Where Do Journals Go? Savacou, Fifty Years Later

• October 2020

In “What Is Journal Work?,” a 2016 special section of Small Axe, Lowell Fiet presents a narrative history of the coming into being of the journal Sargasso. The essay, titled “Where Do Journals Come From? The Case of Sargasso,” traces the ups and downs, plans, mishaps, and coincidences that lead to the “more than thirty years of continuous, although at times unevenly spaced, publication” of the journal.1 As his title indicates, Fiet is primarily interested in relating the history of Sargasso, in part as a testament to its longevity. He closes the essay with an anecdote:

At one point in the 1990s, the Jamaican poet and professor Eddie Baugh asked me what my secret was for keeping Sargasso going, especially since most similar attempts fail after one or two numbers. I replied that there was no secret: it required only time, money, and desire.2

Time, money, and desire are not, however, plentiful resources, and so, as Baugh points out, many journals “fail” after a few issues. I do not know at what point “failure” can be determined in journal work—whether based on number of issues or length of time—but I want to reframe this approach, both the question of failure and the backward-looking narrative, by speculating about the continued life of a journal after its final issue, whether that last is issue number 2 or 20.

Because, journals do not die. They live on in other projects, in rhizomatic networks, and in the creative and scholarly work they make possible. I have begun to embrace this perspective as I have shifted from the very focused work required to keep a journal going to my research on the history of Caribbean editors and the influence they wielded via journal publishing. And so, on the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Savacou, I would like to modify Fiet’s titular question to ask, Where do journals go? After publication ends (fails?), what are journals’ futures?

Of course, it is helpful to first look at where Savacou came from before considering how it has traveled over the past five decades. But the brief history I present here is, admittedly, already skewed by my present focus on tracing that genealogy forward rather than back in time. We narrate histories from the position of the present, inexorably imbuing them with shades of who we think we are now and who we hope to be in the future. As such, while I hope this essay can serve as a concise resource about the history and contents of Savacou, I aim primarily to demonstrate the ways journals like Savacou cannot fail, or die, as long as they continue to have futures in our presents.

 

Prestory: CAM

Conceptually, the critical practice of the foundational generation of Caribbean critics is best envisaged as a series of beginnings.
—Norval Edwards3

What I offer here is an abbreviated historical narrative of the journal, gleaned from a variety of sources, primarily Anne Walmsley’s extensive and useful-beyond-words 1992 study The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966–1972: A Literary and Cultural History. The subtitle for Savacou is “A Journal of the Caribbean Artists Movement,” and therefore its story begins with the story of CAM. Edward (Kamau) Brathwaite, John La Rose, and Andrew Salkey are historicized as the cofounders of CAM in London. Walmsley writes that Brathwaite’s time in Ghana gave him “firsthand experience of community living [that] made him aware of the limitations of the individual working alone, and the advantages of corporate thought and creativity.”4 This ideology (one that Brathwaite would work from throughout his life and career) spurred him to collaborate with Salkey and La Rose and open his home for a December 1966 meeting of Caribbean artists to get the CAM ball rolling. Ahead of this meeting Brathwaite also wrote letters to potentially supportive and influential parties, describing the vision for CAM and inviting them to the meeting at his home. In one letter (to Edward Lucie-Smith), Brathwaite mentions the possibility of “a magazine which would reflect the work of the group” (48). This magazine would materialize as the CAM newsletter and, later, as the journal Savacou.

According to Walmsley’s account, “Until a journal could be realised, CAM produced a newsletter. Its aim was to provide a record of what was said, discussed or read at CAM meetings: for those who attended, and those who could not, especially those in the Caribbean.” In speaking of how he came to write a short article for an early issue of the newsletter, Don Wilson recalls, “I had got up at the meeting and made some comments on what Gordon [Rohlehr] had said. Of course Eddie’s [Brathwaite’s] eye was always for possible people who might contribute, and encouraging them to contribute. I remember writing a two-page comment as a result of this” (89). As editor of the newsletter, Brathwaite provided as much coverage as possible of the CAM goings-on, including the often “encouraged” contributions and transcripts of recordings he made at the meetings. When Brathwaite left for a position at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in 1968, he began to shift his editorial focus from running the newsletter to launching Savacou.

 

Development: Savacou

The first issue of Savacou was published in June 1970. In this issue, Brathwaite, Salkey, and Kenneth Ramchand are named as editors of the journal, and the advisory committee is listed as Wilfred Cartey, Gordon Rohlehr, Orlando Patterson, Sylvia Wynter, Faye Durrant, René Piquion, Bobby Moore, John La Rose, Hollis Lynch, Paule Marshall, Elsa Goveia, Cliff Lashley, Oliver Clarke, Aubrey Williams, and Marina Maxwell. Most of these names are now well known to creative artists and scholars of the Caribbean. Several of these people came to be integral to how we would represent, study, and frame the Caribbean in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The editorial masthead would change across the decade, but the names listed would always include a few still recognizable to those in Caribbean studies today. Those who were named no doubt had varying levels of involvement with the content of the journal, but under their distinguished guidance, Savacou published fifteen issues between 1970 and 1979 (with half of those being double issues) that not only mapped but significantly shaped the landscape of Caribbean writing. The full table of contents for each issue is available in this in-progress index of the journal.5

The theme for the first issue of Savacou was “slavery,” and most of the issues that followed featured special topics. There is no fanfare about the inaugural issue of Savacou, perhaps because it had been expected by members of CAM for so long. Indeed, none of the listed editors wrote an introduction to what is essentially a new publication. Rather, there is an introduction to the special topic by Elsa Goveia—simply titled, “Introduction”—followed by the essays on various aspects of slavery in the Caribbean (primarily Jamaica). The essays are interdisciplinary, but with a heavy emphasis on literature. The journal continued in this bent, with a mix of sociology, anthropology, and history in its essays, though with more focus on publishing creative work and literary criticism. Savacou’s stated mission, growing from the philosophy of CAM, included publishing a full issue of creative writing each year.

In the first issue, the penultimate page provides a contributor’s list (bios) and a preview of the next two issues (one to carry papers from a CAM conference and the other to focus on creative work). The last page presents the mission statement/objectives of the journal, which I quote in full here to convey the scale of the editors’ aspirations for the journal’s future:

SAVACOU
A JOURNAL OF THE CARIBBEAN ARTISTS MOVEMENT
Our purpose is to bring together the work of creative writers, academics and theoretical thinkers and so provide a forum for artistic expression and thought in the Caribbean today.

GENERAL AIMS:

To present the work of creative writers—established, unknown, in exile or at home.

To examine and assess the significance of artistic expression through slavery to the present, with a view to recognizing continuities and submerged or “lost” traditions.

To help towards the recognition of the whole Caribbean area as a meaningful historical and cultural entity.

The breadth of these “general aims” stemmed from the success of CAM in bridging creative and academic approaches to the Caribbean. But Savacou would solidify the chronological and geographical aims of the movement through publication of papers presented at CAM events. Though they may seem too general for today’s audiences, accustomed as we are to specialized cultural and scholarly production, fifty years ago these objectives were visionary and would continue to guide the editorial content of the journal throughout the decade.

To return to Fiet’s recipe for journal success, however, time and money were not quite as plentiful as was desire, and Savacou slowed publication after the first few issues. The first issue promised that the journal would “appear four times a year—in January, April, October, and December,” with the fourth issue “devoted to the publication of creative work and artistic criticism” and the rest to “concentrate on conceptual ideas, exploring the relationship between the arts, thought and society.” Also promised was an annual “comprehensive listing of current publications by West Indians.” Although the “general aims” and mix of editorial content remained clear driving forces in the selection of material for publication, the frequency and listing of current publications proved to be too ambitious. After the flurry of four issues within the first year (the last two appearing as a double issue), Savacou would publish only once per year—sometimes as double issues—until 1975, and then once every two years until 1979.6

 

Afterlives: “New Writing”

I cannot refer you to what you call an establishment. I cannot really refer you to authorities because there aren’t any. One of our urgent tasks now is to try and create our own authorities.
—Kamau Brathwaite7

Although the official run of Savacou ended in 1979, the journal has had a long and influential afterlife. Several of its special issues reframed intellectual thought about, and creative art representing, the Caribbean. For example, essays from Savacou 5 (1971), the special issue “Creolisation”; Savacou 11/12 (1975), “Caribbean Studies”; and Savacou 13 (1977), “Caribbean Woman,” are still often cited as key texts today. I focus briefly here on Savacou 3/4 (December 1970 / March 1971), the double issue “New Writing 1970: An Anthology of Poetry and Verse,” as an example of how concepts that we might now take for granted about Caribbean literature were at one time groundbreaking in the pages of the journal.

Dedicated to new creative works—poetry and prose—from the region and the diaspora, the special issue was a fulfillment of the first of the journal’s general aims, “to present the work of creative writers—established, unknown, in exile or at home,” as well as the goal of devoting the fourth issue each year “to the publication of creative work and artistic criticism.” Given that the editors at the time—Brathwaite, Ramchand, and Salkey—were each a creative writer or a literary critic or both, it is no surprise that literature was the main focus for this creative issue. Although CAM had made important space for visual artists during events in the United Kingdom, there remained an emphasis on literary work. This carried over into Savacou, in which Aubrey Williams’s talk from the first CAM conference, published in the second issue, was the only space devoted to visual art until photographs and drawings were included in the special issue “Writing Away from Home” (Savacou 9/10) in 1974.

Norval Edwards describes Savacou 3/4 as “a project of canonical refashioning that sought to rethink and expand the notion of literature in the Caribbean.”8 The publication remains a watershed moment in Caribbean literature because it includes poets from the oral tradition, which was primarily black- and politically centric at the time, alongside those recognized as scribal poets. This combination granted a significance to oral poetry that was previously withheld by other print publications, which sparked a debate about Caribbean literary aesthetics. As Laurence Breiner wrote in a retrospective of the debate, “Publication was recognized as a way to establish that these poems had value beyond the immediate circumstances of their utterance.”9 This granting of establishment to marginalized Caribbean art—part of CAM’s and Savacou’s general objective to “create [their] own authorities”10—was a conscious decision by the editors (or at least by Brathwaite, the editor for the special issue) and would come to have lasting influence on Caribbean poetics.

In his introduction to the issue—titled “Foreward,” with an asterisk to indicate that the spelling was deliberate—Brathwaite writes in what seems to be anticipation of a backlash to the contents of the issue:

For a growing number of people “black” has now become the ruling agent of their creolization. The pervasive use of dialect in this issue of Savacou is just one more indication of this. . . . [For some], Black Consciousness appears to be an encroachment on their own cultural autonomy, or a perversion of their multi-racial ethic. This, one feels, is going to be one of the major intellectual and artistic concerns of the seventies. What one has to recognize, as many young white, Chinese, East Indian and “brown-skin” West Indians are beginning to recognize, is that this kind of debate is necessary and wholesome and is long overdue.11

In some ways, this introduction could not anticipate fully the “kind of debate” that the volume would spur, but Brathwaite exhibits some prescience in this passage. The “critical contestation” that this issue created concerns both the content (as Brathwaite expected) and the form of the poetry published.12 Brathwaite anticipated a familiar criticism—that the content is too “propagandist or even overtly rhetorical”13—rather than the newer questions about the appropriateness of form that arose from West Indian critics such as Eric Roach and Gordon Rohlehr. The “fierce and reverberating debate” that followed the publication of Savacou 3/4 gave rise not only to authorizing appreciation for the poetry included in the issue (much of which Michael A. Bucknor has argued “might retroactively be classified as dub poetry”) but also to new methodologies of Caribbean literary criticism.14 Quoting Rohlehr’s 1974 “afterthoughts” on the debate—“The critic’s business is first to understand the contexts out of which the work that he is examining grows”—Norval Edwards concludes that this “categorical imperative still echoes in our contemporary critical languages.”15

The debate over this special issue expanded the intellectual reach of Savacou early in its publication run because the debate itself was played out in other arenas (Roach publishes in the Trinidad Guardian and Rohlehr in Tapia and Bim), presenting another way of answering the question, “Where do journals go?” As a rigidly periodical publication, with longer-than-anticipated gaps between publication, Savacou lagged behind its own intervention(s), forcing responses to ripple in different ways across the Caribbean intellectual landscape. These ripples (and yes, I am thinking here of Brathwaite’s pebble) are pulses of the continued life of Savacou, reaching forward to this very essay, in this very space for Caribbean literature that would not exist had Savacou not existed.16 And this, ultimately, is how I wish to say Savacou continues to go across five decades:

                     Savacou . . .

                                   Small Axe . . .

                                                   sx salon . . .

                                                                 Next?

 

Kelly Baker Josephs is a professor of English at York College, City University of New York, and a professor of English and digital humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Disturbers of the Peace: Representations of Insanity in Anglophone Caribbean Literature (University of Virginia Press, 2013) and the coeditor of The Digital Black Atlantic (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming), part of the Debates in Digital Humanities series.


1. Lowell Fiet, “Where Do Journals Come From? The Case of Sargasso,” Small Axe, no. 50 (July 2016): 92–93.

2. Ibid., 97.

3. Norval Edwards, “The Foundational Generation: From The Beacon to Savacou,” in Michael A. Bucknor and Alison Donnell, eds., The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature (London: Routledge, 2011), 112.

4. Anne Walmsley, The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966–1972: A Literary and Cultural History (London: New Beacon, 1992), 40; hereafter cited in the text.

5. This index is part of my research on Savacou and on Kamau Brathwaite as its continuous editor throughout its full run. In the beginning, Naomi Lorrain, then research assistant at New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research, was instrumental in building the index, and Teanu Reid, then PhD candidate at Yale University, played a significant role in building the integrated Zotero library. See “Savacou Journal TOC Index,” https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1mhy19fFpps_St1W6M-mkzQfae46-3D_UW5WoxGZbgqk/edit#gid=0

6. In 1989, Brathwaite published Sappho Sakyi’s Meditations, a volume sometimes identified as Savacou 16. I have chosen not to include it in my definition of the Savacou run, since it came so late and is more in keeping with the Savacou imprint than the Savacou journal.

7. Kamau Brathwaite, “History of the Voice,” in Roots (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 267.

8. Edwards, “The Foundational Generation,” 121.

9. Laurence A. Breiner. “How to Behave on Paper: The Savacou Debate,” Journal of West Indian Literature 6, no. 1 (1993): 6.

10. Brathwaite, “History of the Voice,” 267.

11. Kamau Brathwaite, “Foreward*,” Savacou, nos. 3–4 (December 1970 / March1971): 9.

12. Michael A. Bucknor, “Dub Poetry as Postmodern Art Form: Self-conscious of Critical Reception,” in Bucknor and Donnell, Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature, 258. For more detailed discussions of the debate, see Walmsley, Caribbean Artists Movement; and Breiner, “How to Behave on Paper.” Edwards and Bucknor also gloss the debate and situate it within a longer trajectory of defining Caribbean literary aesthetics; see Edwards, “The Foundational Generation,” 111–23; and Bucknor, “Dub Poetry,” 255–64. See also the initial review by Eric Roach and the initial response by Gordon Rohlehr. Eric Roach, “A Type Not Found in All Generations,” Trinidad Guardian, 14 July 1971, 6; Gordon Rohlehr, “West Indian Poetry: Some Problems of Assessment,” Tapia, no. 20 (August 1971): 11–14.

13. Brathwaite, “Foreward*,” 5.

14. Walmsley, Caribbean Artists Movement, 262; Bucknor, “Dub Poetry,” 258.

15. Edwards, “The Foundational Generation,” 122. Edwards quotes Gordon Rohlehr, “Afterthoughts,” in My Strangled City, and Other Essays (Port of Spain: Longman Trinidad, 1992), 141.

16. In his introductory remarks at an event on 15 September 2016 for the “What Is Journal Work?” special issue of Small Axe, David Scott traces this influence: “The two models, as many people know, for me in initiating Small Axe were New World Quarterly . . . and Savacou: The Journal of the Caribbean Artists Movement.” See “20160915 What is Journal Work?,” YouTube, at 16:08, https://youtu.be/T2wOIVPg_JM?t=966. See also, in Small Axe, no. 50 (July 2016), David Scott, “Preface: Small Axe and the Ethos of Journal Work,” vii–x; and Kelly Baker Josephs, “Handling with Care: On Editing, Invisibility, and Affective Labor,” 98–105.

 

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