Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 30th 2017 Contents B2 sunday arts
guardian.co.tt Sunday, April 30, 2017
The challenge of bringing
Caribbean literature to the world
Peepal Tree Press, a British pub-
lishing outfit located in Burley,
which the companydescribesinthe
"about us" section of its website as
"a rundown, multicultural part of
Leeds",has become the lifeblood of
English Caribbean literature.They
produce the most books by poets
and fiction authors of the region
from any single publisher.
But even Jeremy Poynting, the man
who started Peepal Tree more than 30
years ago to help get Caribbean work
published, would agree this situation
is far from ideal.
Peepal Tree is a tiny enterprise with
only two full-time staff members that
produces around 20 books a year. They
don't have the resources to aggressively
market theirbooks, which include poet-
ry and short story compilations, novels
and non-fiction, and rely on independ-
ent effort from authors, book festivals,
other similar events and awards to
spread the word about their books.
It seems that consistently publishing
Caribbean literature requires the kind of
labour of love supported by State fund-
ing that is only being found in Peepal
Tree Press right now.
Poynting, 70, said that as a univer-
sity student he was an "internation-
alist" reader who became particularly
interested in Caribbean music, poli-
tics, history and writing. He studied
Caribbean literature at masters and
doctorate level and spent time in the
region, Trinidad and Guyana mainly.
He noticed the British publishers who
had traditionally done Caribbean work,
Heinemann, Longman and Macmillan,
were reducing their involvement in it.
"I thought there was a niche there, a
space there. I don't know why. It was a
crazy kind of thing to think you could
do," Poynting, frank and jovial, said
during a Skype interview.
"You discovered why Heinemann
had given up on their [Caribbean]
list. Obviously it wasn't making them
The reality is that, at least for the
moment, the market for Caribbean
literature is limited both within and
outside the region.
"The [book] market in the UK is
probably 90-something per cent white,
only some of whom are adventurous
enough to want to read more interna-
tionally. The same is true for the States,"
In the English-speaking Caribbean,
an already small market is further lim-
ited by a number of factors.
"When you think about somewhere
like Grenada, there are really good writ-
ers that come from Grenada---Merle
Collins,Jacob Ross and so on," he said.
"But Grenada's population, I think it's
about 120,000. Books have got to travel
outside of Grenada to sustain writing
of any kind.
"There's a task of getting Trinidad-
ian, Jamaican, Guyanese or Barbadian
readers to think a good new book com-
ing out of Grenada will have things to
say that I'm interested in," he said.
"There's still a thing where Barbadi-
ans want to read Barbadian books, Ja-
maicans want to read Jamaican books,"
he said. "This is fine, but you also hope
that people would see that there is
enough commonality in what writers
are writing about across the region."
Also, no distributors operate across
the region. "We have distribution
companies that make sure our books
get across different states in the USA,"
It's a sign that there is little true re-
"I remember once we were doing
something in St Lucia and I wanted to
bring Eddie Baugh, who's a great Jamai-
can poet, to read. It involved taking him
from Jamaica to Miami,from Miami to
Barbados, and then finally to St Lucia,"
"There was no direct flight between
Jamaica and St Lucia. Despite Caricom,
it still remains difficult to take art across
the boundaries," he said.
A regional publisher would need to
sell books outside the region to be via-
ble. But the cost would be prohibitive.
"If someone came up to me and said,
'You think it would be a good idea?'
With my heart I would say yes,but with
any kind of head in terms of what the
economics would be I would say, 'You're
setting yourself an incredibly difficult
," said Poynting of the prospects
for publishing literature in the region.
"You'd need to have a very active,
culturally dynamic Caricom that would
facilitate that kind of activity," he said.
Peepal Tree gets funding from Arts
Council England, a state agency. It may
be necessary but difficult to set up sim-
ilar organisations in the Caribbean.
"If regional publishers were to get off
the ground there's got to be a degree of
support in some way," said Poynting.
But, he said, politicians would have to
keep their distance from it.
Politicians in the region have not
shown themselves capable of doing
such. Poynting recalled an effort by
Guyana's government to set up a pub-
"The problem was the government
basically ran it too close to home," he
said. "Of course in an ethnically divided
country it meant nobody in the Opposi-
tion would have anything to do with it."
A regional publisher would benefit
Caribbean authors, said Poynting.
"You'd want to seepublishers who are
developing within the culture, who are
responsive to what they think the local
readerships are," he said.
Kevin Jared Hosein, whose book
The Repenters was published by Pee-
pal Tree and made the longlist for this
year's OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean
Literature, said it took years and win-
ning another prize before he got their
"I sent[The Repenters]in about three
years ago. I didn't win any prizes back
then, so it was kind of at the bottom of
the stack," he said. "It's only in 2015,
where I won the Caribbean arm of the
Commonwealth Short Story Prize, that
they put it on the top of the pile."
Hosein said the lack of publishing
options could dissuade talented writers.
"It's a real problem to stay motivated
at a young age. You're just going to not
do anything. You'll phase out of it," he
It also leads to poor quality self-pub-
lished books that can further dampen
the market for regional writing.
"Nothing's wrong with self-pub-
lished books, but there's absolutely no
filter. There's a lot of trash in there, to
be blunt," said Hosein.
"If you open some of them, they're
riddled with typos, the formatting is all
wrong. It's a very rushed, poor product
usually that does not sell,"he continued.
"To the average person who goes into
a bookstore, when they see the West
Indian section that is what they come
to expect: typos, poor formatting,poor
editing-basically a substandard prod-
uct-and they tend not to buy it,"he said.
And despite how much easier it has
become to self-publish, Poynting be-
lieves a traditional publisher still plays
an important role.
"Very few books go out from us with-
out being different from the manuscript
that was submitted," he said. "There is
always a kind of fairly intensive editorial
process that goes on of trying to make
a book as good as it could be."
He's helping develop editorial talent
in the Caribbean through Peekash Press,
a joint project with Brooklyn-based
Akashic Books that publishes books
edited by people from the region. Poyn-
ting and Akashic'sJohnny Temple held a
week-long editing workshop in Guyana
last year with participants from across
"I think that the editorial role is an
important one in publishing," said
His point of view is validated by the
awards and warm critical reception
Peepal Tree books receive. There's been
at least one up for the OCM Bocas Prize
every year since its inception. Poynting
himself won the Bocas Henry Swanzy
Award for Distinguished Service to
Caribbean Letters last year.
Getting published by Peepal Tree
Press has therefore become a standard
of excellence for writers and readers.
"If you get published by Peepal Tree,
Kwame Dawes has been published by
Peepal Tree. You feel you've arrived a
bit," said Poynting.
More info: peepaltreepress.com
Jeremy Poynting, publisher of
Peepal Tree Press. PHOTO COURTESY:
NGC BOCAS LIT FEST
caught in a tableau
performance at the
show Echoes of
Africa, presented by
the National Dance
Queen's Hall, St
Ann's, on April 22.
ECHOES OF AFRICA
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