1This special issue on Caribbean literary archives is part of a growing conversation around literary heritage and the future of the region’s literary past. The essays collected here demonstrate the significant potential of current research and professional collaborations for enriching, enlarging and democratising the archive. Yet, they do not shy away from the threats, silences and inequalities that also characterise this archive as we can conceive of it at present. Thinking seriously about the frustrations and obstacles that confront us as we encounter the archive in its many guises moves us beyond the practical challenges of identifying and preserving materials, and of making these accessible, although ail of these remain fundamental preoccupations. Consideration of the different ways to invigorate engagement with Caribbean literary papers is as important as creating and disseminating sources, as these do not deliver a literary heritage on their own. Rather, this rich inheritance needs to be circulated, examined and appreciated among multiple audiences in order to refresh its meaning, value and relevance as part of the Caribbean’s cultural fabric as well as the scholarly and intellectual traditions that it has served.
2In the last decade, there has been an accelerated investment in the development and showcasing of contemporary Caribbean literature. Annual literary festivals are now flourishing on many islands: Jamaica’s long-established Calabash Literary Festival as well as the newer Kingston Book Festival; Trinidad’s NGC Bocas Literature Festival; the BIM Lit Fest in Barbados; the St Martin Book Fair. Similarly, the Haitian-Caribbean Book Fair in Miami and the Brooklyn Book Festival continue to energise Caribbean writing in the diaspora. There are new small presses such as the local Blue Moon Publishing and the transnational Peekash Press. These important ventures are taking root alongside demonstrated support for developing literary culture from international organisations including the Commonwealth Writers Foundation, the British Council, and CaribLit. There is also a series of initiatives to stimulate the creative economy and foster literary talent, as well as literacy, in the region such as the Cropper Foundation’s residential writing workshop, the MFA programme at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize and the Small Axe prizes (ail focused on supporting emerging writers), as well as the Burt Award for Caribbean Literature established by the Canadian Organisation for Development through Education. More ingenious creative ventures are emerging in Cuba alongside the Havana Book Fair which is important for promoting national publications and where a System of state-funded desktop publishing became incorporated in 2000 into the Cuban Book Institute as the Sistema de Ediciones Territoriales (SET). Despite bandwidth issues that prevent sustained online initiatives, unless they are state-funded, texts are now circulating via flash drives in the paquete semanal (weekly package). Collectively, this activity is developing writing careers across the region and will help safeguard the future of illustrious and robust literary traditions.
- 1 Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Pr (...)
3In contrast, significant sources relating to the much longer tradition of Caribbean writers and writing, and the prospects for generating comprehensive literary histories, are at risk or becoming distant from the reach of contemporary literary culture. At present there is no established platform to access the location and scope of authors’ papers, including many scattered and undocumented sources. Even defining the archive of Caribbean literature is not an easy task. The field of Caribbean studies has long debated what is meant by the term Caribbean—whether it is a geographical or cultural location; a tangible place to live in or visit, or an intangible accretion of overlapping histories, languages and knowledges that extends into the diaspora and beyond; a description of nations and States or an ongoing project of people-making contingent on changing populations and historical forces, as well as the various political imperatives that bring them together. The benefit and purpose of these enduring conversations does not lie in identifying the most satisfying answer, but rather in allowing the genuinely diverse and pluralising ways in which we conceive of Caribbean place, space, identity, as well as the intricate and complicated relationships between these, to surface. The regions literary archives are, unsurprisingly, subject to the same complicated patterning of movements and dispersal as Caribbean peoples, equally multidimensional in their affiliations and attachments, and similarly subject to unequal acts of representation according to location, ethnicity, class and gender. When Derrida suggested that “nothing is less clear today than the word ‘archive’”, he probably did not have the Caribbean in mind, even though it provides a fitting example1.
4In the Caribbean context, where the majority of authors’ lives and their writing and publishing careers have been multi-locational, an archive cannot be defined by its physical location. Caribbean literary archives accrue across multiple locations. Wilson Harris’s papers, for example, are distributed across the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre, University of Texas at Austin (12 boxes); the Lilly Library, Indiana University (1 box); the University of Guyana (1 box); and Cambridge University Library (2 boxes). Beyond the challenge of identifying and accessing these archives that are organised, catalogued and made known to others, lies the hinterland of literary archives. In Harris’s case, there are also significant manuscripts, marked up in his red land-surveyor’s pencil, housed in the Special Collections at the University of the West Indies Main Library, Mona, Jamaica. Letters from Harris (as well as from Naipaul, Selvon and Reid) can be found in the Anne Walmsley archive at the University of Sussex, UK. The papers relating to his publishing history are substantially in the Faber archive that is not currently open to external researchers.
5Yet the interior landscape of Caribbean literary archives is much deeper and harder to navigate than even this example suggests. There are very many manuscripts, letters, memos and cuttings held in private hands, rather than in institutional repositories. Some of these are stored in university offices, the treasured but concealed material legacies of individual doctoral research projects, while many others are in boxes at the homes of writers’ families or friends. These documents are a vital constituent of Caribbean literary archives and have the potential to thicken, invigorate and possibly transform constructions of literary heritage if they too can be made accessible.
- 2 Joy Mahabir, “Alternative Texts: Indo-Caribbean Women’s Jewelry”, Caribbean Vistas Journal: Critiqu (...)
6Reconstructing authors’ archives across numerous locations is certainly a routine and vital task for Caribbean scholars, but it is often complicated by other challenges. Authors’ papers are almost never accounted for fully in individually named collections, but need to be sought out in the archives of organisations in which they have participated, institutions for which they have worked, as well as their publishing houses and literary agencies. More distinctly, given the permeability between the literary and the oral, and the literary and the performative in the work of Caribbean writers, tracing a literary archive can often demand an extension across different disciplines such as theatre and film, and a search for oral sources that might exist in altogether different forms and hands, or often not at ail. In its ideal form, the literary archive would find ways to connect to what Joy Mahabir identifies as those “alternative Caribbean texts [that] usually exist in open-ended, ephemeral forms, in Street festivals like Carnival, Ramleela or Hosay, in oral tales, in musical lyrics and rhythms, in cuisine and architecture2”.
7Additionally, in the digital age, both the character and traces of authorship have changed momentously, and engagements with born-digital literary archives will need to be responsive to the changes in both their content and form. Both literary creation and reception take place in an online environment for most writers born since 1970, and this also has a profound impact on what we understand by an author’s library and their correspondence. The digital environment, social media and new writing technologies have also impacted hugely on the material presence of conventional archival sources and this, in turn, will need to inform methods of preservation and access. It would be seriously mistaken to assume that electronic material is more readily retrievable, more open and accessible, and easier to preserve. Indeed, it appears that relatively few contemporary Caribbean writers grasp the value or character of their own archives-in-the- making and subsequently these are in danger of being destroyed as soon as they are created, by their own author’s disregard for saving drafts, Amazon downloads, email trails and online interactions with readers. While Caribbean scholars might be very aware of the silences that exist because of the wilful neglect of certain voices within the colonial archive, contemporary forgetfulness can be a force as powerful as disregard and one that is equally hard to monitor.
8Within this context of significant change and potentially significant loss, this special double issue explores three fundamental questions: why Caribbean literary archives matter; what they enable in terms of literary enquiry and scholarship; and what challenges we face in terms of constructing a Caribbean literary past and safeguarding its future. It explores these questions across different linguistic terrains and disciplinary traditions, as well as across paper-based and digital sources. It is concerned with how archives enliven debates about methods, as well as about findings in the connections they make between different knowledge institutions such as libraries and universities, and the collaborations they encourage across different and blended professional skill-sets such as librarian, critic and researcher. As archival literacy grows in digital environments, researchers are becoming more aware of how the mapping and tagging tools at our disposal might help model and curate alternative histories. This mode of engagement can productively be linked to the importance of fostering a public humanities in which future archives become a space for the co-creation of knowledge, for creative interactions, and critical engagements. Writers are also beginning to attend meaningfully to the materials they can produce online and actively curating an archive of sorts. Nicholas Taughlins website (http://nicholaslaughlin.net/ and Flicker stream (https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicholaslaughlin/albums/72157670272892744) provide an excellent and rewarding Caribbean example.
9The issue opens with a cluster of three essays exploring the collections housed in the West Indiana and Special Collections Division at the UWI Library at St Augustine, Trinidad. While there are significant literary holdings to be found within the Special Collections at the UWI library at Mona, Jamaica (including the Roger Mais and John Hearne collections), some important early twentieth-century journal material at UWI Cave Hill, Barbados and a number of significant collections in national libraries (including the Una Marson and Louise Bennett collections at the National Library of Jamaica), the St Augustine collection is unrivalled in its range of holdings relating to Anglophone literary histories. This collection’s commitment to, and configuration of, the idea of an Anglophone Caribbean literary archive remains distinctive. Against a history of definitions and structures imposed by colonial knowledge institutions and their dominant and dominating epistemologies, this collection was the eventual outcome of a trusted friendship between writers and a regionally dedicated literary critic—Kenneth Ramchand. As such, it presented the opportunity to gather and organise sources in such a way that West Indian authors’ manuscripts and papers could speak to the people they were created to speak of and for, as well as to other writers and intellectuals with whom they were in active dialogue. The relation between literary and national heritage was clearly the momentum behind Ramchand’s request for funds to found a collection of authors’ manuscripts at UWI in the mid-1960s that he details in his essay here. It was also the motivating factor for Sam Selvon’s donation of his papers to St Augustine in 1988 that Ramchand delighted in facilitating.
10The essays around the St Augustine collection by Ramchand, Monique Roffey and Lorraine Nero are all personally inflected and all speak to the different but equal investments and commitments to the archive made by an academic, an author and a librarian respectively. As well as highlighting the centrality of literary heritage to the articulation of West Indian cultural identities at both a national and a regional level, these essays point to fruitful research on authorship that has not been investigated substantially to date in a Caribbean context. They also illuminate a rich seam of work on creative networks and unofficial editorial relationships and publishing webs that shape writers’ careers and lives.
11Ramchand’s essay makes an honest account of the multiple joys, strains and frustrations faced by academics who have devoted a significant part of their career to building these collections and to enabling the literary past to remain in view and in the region. His success is that the value of archives such as Selvon’s or Lovelace’s is well established today. Yet, as Roffey’s essay “Private Notes Made Public” captures, authors’ archives are part of a writer’s creative process as well as their legacy. Her essay deftly depicts how it was through the processes of annotating, revising and collecting her work that she gained an awareness of her authorial voice and identity. Representing multiple stakeholder perspectives, these essays also draw attention to the way in which literary histories do not take care of themselves. As the stories of acquisition demonstrate, both at the start of the St Augustine collection’s history and very recently, the inclusivity and accessibility of literary archives depends on continued exchanges between, as well as among, writers, academics and librarians. While a literary archive may make creative history imaginable and tangible for its readers, it too is an act of creativity and imagination, as well as the product of professional labour. All of these resources have limits, and while this is inevitable, it is important to acknowledge that the rich archival holdings held at St Augustine and described in these essays are far from being a complete account of West Indian literary heritage (and neither do they claim to be).
12When we look back to a past as recent as the mid-twentieth century, it is evident that what was preserved and what was seemingly lost is not purely fortuitous. The creative connectivity that Lorraine M. Nero animates and illuminates so wonderfully in her essay “Making Connections: Stories from the St Augustine Literary Archives” provides a valuable opening for researchers to explore further the animated and intricate exchanges that comprised canonical Anglophone Caribbean literary culture in the making. Not insignificantly, these exchanges are all among male writers with established reputations and might also be understood as the social and professional networks that adhered them successfully to recognised forms of literary history. Far less has been archived in relation to women writers generally, and while there is evidence that women were recognised as talented and important during the boom years, today we are left with almost no trace of the seventy-one women whose writings were broadcast on the renowned BBC Radio Caribbean Voices programme between 1943 and 1958. Aside from the scripts that were accepted and broadcast from London and are archived in the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham, with a duplicate in the St Augustine collection, most of these women writers have no related files or documents to be found in other repositories. Piecing together their lives and careers will be a painstaking task. Their absence from the archives means that the imagined community of West Indian literary production during this period is profoundly gendered in a way that the actual community seems not to have been. Given that each generation of scholars takes its bearings from the critical works and textbooks written for them on the basis of available records, such significant gaps can easily become an increasingly unknowable part of the region’s literary past and risk slipping into invisibility, as one silence overlays another.
13Given that depositing an archive is an expression of safekeeping over time, authors’ papers need to be properly preserved and accessible as well as ‘at home’. Sometimes these wishes are in competition with each other and even mutually exclusive. This too is a risk to literary heritage. The unevenness of resources across the region is a stubborn obstacle to facilitating the preservation, sharing and accessing of local archives. Moreover, authors are often not alert to the possibilities and choices regarding the transfer of their papers to a repository, or to the kinds of consideration that need to be given to their archive as a long-term resource. An invaluable guide for literary authors who are considering depositing their papers, entitled Authors & Their Papers, can be accessed at http://glam- archives.org.uk/?p= 1726.
14At present, the material situation of Caribbean literary archives is both uneven and uncertain. So much of what we might want to include within the broad definition of Caribbean literary archives remains in personal or private (usually invisible) hands for safekeeping. In the best-case scenario, this is because authors prefer not to share the raw materials and scaffolding of their careers with others and have made the conscious decision to retain their papers and deny access. In the worst case, papers are simply not given the care or attention necessary for their long-term preservation and they decay, diminish or scatter as a result of family relocations, disputes or benign neglect. Even those papers that find their way into an institutional repository face an unequal future. The material conditions, funding arrangements, curatorial and collecting policies of national and institutional archives differ noticeably across the Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanic and Dutch Caribbean. Memory of the Islands: Gateway for Archival Networking (MIGAN), “a webportal that gives access to the archival resources of the Caribbean”, promises to “connect all Caribbean archival institutions in a common data base, and give access to digital archival contents and full descriptions of fonds and collections kept throughout the Caribbean” and thereby to envisage a much more promising future for accessing and connecting archival resources3. At present, this ambition is seriously compromised by the disturbingly precarious situation in some parts of the region. It is no surprise that extreme climate events impact most severely on poorly resourced locations and, given that paper sources can be endangered by human touch, that the consequences of tropical humidity and hurricanes are often catastrophic.
15While there is a growing concern for archives, the race against time is real, and garnering financial resources and government support is not always swift or easy, especially during a global economic downturn. This is exactly the arduous and protracted situation that the writer Merle Collins’s essay here details. In “Grenada Library Tales”, Collins explains how the main public library and archives in the capital, St Georges, have been closed since 2011 as a result of hurricane damage. While the personal determination and inventiveness of the Caribbean writer Oonya Kempadoo have kept a library service (focused on young people) alive, the unique archival materials left in unsafe buildings will now be in a hazardous, as well as perilous, State. Kempadoo’s efforts, with others, have grown a cupboard library into the Grenada Community Library and Resource Centre Inc., and while this is remarkable work, there is still no repository for her own manuscripts or for those of Collins4. As Collins’s essay reminds us, safeguarding archives is about more than identifying a safe building with dry rooms. It is about a commitment to the historical record and to the future of cultural memories. Grenada is not alone in facing this challenge. After a leaking roof at the archives in Antigua in 2015, the government there is rebuilding the National Archives and planning to undertake a large-scale digitisation programme.
16While climate change and economic hardship place more archives at risk, there are also increasing ways in which the issues of preservation and access can be addressed. The British Library and Arcadia’s Endangered Archives Programme, which has been running since 2004, and Manuscrits francophones du Sud (Francophone manuscripts of the Global South), founded in 2007, are both committed to safeguarding archival sources at risk. The latter project has a specific focus on literary archives in the francophone Caribbean and Africa, and is also concerned to support research. The Digital Library of the Caribbean (www.dloc.com) is a significant online repository that has built partnerships with libraries in Port-au-Prince following the earthquake in 2010 in order to raise funds for recovery and preservation work, as well as to “coordinate technical and in-kind assistance for Haiti’s libraries5”. UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme which began in 1992, the same year that Derek Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, is a longstanding and successful means of promoting the significance of documentary heritage, and encouraging its preservation and access. From the Caribbean, the collections of Sam Selvon, C.L.R. James and Derek Walcott are the literary archives recognised to date. Many other recovery, preservation and access initiatives are based on individual ingenuity and initiative. The ease of sharing of information that the internet has enabled has transformed possibilities for locating and accessing materials in archives across various locations, time zones and languages. Open-access archive-style initiatives such as The History of Antigua and Barbuda project provide one of the burgeoning surprises in the Virtual archive store6. Online accounts of notable paper-based repositories are rare but illuminating, such as Nalini Mohabir’s essay on literary archives at the University of Guyana7.
17The project of curating an archive that can look across relevant sources as well as building depth, and that looks towards both the literary past and the scholarly future, is very much the central focus in “The Bibliographical Collections and Archives of the Fundación Alejo Carpentier, Cuba”. This essay by Armando Raggi Rodríguez and Rafael Rodríguez Beltrán, translated by Par Kumaraswami, offers a detailed account of the sophisticated and considerable labour involved in creating the bibliographic and archival records of Alejo Carpentier’s work in Cuba. The essay shows how gathering personal and professional documents and mapping secondary, as well as primary, sources can accelerate and catalyse new and crisscrossing trajectories of research. While this supple, creative and monumental project presents the force of centripetal archiving, it is the centrifugal energetics of the digital world that are also reconfiguring how we conceive of archives for the present and future.
18Leah Rosenberg’s essay “Refashioning Caribbean Literary Pedagogy in the Digital Age” and Alex Gil’s “Where’s Césaire?” both discuss and model ways in which digital humanities projects and tools can transform the reach and methods of Caribbean literary studies. They demonstrate how these resources can revitalise the meaning of archival sources, as well as their modes of access. Rosenberg’s essay describes the value of Caribbean archives for pedagogical engagement, as well as the specific benefits of collaborations across different disciplines and professions with the aim of promoting critical engagement with archival sources within digital environments. Drawing on the Digital Library of the Caribbean, the multi-locational and multi-disciplinary team she was involved in designed an undergraduate course in Caribbean literature that encouraged the students to improve their understanding of archives as a source for literary and historical scholarship, alongside their awareness that Caribbean archives have a history too, and often one tied up with the discourses and silences of colonialism. The essay describes the collective knowledge outcomes and contributions that faculty and students were able to make in terms of enriching, challenging and pluralising the archive by working together. It provides a superb example of approaching the digital age of Caribbean studies which, as Rosenberg notes, “as it opens new horizons… places significant responsibility on scholars to redress the marginalisation of Caribbean literature and to ensure its future”.
19Equally, though differently, informed by the participatory and democratising impulses of digital humanities, Alex Gil’s essay advocates the enduring value of bibliographic scholarship and challenges the artificial divide constructed between different knowledge professionals (in particular scholars and librarians) in terms of making the meaning of sources accessible and intelligible. Alert to the increasing privatisation of discoverability in the digital environment and the new gateways being forged between access and analysis by browser technologies, his curation of the Aimé Césaire bibliographic project has worked towards establishing possibilities for the democratisation of scholarly engagement, knowledge access and professional collaboration. Focused on enabling the multidimensional nature of geo-bibliographic research findings to be discussed, developed and problematised, Gil’s work has contributed significantly to the “transformation and liberation of the scholarly record”. Not only does this project on Césaire provide a model for continuing future work on other authors’ bibliographies, but it also demonstrates how such work can facilitate the analytical findings of researchers working on Césaire’s corpus.
20A highly original and creative engagement with the idea of the archive and the imperative towards historical reconstruction in the face of acute material vulnerability is discussed in Rachel Douglas’s essay “Writing the Haitian Earthquake”. Against the backdrop of the 2010 earthquake in which Haitian libraries and archives were badly damaged and the losses in the historical record were unhelpfully counterbalanced by a surplus of negative media-stories that produced and chronicled Haitian lives according to negative narratives of the global north, Douglas considers how the writers Frankétienne, Dany Laferrière, Yanick Lahens and Gina Athéna Ulysse engage in “a constant reassembly of fragments from their own texts, presenting in textual and artistic form a more hoped-for holistic picture of rebuilding and reconstruction, Haitian-style”. The essay elucidates the role of writers and artists in recording historical events through their creative work, as well as the importance of crafting and safeguarding physical and symbolic archives for those writers. Challenging the separation between the work itself and the archive of the work allows for a more mobile and inclusive conception of writing (and re-writing) as a mode of historical engagement and record, especially pertinent and poignant in contexts where both tangible and intangible heritage are susceptible to natural and manufactured shocks.
21Another compelling challenge to the archive is to reconstitute its silences, but this too is not a straightforward process, as Nicholas Laughlin’s essay reveals. Laughlin’s “Letters Between a Father and Son (and Mother and Sister)” gives an account of his experience editing the letters between V.S. Naipaul and his family. It is an instructive and somewhat sobering story of how, even when accessible and transparent, archival sources are prone to manipulation and management in ways that can limit the reader’s horizon of curiosity. Although Laughlin was approached to re-edit the error-prone 1999 edition of Naipaul’s letters precisely on account of his deep knowledge of Trinidadian (literary) culture, it was finally his commitment to the fullness and accuracy of his archival findings that led to his published version being suppressed by Naipaul. The silencing of female relations who acted as important interlocutors to Naipaul presents a curious case of archival scholarship being trumped by the demands of a consistent authorial self-branding. That it should be Naipaul who took such determined steps to ensure that an edited version of his authorial development is given prominence over the fuller, archival-driven, account is particularly ironic given his own sense of the value of his papers to a public repository. As Laughlin reminds us, as early as 1972, Naipaul “attempted to interest a library or university in purchasing his papers, suggesting a price of £40,000”. Calibrating this expectation against Kenneth Ramchand’s only slightly earlier request, in 1968, for a payment of £750 to Wilson Harris for his manuscript of The Secret Ladder, reveals a meaningful discrepancy—not only in terms of the different values ascribed to authors’ papers by authors themselves and the institutions they connect to, but also in terms of the archive as defined by its financial characteristics or by its involvement in the wider project to construct a Caribbean cultural heritage.
22While literary archives provide a substantial existing and often-underused resource for the study of Caribbean literature and literary cultures, they also present a significant, and sometimes urgent, occasion for action and engagement. As all researchers who have spent time in the archives can confirm, immersion in the stacks and fonds can be both persistently unyielding and unpredictably revelatory. The archive, both intact and in vestiges, is often a place of surprise and emotion. Subject to the changeable reasonings and organising methods of the past, the archive presents researchers with political as well as ethical dilemmas, with moving imaginings of other lives dedicated to the same sources: it is a place of encounter with a past we seek but also a history we bring with us.
23The essays collected here testify to how scholars, teachers, librarians, archivists and authors can all play a role in safeguarding the future of the Caribbean literary past and in making the region’s rich history of creative writing accessible, inclusive and relevant. Sometimes these efforts will be flawed and sometimes they will be frustrated, but a collective endeavour to acknowledge and address Caribbean literary archives will deliver new dimensions to literary studies and to both tangible and intangible heritage by revealing a history that is more unevenly textured— unequal in its substance, partial in its recording, and scattered in its parts— and yet substantially fuller in every sense for all that.