Georgetown Journal: A Caribbean Writer’s Journey from London via Port of Spain to Georgetown Guyana 1970 (1972)

This book provides a detailed account of Andrew Salkey’s visit to Georgetown, Guyana for events which marked the founding of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the Caribbean Writers and Artists Conference, organised by President Forbes Burnham. Salkey travelled to the event with Sam Selvon and John La Rose and the journal provides an insightful commentary on their relationship at this time.
 
Andrew Salkey (front); John La Rose (centre) and Sam Selvon. Photo by Horace Ové. All rights reserved.
 
It also contains parallel account of the sense of ambivalence surrounding Burnham’s Guyana and the post-independence situation of other Caribbean islands, in particular following the Rebellion that took place in February 1970 in Trinidad.
 
Andrew Salkey (1928-1995) was born in Panama to Jamaican parents. He grew up in Jamaica and moved to London in 1952 to study at University College London. As a journalist and radio broadcaster he became a key federating figure in the Caribbean literary community in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. He was a founding member of CAM and worked in an advisory then directorial capacity for both New Beacon Books and Bogle L’Ouverture Publishing. In terms of his literary output, he wrote several novels, including A Quality of Violence (1959) which New Beacon reprinted in 1978; a collection of political parables; and four volumes of poetry. He also edited anthologies and published diaries of his visits to Havana and Guyana. He emigrated to the United States in 1976, where he worked as professor of creative writing at Hampshire College, Amherst. Salkey’s constant enthusiasm for New Beacon’s achievement is palpable in his letters: “Long, long, long may it keep on keeping on, yes!” (AS to JLR and SW, 11.5.81, LRA/01/0698/1 Pt2).
 
 

Content

 
The book begins by charting the Salkey’s journey to Guyana via Barbados and Trinidad, and his experience on arrival. The quotidian details are coupled with an underlying critical commentary on the changes taking place in the Caribbean and the author’s sense of disengagement as an “exiled” writer based in London. The celebratory tone of Guyana’s events in 1970 was not without controversy, as Salkey’s book relates. Prominent writers such as George Lamming led a boycott on political grounds, and other prominent figures, such as Frank Collymore, were not invited. The book is partly a reflection on the ways in which culture could be appropriated and used as part of a nationalist political project in Guyana [see 154 – 182]. As David Scott (2004) has since noted:
If it was an altogether astonishing gathering of the best Caribbean intellectual and cultural practitioners-visual artists, poets, dancers, novelists, social scientists, literary critics-it was also unavoidably ideological inasmuch as it was staged as Burnham's gift to the region's arts.
 
The book includes six appendices: Forbes Burnham’s Opening Address to the Writers’ and Artists’ Convention; an interview with Walter Rodney; an interview with Dr Clive Thomas; extracts from a secret memorandum issued by the US State Department to Peace Corps volunteers (describing how “A Volunteer is a frontline soldier in the fight against Communism and despotism” (399)); A letter from John La Rose to Edward Brathwaite dated 25.5.70; an interview with Dr Omawale, Guyanese lecturer and co-founder of Ratoon newspaper (set up as a grassroots alternative to the New World Group).
 
 

Production

 
La Rose and Salkey worked together to edit the text – the longest New Beacon had published to-date. Salkey thanked La Rose for the “loving care” he was taking with the manuscript:
I treasure our two editorial meetings, the one on SAVACOU, and today’s one Georgetown Journal; they’re saying something I cherish: at least two of our three million fucking Caribbean English-speaking people can work together and achieve a common goal! That’s a lot, John, a hell of a lot, you hear! You know how we are on the together thing? I know you know. (AS to JLR, 20.4.72, NBB/1/12)
 
The book’s cover was designed by Adrian Hodgkins, with lettering and a photograph by Horace Ové of Selvon, Salkey and La Rose on the back cover. Salkey wrote:
Georgetown Journal is going to look like a rich harvest, brother; Pat loves the design and lettering of the jacket, and so do I. I am thrilled, and so is she. We’re still talking about it. (AS to JLR, 20.4.72, NBB/1/12)
 
Although New Beacon insisted in its contractual formalities, Salkey donated his royalties to New Beacon as part of his effort “to strengthen and consolidate” their work (AS to SW, 9.4.80; JLR and SW to AS, 4.5.74). Salkey’s correspondence is evidence of his close personal relationship to New Beacon Books and affection for John La Rose and Sarah White. Such personal connections pre-dated and exceeded the everyday workings of the publishing house, suggesting the intimacy of the shared project and common sense of direction. Salkey wrote:
I am also extremely proud of becoming, at long last, a NBB author […] It’s been quite clear, for some time, that our writers do have a new alternative to the commercially established publishers, in New Beacon Books Ltd., Savacou Publications and Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications. I wish I could be as certain that our writers also realise their own new responsibility to these publishers. And yet, we can only hope that it will come. Our writers’ unselfish and binding support is crucial; our publishers must have it, lots of it, along with the vital support of our readers, everywhere! (AS to SW and JLR 7.10.72, NBB/1/12) 
 
Letter from Andrew Salkey to Sarah White, dated 7 October 1972. Archive Ref: GB2904 NBB/1/12 (uncatalogued)
 

Reception

 
There are no surviving reviews for the book in the archive. Together with Andrew Salkey’s fiction and poetry, it has been the subject of little secondary criticism to-date, though new work on Salkey’s archive at the British Library should bring renewed interest in his work. Reception in Guyana was limited by issues of distribution. The manager of SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) Bookshop in Georgetown wrote to La Rose in November 1972 after receiving an advance copy and being offered distribution rights in Guyana:
After assessing the position in Georgetown, we found that apart from ourselves and one other shop (Messrs. Wm. Fagarty Ltd.) not much space is allocated to West Indian books and so even a stock of two hundred copies of such an excellent book will be difficult to sell in a reasonable time.
 
Regretfully, therefore, we shall have to decline your offer of distribution rights, order for ourselves and allow the other bookshops to do likewise.” (L.F. Austin to JLR, 17.11.72, NBB/1/12)
 
They ordered a modest 25 copies, though the archive includes invoices for larger orders, including 200 copies for Sangster’s Book Stores in Jamaica (23.10.72, NBB/1/12).
 
 

Further reading

 
Scott, David. “Preface”. Small Axe 8.1 (2004) 1-3.