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Literature & Lavway: A Reading List on Trinidad & Tobago Carnival for all ages and tastes

Written by: Bocas Lit Fest

Celebration, resistance, wantonness, creativity, sacred, rebellion, ritual – Trinidad & Tobago Carnival is one of a kind because of the strong pulse of history and heritage that beats furiously beneath the surface of its revelry, inside the hearts of those who “play ah mas” and who “play ah pan”.

Whether you’re a seasoned masquerader in any of Trinidad & Tobago’s Carnival “bands”, or you’ve only just heard your first soca song, and discovered that “wining” is a verb that does not connote drinking, it means that the Carnival jumbie has hooked you. Don’t be afraid, instead take its hand – follow the Moko, the Merry Monarch, the big truck, the steelband – follow all of it.

We’ve put together some literature resources to help guide you on your journey – in these recommended reads, which are nearly all available at Paper Based Bookshop in the Normandie Hotel, along with many other hard-to-find local titles, you’ll find out what Trinidad & Tobago Carnival is really like.

In a World of Their Own: Carnival Dreamers & Makers – Maria Nunes

FICTION

The quintessential Carnival tale is arguably Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance. This acclaimed Trinidadian writer won the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Is Just a Movie, a novel he wrote in his 70s. But it’s not just Trini writers like Lovelace and Antoni who have captured the magic of Carnival characters and settings – let Nalo Hopkinson and Oonya Kempadoo take your imagination to its furthest reaches with their Carnival-inspired fiction.

The Dragon Can’t Dance – Earl Lovelace (1979)

Get it here.

Midnight Robber – Nalo Hopkinson (2000)

Get it here.

Carnival, A Novel – Robert Antoni (2005)

Get it here.

All Decent Animals – Oonya Kempadoo (2013)

Get it here.

NON-FICTION

If it’s history, analysis and academic insight you’re after, consider Errol Hill’s and Gordon Rohlehr’s writing as foundational. One of Trinidad’s pioneer calypsonians, Dr Hollis Liverpool, stage name ‘The Mighty Chalkdust’, also has a seminal piece on Carnival history that’s worth picking up.

Trinidad Carnival: Mandate for a National Theatre – Errol Hill (1972)

Get it here. (New Beacon Books) or here (Amazon).

My Whole Life is Calypso; Essays on Sparrow – Gordon Rohlehr (2015)

Get it here.

Rituals of Power and Rebellion: The Carnival Tradition in Trinidad and Tobago (1763 to 1962) – Hollis Liverpool (2013)

(Only available at Paper Based)

PHOTOGRAPHY

Pick up Dr. Kevin Browne’s for the meditative photography, or for his incisive essays that examine the richness of sight, poetics and freedom – this genre-defying book won the overall OCM Bocas Prize in 2018. Add it to Maria Nunes’ stunning photography collection from the same year, and Virginia Pacifique Marshall’s collection with photography by Mark Lyndersay for all your Carnival visual stimulation.

High Mas: Carnival and the Poetics of Caribbean Culture – Kevin Adonis Browne (2018) (OCM Bocas Prize Winner, 2018)

Get it here.

In a World of Their Own: Carnival Dreamers & Makers – Maria Nunes (2018)

Get it here.

The Carnival Suite: A Collection of Traditional Carnival Characters of Trinidad and Tobago – Virginia Pacifique Marshall (2014)

Get it here.

CHILDREN

Daniel O’Brien’s most recent title featuring his brilliant illustrations, I am the Midnight Robber, will teach your little ones all about this famous character through rhyme. Gail Morong’s Lost at Carnival is also a must-have on your kiddy Carnival list, poignantly illustrated by master artist, Jackie Hinkson.

Lost at Carnival – Gail Morong, illustrated by Jackie Hinkson (2015)

(Only available at Paper Based)

The Carnival Prince: When the Robber Calls! – Daniel O’Brien (2017)

I am the Midnight Robber – Daniel O’Brien (2021).

Find both of his books here.

Lost at Carnival, Gail Morong

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