves the Caribbean and loves people to tune in to any one of our events to listen to the stories we have to tell, Massiah-Aaron said. Our authors pour themselves out every day and it brings them so much joy.

The festival will run from Sept. 10 to Sept. 13. You can register for the event here.

Yannise Jean

Yannise Jean is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in publications like Okayplayer and Well + Good. Follow her on Twitter @yjeanwrites.

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