Bogle-L’Ouverture: A story in Black publishing


(Extract of an interview with Rickford Benjamin-Huntley, Georgetown, Guyana, December 2011. Benjamin-Huntley, a lay pastor, is the nephew of Eric Huntley and the local contact person for Bogle-L’Ouverture Press)
PP: Despite the fact that book publishing is a precarious business, some small presses have persisted to justify their existence, an existence motivated by its policies: mere policies and nothing more at times.
One such press is Bogle L’Ouverture. This press is sort of close to me, because of the difference it has (and continues) to make, but more-so because it is an internationally recognised publishing house founded by Guyanese — two Guyanese, Jessica and Eric Huntley.
First, who are Jessica and Eric Huntley?
R B-H: They are two persons who have made profound impact on the political, social and economic situation, first of all, in Guyana, because of their association with the PPP [People’s Progressive Party] under the leadership of Dr. Cheddi Jagan in the 50s and 60s in the struggle against colonialism and the movement towards nationalism. Eventually, they migrated to England, where they continue the struggle with a clearer focus with respect to the situation facing Black people…
PP: And minorities…
R B-H:    And minority groups living in England. And it was out of this struggle and the desire for freedom and equality they found their calling: Offering publishing opportunity to give voice to the voiceless at that time.
PP: Let’s locate the time.
R B-H: This was the early 60s. Bogle L’Ouverture came on stream in 1969, but the movement leading up to that was seeking to get leaflets and artwork and writers, which was a protracted period of development.
PP: What was happening? What was the mood in England at that time?
R B-H: The particular thrust was a time of ferment. Countries that the British had under their control for many years were now struggling for Independence, and there were lot of movements taking place, of minorities towards England. So they had to wrestle with this new move that had to do with race and race relationships, and the newcomers’ struggle for education, work, housing etc. And it was against this backdrop that Eric and Jessica got involved in the struggle for proper education; the opportunity to publish writings; to be recognised as having the capacity to communicate effectively what was happening around them in their respective countries and in the world; and to be able to have an opportunity to have their voice heard and let their creativity come forth and so on. And one thing led to another, as they say.
PP: The involvement of Eric and Jessica Huntley was making available the opportunity for the newcomers to be heard, because it was necessary and imperative in a new situation where either and both parties had no precedent with which to work.
R B-H: Interestingly enough – what you just said — the first book published by Bogle L’Ouverture was ‘Groundings with my Brothers’ by Walter Rodney about something that was not happening in the UK but in Jamaica. So it was this consciousness of the Huntleys; of being able to give an articulated voice to the struggle of African-based persons in the first place and minority-based persons/non-white persons came to the fore.
PP: Now that we are in Jamaica, let’s talk about the name, Bogle-L’Ouverture…
R B-H: Exactly! Exactly! Exactly! As you would know,  they were both freedom fighters of African origins. Bogle was from Jamaica, son of a slave; and L’Ouverture out of Haiti, again, son of a slave, but both taking on the responsibility in different eras to struggle for the liberation of the Africans who were brought here as slaves; sending a message, I rather suspect, that it was possible to live free. So it was out of this sort of thinking that the name for the publishing house emerged: Bogle-L’ouverture.
PP: “…it was possible to live free” and be heard. This thinking had become the policy of Bogle-L’Ouverture, especially when we look at some of the titles it has produced.
R B-H: Exactly! An interesting case is this book, ‘The Feast of the Nine Virgins’ by Jameela Siddiqi, who is Indian in origin though she grew up in Africa. In Kenya, the movement was such even though they [Bogle-L’Ouverture] were concentrating on bringing to the fore the excellence of African heritage, yet they did not limit themselves to that kind of racial bind; they recognised that wherever people were or came from, they had a legitimate right to be heard.
PP: You put your finger on a salient point – the reason for the survival of press. Again, if we look at other titles published by the press, for instance, look at ‘Black Teacher’ by Beryl Gilroy – another Guyanese of African ancestry who moved to Britain, encountering the challenges we talked about earlier and importantly was able to write about it. By writing about the situation, and by publishing what was articulated by the writer, we, subsequent generations, are now able to participate in the dialogue, continuing the conversation, looking for answers.
R B-H: Interestingly enough, Andrew Salkey was an integral part; he was on the board of directors…
PP: Let’s go down there for a moment — to those who were a part of the movement; to those who were of similar persuasion as Bogle-L’Ouverture: New Beacon and John LaRose, Hansib and Arif Ali… Let’s talk about the other components of Black Publishing at the time. And let’s go back in history, a bit further back, to some of the initial efforts of persons like Robert Wedderburn, Thomas Moody and Marcus Garvey of Jamaica; Celestine Edwards of Dominica; Henry Sylvester Williams of T&T; and another Guyanese, Ras T. Makonnen…
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