For many intellectuals and writers, literary and cultural journalism represents their first efforts at creative experimentation. In that field of writing, they find their tactics and develop their styles. It is therefore not unusual to find that many writers have launched their careers this way.

The Caribbean has definitely been no exception. Caribbean intellectuals have found a tremendous space for expression in the region’s literary magazines. From 1930 to 1950, several Caribbean magazines provided a home for both writers who were just becoming known internationally and for others who were already more established. In this spirit, literary journalism provides an ideal space for glimpses of fiction, essays, novels, short stories, and other genres of literature.

An analysis of the literary magazines that bring together or brought together Caribbean intellectuals requires consideration of the region’s linguistic diversity and its varied political situations, ranging from independence to territories, federations and colonies. In the 1940s, three editorial projects emerged that set the stage for Antillean literature to bloom.

Before reviewing these publications, it is helpful to look at the legacies left in the Caribbean by the efforts of several literary magazines. In Jamaica, the magazine Planters’ Punch (1920-1944), led by its founder and editor, novelist Herbert George de Lisser, laid the foundation for attracting a popular readership to local novels and showing society the importance of the role of writers.

Beyond building a publication that brought together a variety of voices, H.G. de Lisser used this platform to present several of these writers’ literary works. Novels such as The Rivals and Myrtle and Money were published in serial form in Planters’ Punch.

In Trinidad, the publications Trinidad (1929-1930) and The Beacon (1931-1933; 1939) had the common denominator of C. L. R. James and Alfred Mendes –in the first publication as editors, and in the second as collaborators with the editor, the Trinidadian politician and writer Albert Gomes – and the presence of short stories and poetry as profiles of the cultural setting of the times. Authors such as Ralph de Boissière published their first works in those magazines. Through the Beacon Group and, particularly, the magazine The Beacon,intellectuals set off an anti-colonial discourse that captured the era’s discontent. It is not surprising that the magazine was the victim of pressure from the church and the government, in addition to facing opposition from the business community, as described in Gomes’ autobiography, Through a Maze of Colour.

Three pioneers in the English language 

Literature, anchored in reality and history, found a place in the weekly magazine Bim (1942- ). Published in Barbados and edited by Barbados artist Frank Collymore until his death in 1980, it had the greatest longevity of the Caribbean literary magazines and was founded by the Young Men’s Progressive Club of Barbados. The pages of this award-winning publication were witness to the beginnings of the literary lives of a range of the most important Anglo-Caribbean writers of the second half of the 20th century. Writer George Lamming of Barbados, novelist Edgar Mittelholzer of Guyana, author Derek Walcott of St. Lucia, journalist and writer Roger Mais of Jamaica, author Arthur J. Seymour of Guyana –who would later launch the literary magazine Kyk-Over-Al– Bim.

Meanwhile, sculptor Edna Manley was responsible for the magazine Focus (1943, 1948, 1956 and 1960). The pages of that Jamaican publication became a haven for a variety of voices such as the young Jamaican authors Michael Garfield Smith, George Campbell and K.E. Ingram, as well as H.D. Carberry, a Canadian settled in Jamaica. Focus also published short stories by John Hearne, Roger Mais, Vic Reid and Philip Sherlock.

Kyk-Over-Al (1945- ) was a literary publication founded by A. J. Seymour in British Guyana (today the independent nation of Guyana). Edited by Ian McDonald, the magazine featured key authors from the Caribbean region such as Derek Walcott, Martin Carter, Sheik Sadeek, Edgar Mittelholzer, J.A.V. Bourne and Wilson Harris, who was knighted in 2010 by Queen Elizabeth II. It should be noted that in 1995 Kyk-Over-Al celebrated its 50th anniversary, a tremendous achievement for a literary magazine.

The linguistic treasure of Antillean literature

In Curacao in 1940, the literary magazine De Stoep (1940-1951) emerged under the guidance of founder Chris J.H. Engels and co-editors Frits J. van der Molen and Hendrick de Wit. Among those who contributed to the pages of the publication, most of them writing in Dutch, were Antilleans René de Rooy, Silvio (Tip) Marugg and Oda Blinder.

Papiamento, an intrinsic part of the islands of Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba, was also part of the development of literary journalism. In fact, the use of Papiamento in the magazine Ruku (1969-1971) led to the language becoming another form of literary expression through figures such as the publication’s editor, Curacao native and author Frank E. Martinus.

Cuba, meanwhile, has a long tradition of literary magazines, some of which deserve particular study and serve as examples. One of the publications with the most substantial track record was Orígenes (1944-1956), a magazine created by Cuban poet, novelist and essayist José Lezama Lima. Its pages brought together one of the most brilliant generations in Cuban literature in the 20th century. Lezama Lima was also responsible for the formation of the literary group with the same name as the magazine, which included key Cuban figures such as poet and novelist Cintio Vitier, poet Fina García Marruz, writer Gastón Baquero and playwright and storyteller Virgilio Piñera.

The magazine was issued every three months, and among the intellectuals who contributed to it were Cuban writer and poet Eliseo Diego and Cuban visual artist Wifredo Lam, who provided illustrations. The range of contributors to Orígenes grew rapidly as the first co-editor of the publication, Cuban critic and editor José Rodríguez Feo, who later left the magazine, drew on his academic background at Princeton University in New Jersey and his travels to obtain contributions from distinguished authors such as Anglo-American writer T. S. Eliot, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico and Juan Ramón Jiménez and Pedro Salinas of Spain.

Short stories, theater and literary criticism, poems, visual arts and music regularly appeared in the “renaissance workshop,” as Lezama Lima called Orígenes. Others who contributed to the pages of the publication were Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, Algeria-born French philosopher Albert Camus, Spanish poet and critic Luis Cernuda, French poet Paul éluard and Mexican writer Octavio Paz.

Part of the legacy of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, among many other things, was Casa de las Américas (1960 to the present), a magazine of literature and ideas. Founded by politician Haydee Santamaría, the well known magazine, typically called Casa, emerged as a voice or “house organ” for the institution of the same name, as outlined on its web site. Although it was initially issued bimonthly, it is now issued quarterly. Over its long life, some of its contributors have made Casa de las Américas an intellectual reunion, whether as authors or as members of the editorial board. They include Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén, Graziella Pogolotti, a Cuban writer born in Paris, Uruguayan author Mario Benedetti, Cuban poet Roberto Fernández Retamar, writer Julio Cortázar of Argentina, Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, Ernesto Sábato, also a writer from Argentina, and Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, among others.

The Cuban magazine Unión (1962-the present) is another publication that arose from an organization, in this case the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC, for its Spanish acronym), which was founded in 1961 by Nicolás Guillén. From 1962 to 1964, the magazine was directed by a group consisting of Cuban poet Roberto Fernández Retamar, Nicolás Guillén, Alejo Carpentier and José Rodríguez Feo. Over time, names such as Eliseo Diego and Heberto Padilla were seen in the pages of the publication.

Since its first editions, Unión has been dedicated to publishing short stories, novel chapters, and excerpts of theatrical pieces, criticism of literature, music, visual arts, cinema, and an endless source of cultural activities such as theatrical works, exhibitions, discussions, honors, interviews, conversations, etc.

The Dominican Republic, meanwhile, has offered an impressive array of literary magazines over the past century that has made countless contributions to Dominican society. Cuna de América (1903), Ateneo (1910), Revista X (1925), La Poesía Sorprendida (1943) and the Revista Dominicana Quincenal (1959) are examples of the varied publications devoted to literature. Some of them were associated with literary organizations.

Edited by Venezuelan journalist Horacio Blanco Fombona, the magazine Bahoruco, which was in circulation from 1930 to 1936, included in its pages the first short stories by famed Dominican writer Juan Bosch when he returned from Europe in 1931. Another important milestone in Dominican literature was the literary magazine Yelidá (1986), edited by philosopher Antonio Fernández Spencer. Among its contributors were poet and essayist Armando Almánzar Botello, editor Víctor Mármol, literary commentator Abil Peralta Agüero and the authors Manuel Núñez, Tony Raful, Danilo Lasosé and Diógenes Céspedes, among other outstanding writers.

And in Puerto Rico

Women played an important role in the development of literary magazines in Puerto Rico, such as the magazines Zona de Carga y Descarga (1972-1975), founded by writers Rosario Ferré and Olga Nolla, and Asomante (1945-1970) and Sin nombre (1970-1985), both founded and edited by author and lawyer Nilita Vientós Gastón. In the case of Zona de Carga y Descarga, writers of the stature of Manuel Ramos Otero, Arcadio Díaz Quiñones, Emilio Díaz Valcárcel, Vanessa Droz, José Luis González, Pedro Pietri and Aurea María Sotomayor, among other voices, contributed to its narrative mosaic.

Asomante, meanwhile, published works by René Marqués and Luis Rafael Sánchez and gave voice to intellectuals such as Margot Arce de Vázquez, Concha Meléndez and María Teresa Babín, as literary critics. This quarterly publication also collected and published works by Abelardo Díaz Alfaro, Francisco Matos Paoli and Pedro Juan Soto, to mention just a few of the Puerto Rican authors who took advantage of this field of literary exploration.

The editorial purpose of this “little magazine,” as the literary magazines were known, was a determined battle against Puerto Rico’s intellectual and cultural insularism, without basing itself on a political perspective. This was despite the fact that Vientós Gastón and some of the contributors did not hide their support for independence for the island. Asomante always kept its pages open to the Spanish-speaking world. Spanish poet Pedro Salinas contributed to the first issue and to the founding of the publication. Hispanicist Leo Spitzer, Jorge Guillén of Spain and Alfonso Reyes of Mexico were some of the voices who found the magazine to be a place that welcomed and respected their work.

The magazine was silenced by a lawsuit that arose from differences with the University of Puerto Rico Alumni Association (which covered the costs of Asomante). The magazine continued, however, in the form of the publication Sin nombre. Between the two magazines, which covered all genres of literature and offered a space for translations of works by great authors of the times, Puerto Rican writers were able to publish and be read both in Puerto Rico and abroad.

Author: Carmen Graciela Díaz
Published: March 12, 2012.

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