New Beacon Review. Collection One. (1968)

The New Beacon Review collection was planned as an occasional publication of literary criticism. Edited by John La Rose, the idea was to publish reviews of a particular publication or group of related publications that had been published in the Caribbean press and thus to make them available for further discussion and debate. The project would foster a critical tradition and counter the ephemeral nature of early reviews in the Caribbean.
New Beacon Review. Collection One. (1968). 52pp.

Content

 
La Rose’s blurb describes the book as “New windows on the world out of a particularity of vision, steeped in tension, wrought in the living tissue of Caribbean contemporaneity; a subversion of consciousness”. This builds on the rhetoric found in CAM discussions and Wilson Harris’s writing on the “vision of consciousness”. The volume contains essays on Claude McKay (by Wayne Cooper), Wilson Harris (by Joyce Sparer), Eric Williams (by Elsa V. Goveia) and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (by Wally Look Lai). Wally Look Lai’s discussion was particularly striking: it offered one of the first close-readings of Jean Rhys’s classic novel with close reference to both its Caribbean and British intertexts. Look Lai describes how and why the novel might be considered part of a West Indian canon:
The West Indian setting, far from being incidental, is central to the novel: it is not that it provides a mere background to the theme of rejected womanhood, but rather that the theme of rejected womanhood is utilized symbolically in order to make an artistic statement about West Indian society, and about an aspect of the West Indian experience. (Look Lai, 40)
 
 

Production

 
John La Rose wrote directly to potential contributors explaining his planned publication:
In some cases there are reviews which will be lost to the Caribbean public and to a wider public interested in Caribbean materials which have already appeared and which are extremely valuable. I include among these for example Elsa Goveia’s review of British historians and the West Indies (JLR to WLL 29.5.68, NBB/1/5)
 
The simply designed, stapled book included advertisements on the inside covers for titles published by Faber & Faber (Wilson Harris), and André Deutsch. On page 21 there was also an advert for the newly launched New Beacon Book Service, which offered delivery of “any book by a Caribbean author or about the Caribbean”. This side of New Beacon’s activities soon became key to the economic survival of its publishing work.
 
 

Reception

 
The volume had sold 508 copies by the beginning of 1972, a figure which reminds us of the modest scale of New Beacon’s publishing work in this period. Though La Rose mentions planned follow-up collections of New Beacon Reviews, a second issue did not appear until 1985, as (somewhat confusingly) New Beacon Review: number one, then New Beacon Review: numbers 2/3 in 1986.
 
 
These were both more substantial, interdisciplinary volumes that the original 1968 book. In his editorial, La Rose describes their fresh cultural and political context in the mid-eighties:
A new young black art, drama, writing and music has been exploding in Britain.
 
Now for a creative assessment, in its time, in its place; moving from its places of origin and time of inspiration.
 
There has abounded in the past a flood of paternalism and a failure of recognition: that Britain was no longer just a white Anglo-American provincial culture, aware of and linked to the high cultures of Germany and France; the womb of its history had opened; Oxbridge never was nor would be the apex of the world; that high culture, haute culture, faces a crisis of authority from the assault and vitality of popular cultures. (NBR 1, 1985: 2)
 
The archives contain plans for a fourth volume which never appeared. La Rose also outlined plans for another magazine publication, to be called Innervision, but the resources required to launch and maintain a regular journal were not within New Beacon’s means.
 
The scope of the first volume in 1968 showed the potential of a small publishing house to act as an important window for critical writing and to build on the critical work being done by little magazines and newspapers in the Caribbean.Kamau Brathwaite wrote from Jamaica, where he was beginning the process of setting up the magazine Savacou and a Caribbean branch of CAM that would build transatlantic links (see Walmsley: 190-222):
CAM int start here yet. On purpose. Things too confuse here, man. Everybody want to TALK; everybody want to BREK UP; but nobody prepared to do the WORK. I goin’ underground a lil bit. Plannin’ the magazine thing, man. That’s what we really want in the Caribbean. That’s what going to make the links wid London and Canada. Then I want to see Caribbean CAM form ROUND dat magazine, like the early T’dad movement. At least I goin’ try. In touch wid Gordon, who already start MOKO in Trinidad. I see two numbers a’ready an’ like it bad. You get your copies? Since the Rodney business, plenty plenty lil magazine and cyclostyle things floatin’ ‘bout. (EKB to JLR 12.12.68, LRA/01/0143/4)
 

Letter from Edward Kamau Brathwaite to John La Rose, 12 December 1968. Archive Ref: GB2904 LRA/01/0143/4

These publications, building on the achievements of Kyk-over-al in Guyana, Bim in Barbados and other earlier magazines, provided important, independent outlets for new voices in the 1960s and 1970s. They merit further research, especially as some have now been digitised. Brathwaite wrote again early the following year describing the movement’s activities and ongoing plans. He told La Rose to consider him (and his wife, Doris Brathwaite) as New Beacon’s agents in Jamaica: “I also sendin’ you you money for the NB Reviews. One day I pick up these an’ sell them off in two days flat. SEND TWO DOZ more, nuh?” (15.3.69, LRA/01/0143/4).

 
Competing pressures of time, finance, and political priorities prevented New Beacon Review from flowering into something more substantial, yet it remains a significant moment that united publishing contacts and critical dialogue between the Caribbean and Britain. La Rose continued to encourage literary criticism, including the work of now-renowned critics then at the start of their careers such as Kenneth Ramchand and Gordon Rohlehr. He wrote in a letter to Rohlehr:
I take the critical thing seriously as you know, and whatever our limitations I intend to proceed along this reconceptualization of ourselves from our own narrow base (to use Cesaire’s phrase) looking outwards at the world. (5.2.70 JLR to GR, LRA/01/0684/2).
 
 

Further reading

 
Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature eds. Michael A. Bucknor and Alison Donnell. London: Routledge, 2011