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Tuesday 31 July 2007

As it was in the beginning

Tomorrow is Emancipation Day here in Trinidad and Tobago (and elsewhere in the Caribbean), as well the official publication date of the August 2007 CRB. But it's also the anniversary of the launch of the original Caribbean Review of Books, first published sixteen years ago from the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, edited by Samuel B. Bandara, assisted by production editor Annie Paul.

caribbean review of books august 1991

The August 1991 issue of the original Caribbean Review of Books

While I was in Jamaica last week, Annie--my delightful host in Kingston, and a regular contributor to the CRB in its current manifestation--managed to find me copies of the first three issues of that predecessor CRB, now carefully lodged on a bookshelf next to my desk. (I hope I can eventually assemble a complete set.)

The very first CRB opened with a review of an International Geographical Union report titled Curriculum Reform in the Third World: The Case of School Geography. It also included an excerpt from a lecture by Kenneth Ramchand, "West Indian Literature in the Nineties: Blowing Up the Canon"; an article on a co-publishing programme for children's books; and an essay by Sam Bandara himself, "Towards a Quantitative Analysis of Caribbean Books". And of course there are more reviews: for example, of From Plots to Plantations: Land Transactions in Jamaica 1866-1900, by Veront M. Satchell; of A Clinical and Pathological Atlas: The Records of a Surgeon in St Vincent, the West Indies, by A. Cecil Cyrus; and of Radicalism and Social Change in Jamaica 1960-1972, by Obika Gray. Plus four pages of brief "notices" of other new books, and a roundup of Caribbean journals.

The CRB as revived in 2004 focuses more on fiction, poetry, biography, and culture, with academic books (i.e. those intended primarily for a scholarly audience) getting proportionately less space. But what most strikes me are the similarities between the CRB then and now: the modest, spare design, fitting as much information and as many words as possible on each page; the straightforward enthusiasm for books and curiosity about the diversity of literary production in the Caribbean; the absence of jargon; and the high-minded concept of a magazine trying to bring together "Caribbean book people", as Mr Bandara described them (or us).

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I often find myself these days reflecting on the short lifespan of that original CRB (just about three years), and wondering if the present CRB will prove more successful at surviving the vicissitudes of the Caribbean publishing business. Holding that very first issue of the CRB in my hands somehow strengthens my resolve to make sure Mr Bandara's dream doesn't die a second time.

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