Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 29, December 2001 


Reclaiming our own voices:
The Caribbean Publishers Network stages the first international conference on Caribbean publishing

Jeremy Taylor
Jeremy Taylor is Director of Media & Editorial Projects Ltd. 6 Prospect Avenue, Maraval, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. +1 868 622-3821 (tel), +1 868 628-0639 (fax), email:;

The omens weren't all that good. Hurricane Michelle, the most damaging storm of the 2001 hurricane season, was lurking nearby, preparing to batter Havana, and drenching Jamaica with torrential rain. Not even the brilliant beaches of the Half Moon Resort near Montego Bay could tempt conference delegates away from the conference sessions.

But even if they didn't get much of a tan, they certainly left Jamaica in early November with a lot of enthusiasm about building a really effective Caribbean publishing industry. There were over 100 delegates from 25 countries, including all the four major language areas of the Caribbean.

The Jamaican publisher Ian Randle, who is President of the Caribbean Publishers Network (CAPNET), had given the conference a theme: 'Reclaiming Our Own Voices'. The focus was on the need for book and magazine publishing to be recognized as a crucial element in Caribbean cultural development and identity, and the importance of fostering an indigenous publishing industry instead of remaining dependent on overseas publishers. Several of the keynote speakers explored this concept in detail, including Professor Rex Nettleford (Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies) and Professor Tony Martin, himself a publisher, who outlined the long and distinguished intellectual tradition of the Caribbean. Nearly all the speakers and panelists were themselves Caribbean.

The conference identified several crucial areas for urgent action in 2002-2004. They included:

• Development of a viable marketing and distribution system, to allow Caribbean books and magazines to reach readers beyond our small domestic markets - but without the cost and frustration of trying to penetrate mainstream distribution channels in North America and the UK
• Translation and multi-language publishing, to allow the different language areas of the Caribbean to share their writers' work. In a special paper, Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor General of St Lucia, also outlined the case for publishing in Caribbean indigenous languages such as Cr�ole, Papiamento and Garifuna
• Professional training, not only in editing and translation, but in the many entrepreneurial skills that publishing demands - everything from the art of the deal to effective marketing. The conference was followed by two fully-subscribed three-day workshops in Kingston, dealing with marketing and editing, which barely scraped the surface of the demand
• Solid data on the existing publishing industry in the Caribbean, not only to highlight its needs but also to persuade governments of the importance of publishing as a cultural enterprise. A preliminary survey of regional publishing resources, funded by the Department for International Development (DFID - the UK government agency), was presented at the conference and will be followed by a final report in 2002

• Rapidly advancing technologies, which will open up a new world of possibilities for forward-thinking publishers in the next few years. Dirk Koehler from The World Bank and Michael Smolens of 3Billion Books outlined the shape of things to come, including a global network of print-on-demand facilities which will turn conventional printing and distribution patterns upside down
• Closer collaboration between existing regional publishers, in the form of co-publishing, joint ventures, rights sales, co-editions and mutual distribution arrangements
• Publishing that is market-driven rather than project-driven. Not surprisingly, there was some lively discussion on where to start - with an idea of what 'ought to be published', or a sense of what the market happens to want?
• A truly regional book fair catering to all language areas of the Caribbean

Nearly all the conference delegates were housed in the Half Moon Resort's sumptuous villas, sharing dining and leisure facilities. This encouraged a high level of networking and camaraderie, not to mention carousing. There was also an evening of readings, at which Austin "Tom" Clarke entertained delegates with his tales of capturing a Barbadian pig in pursuit of a good pig-tail soup. Several rising young Caribbean writers performed recent work, including novelist Oonya Kempadoo, poet Paloma Mohammed, and performance poet Jacinth Henry-Martin, who is also St Kitts's culture minister.

CAPNET elected a new eight-member Council for 2001-2002, whose members are now developing action plans to address the issues raised at the conference. The Network plans to publish the proceedings of the conference, and to stage a one-day symposium, probably on translation issues, in November 2002 in Belize or Puerto Rico, followed by a second full conference in November 2003 in Cura�ao. [end]  [BPN, no 29, 2001, pp 3-4.]

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