Caribbean: Rethinking Online Publishing

A selection of books from and about the Caribbean.

A selection of books from and about the Caribbean. Photo by Nicholas Laughlin, originally posted at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

The anglophone Caribbean's small but energetic literary blogosphere has taken notice of a new arrival to its conversation. Caribbean Book Blog, created by the St. Lucian journalist Tony Williams, aims to “inform writers and readers about the latest developments in the international book trade and how they are likely [to] affect the literary communities in the Caribbean and other small-island states.” Since launching on 11 October, 2009, Caribbean Book Blog has posted a series of thoughtful, statistics-laden essays on the issues facing Caribbean publishers, writers, and readers, at a time when literary publishing around the world is grappling with financial hardship and technological change. Williams's posts have provoked thought and discussion both in the blog's comments fields and elsewhere.

Caribbean Book Blog began with an essay titled “Breaking the Shackles”, analysing the state of Caribbean publishing and the market for Caribbean books.

… if you speak to many booklovers in and outside of the Caribbean, or check out some online message boards where the topic of discussion is Caribbean literature, you’ll find people bewailing how difficult it is to find good books by Caribbean writers, whether it’s in the region itself or in the metropolitan markets.

… there’s need for change — massive change. Otherwise we may well be faced with a situation where our literary griots end up being relegated to a state of obscurity and irrelevance. To avoid this they must find new mediums to draw attention to themselves and their work.

In his second essay, “Now Is the Time”, Williams proposes that “a group of intellectual, editorial and IT visionaries with … pioneering spirit and the entrepreneurial drive” ought to “take up the challenge of creating an online home for our struggling writers and poets to help them stand on their feet so they in turn can help usher in a new dawn of knowledge and enlightenment.”

Several writers based in the Caribbean have joined the discussion by leaving comments. Antiguan novelist Joanne C. Hillhouse writes:

It does take away from the time and energy I have to give to my writing, and I’m still working on finding that balance, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that self-promotion (ugly word) is part of the process and the Internet is in many ways leveling the playing field.

Jamaican poet Tanya Shirley echoes these sentiments:

I think as Caribbean writers we are now living in an age where we have to be more proactive in the process of marketing our work and using all the resources at our disposal to do so.

The Miami-based Jamaican writer Geoffrey Philp — also one of the Caribbean's most prolific literary bloggers — responds on his own blog, with a proposal:

What is needed is a web site that is devoted full-time to Caribbean writing. The site as I envision it would be a clearing house for books published by Caribbean writers. Publishers would submit their catalogues, writers could upload their photos and reading dates, and readers could subscribe via RSS, newsletters, or email.

Philp also lists well over a dozen Caribbean literary and scholarly journals online, some of them traditional printed journals that also maintain a web presence, and some entirely web-based. Together with a few dedicated litbloggers and writers-who-blog, these sites, Philp suggests, could evolve into the nucleus of a future web-based Caribbean publishing community.

In the three and a half years since Global Voices last comprehensively surveyed the Caribbean literary blogosphere, a handful of new journals has emerged, based online and in many cases using blogging software to publish quickly and inexpensively. tongues of the ocean, based in the Bahamas and running on WordPress, was launched in early 2009 as a poetry journal, but by its third issue it also included short fiction. Editor Nicolette Bethel (who also writes at her personal blog) in an interview with Antilles, the blog of the Caribbean Review of Books, described being inspired by online journals based in other parts of the world:

I was impressed by these journals’ integration of media into their offerings, which made them a substantially different, more alive, animal from the printed page.

What was missing among them? An online Caribbean journal for Caribbean writers with the kind of turn-around and quick publishing record that these other online journals had.

In mid-2009 another blog-based magazine project went live: Zafra Lit, which translates short fiction by contemporary Cuban writers into English. Edited by David Iaconangelo, a student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and running on Blogger, Zafra Lit draws on the efforts of student translators who volunteer their time and skills. An even more recent arrival is Town, launched in October 2009. Based in Trinidad, it publishes short poems and fiction both online and via broadsides — posters — which readers can download as PDFs and print at home.

Other bloggers have responded to the shortage — or absence — of serious literary and cultural coverage in the Caribbean press by turning their blogs into virtual magazines. At Tallawah, Jamaican journalist Tyrone S. Reid posts reviews and articles covering books, music, art, and film, in an effort to “help facilitate constructive discussion.” New Jersey-based literature teacher Charmaine Valere reviews Caribbean and especially Guyanese literature at Signifyin’ Guyana — in a recent post she tackled the question “Why review?” And PLEASURE, a new blog by Trinidadian writer Andre Bagoo (who also has a personal blog, Tattoo), covers “art in all its forms”, including a recently launched interview series which began with UK-based Trinidadian poet Vahni Capildeo.

The most energetic recent arrival in the Caribbean online literary scene may be Repeating Islands, an arts and culture blog run by two literary scholars with roots in Puerto Rico, Ivette Romero-Cesareo and Lisa Paravisini-Gebert. Covering literature, visual arts, music, performance, cultural studies, and more, Repeating Islands posts up to six or seven new items daily: links to articles and interviews, information about new books and exhibitions, and fascinating oddments. Covering all the Caribbean's language areas — English, Spanish, French, Dutch — the blog plays an increasingly important role in spreading information and ideas. An online writing and publishing network like the one Caribbean Book Blog and Geoffrey Philp imagine will need this kind of breadth and enthusiasm.


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