Local and Metropolitan Publishing: Gail Low
The impact of colonialism, especially its association with the introduction of printing presses, the standardization and the systematization of languages, and the spread of formal education has far too long been expressed as the arrival of modernity at colonial outposts. In recent work such as that of Robert Fraser’s comparative book history (2008), one has a glimpse of parallel developments, interpenetrations, as well as technologies lost or forgotten, to print’s success story based on existing local skills, practices, arts and culture. The traffic between the metropole and the local in the history of the book is by no means one way; yet seen in the light of print capitalism and the book industry, exchanges are more problematic and are sometimes depicted as ones where the winner takes all. Writers and critics such as Lamming (1960), Ngu˜gı˜ Wa Thiongo (1986, 1993) and Ayi Kwei Armah (2006) have seen the relationship as a neo-colonial one in which in which indigenous products are exported as raw material, processed, graded and consumed in the developed world, and re-imported into developing countries; Brouillette (2007) and Huggan (2001) have pointed to the dangers of a metropolitan trade in postcolonial writers and texts as exoticized commodities in a global literary traffic. Metropolitan publishing houses are also sometimes seen to be contributing to the underdevelopment of local publishing as small indigenous independent publishers are little able to compete with their larger international counterparts in terms of economic or cultural capital, publishing, technological, marketing or corporate expertise. Becky Ayebia Clarke, who publishes both African and Caribbean writing as an independent publisher based in London, has said that in the ‘chain of communications’ between local and metropolitan, small/independent and large/multinational, small independent and local publishers ‘often find and nurture black writers only to lose ours to the bigger mainstream Western publisher’ because the ‘economies of scale’ favour the latter (Clarke 2007). The relationship between local and metropolitan publishers (and between local writers and their metropolitan
publishers) is particularly vexing from a nationalist perspective; yet it is also complex. Famously, in the 1950s and 1960s, metropolitan presses such as André Deutsch, Faber & Faber, Longmans and Hutchinson, who published writers from the anglophone Caribbean, made available an important body of work that was crucial to the creation of a Caribbean canon. More recently, small metropolitan publishers who have access to, contacts with and distribution facilities in the Caribbean, such as New Beacon Books and Peepal Tree Press, have made a sustained contribution to making visible the literary output of the region. In the case of Peepal Tree Press, there is a long association with individual countries such as Guyana. A more nuanced look at the history of publishing anglophone writing would yield a history of resistances to as well complicities with colonial impositions, a history of patronage as well independence from outside influences. What emerges from these necessarily brief and select histories of publishing anglophone Caribbean writing is a complicated sense of how national or ‘foreign’ interconnect, how size is not always be a handicap, and how publishing locally may not always be the most appropriate course of action for local writers to take.