Caribbean Literary Heritage: who matters and who cares?


[Many thanks to Geoffrey Philp for bringing this item to our attention.] In “Caribbean Literary Heritage: who matters and who cares?” Alison Donnell (Head of School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia) explores the trajectories of Una Marson and C.L.R. James to explain the need for “surfacing, sharing and safeguarding the fuller literary history of the Caribbean” through the region’s literary archives. Read this fascinating post at the Caribbean Literary Heritage blog. [This piece is based on an article forthcoming in Diasporic Literary Archives (Arc Humanities Press, 2018. For more on the subject of Caribbean Literary Archives, see the Special Issue of Caribbean Quarterly]

Caribbean Literary Heritage: who matters and who cares?

On International Archives Day 2018, it seems important to reflect on how the region’s literary archives speak to the asymmetries of visible histories and to note (more optimistically) how collaborations between scholars, writers and archivists can be instrumental in shaping the future of the past.

It is well acknowledged that during the colonial period, the archive was a powerful tool for legitimating certain lives, events and encounters, whilst obscuring others through its techniques of record-keeping. In a Caribbean colonial context, as elsewhere, literature became an important means of contesting the official archive and Caribbean writings began to act as a rights-bearing discourse that could help imagine national and regional identity into being. [. . .]

The region’s literary archives are, unsurprisingly, subject to the same complicated patterning of movements and dispersal as Caribbean peoples, equally multidimensional in their affiliations and attachments, and similarly subject to unequal acts of representation according to location, ethnicity, class and gender. Very many sources remain in private hands, rather than in institutional repositories. Some of these are stored in university offices, the treasured but concealed material legacies of individual doctoral research projects, while many others are in boxes at the homes of writers, their families or friends. These documents are a vital constituent of Caribbean literary archives and have the potential to thicken, invigorate and possibly transform constructions of literary heritage if they too can be made accessible.

The project of surfacing, sharing and safeguarding the fuller literary history of the Caribbean is a daunting one, but it also has huge potential to connect scholars, writers, collections professionals, readers and others with particular local interests  An open-access register of writers’ ‘papers’ and sources (both lost and found) has the value of expanding literary history, but it can also contribute to and animate literary heritage by capturing the changing commitments to writers of the past and surfacing what matters in the present about the region’s literary past. [. . .]

For full article, see

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