(Extract of an interview with Eric Huntley and Michelle Asantewa, Georgetown, Guyana, 2019. Eric Huntley cofounded with his now deceased wife, Jessica, the Bogle-L’ouverture Press, of which its first publication was ‘Groundings with my brothers’ by Walter Rodney. Asantewa’s first novel is ‘Something buried in the Yard’ and she founded a Way Wive Wordz Publisher.)
EH I suppose every body’s journey is a different journey. I remember my parents whenever they found us playing outside they would tell us to get a book and read. But they were hardly any books around at that time in the 1930s and 40s; you had the slate in fact and not a book.
It so happens one of the first things I did in that area [reading/writing/publishing] is to import books from the States…
PP Wow, that’s great.
EH …working in New Amsterdam as a messenger to the …. Messenger, I began to import pocket books from the States for twenty-five cents each. Then I graduated to publishing a newspaper for the post office workers union when I was working in Buxton. I spent my month’s salary to buy a Gestetner machine from Bookers which was seized by the police and army when they arrived in 1956/57….
But to fast forward the story of books and publishing, it took Jessica and myself until 1969 when Walter Rodney was banned from returning to Jamaica …we took his speeches which we published as ‘Groundings with my brothers’ so that was the beginning… so from importing books, to publishing a journal for the post office workers to printing and publishing ‘Thunder’ – the PPP weekly newspaper to ‘Groundings with my brothers’ was a tremendous leap……and organizing a new publishing house – Bogle-L’ouverture Publishing….
PP The name?
EH One member of our group, I think it was Richard Small, suggested ‘Bogle’ and Bogle as we know was one of the main fighters for independence of Jamaica and L’ouverture was the leader of the Haitian Revolution and we combined the two to form Bogle L’ouverture. We linked the two names to commemorate their contribution to West Indian independence and emancipation.
We were among the first in Black publishing – New Beacon, Alison and Busby and Bogle L’ouverture were the first three Black publishers in the UK.
MA Just to add, Uncle Eric also writes.
EH Well yes, been engaged in publishing for several years, you have to edit, you have to comment, you have to advise authors, and I supposed that encouraged me to write.
I did in fact author a biography of Paul Robeson, and I went on to do one on Cheddi Jagan who was my mentor – we worked together from 1950 to 54. And I did one on Florence Nightingale, and Mary Segal and Marcus Garvey. And of course, I continue to write since then and to publish.
PP Lots of interesting things about you [Uncle Eric] – ‘Doing Nothing is not an Option’ [indicating the book].
EH I think the title is very apt in that it speaks a thousand words really. Many people asked us how did it, how we managed to become publisher in the 1950s and 60s of very important titles like ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, one of them. In those days, there was no precedent, so to speak, no internet to search on how to publish and what to publish, no new fangled technology like today; you had a manuscript and you just publish it …somebody had to do it. We are the best people to tell our own story, so we just went ahead and tell it.
That’s simplifying a complex industry.
PP Michelle, the name of your publishing house,
MA It is ‘Way with words’ spelt in a curious way: ‘way wive wordz’. It initially started with me writing blogs, then I wasn’t thinking about publishing so I use to use it as a platform to write on any subject…and when I decided to publish, I kept that title….
PP In this book, ‘Caribbean Publishing in Britain’, there are two pages of acknowledgments with lots of names, perhaps running into the hundreds. To produce a book is a complex undertaking – different and varied skills – and I am wondering if a book should carry the credits we see at the end of a film because it is important to acknowledge every step of that production: the writing, copyediting, cover design, marketing and distribution, everything…I am wondering, should we give credit to everyone; a book is not only the author’s work, a whole lot goes into it….
EH …it is interesting that when we started to publish, many, many people did not realize or understand what a publisher does; the closest they get to a publisher is to confuse it with a printer, a printer had the physical equipment of the machinery. But what does a publisher do.
When you come to think of it, many of the manuscripts are handwritten or even typed sheets of paper which you have to turn into a work that is accessible to the reader. I can think of many manuscripts that you have to rewrite to make it presentable. And then there are the various skills involved before you get to the final product.
One remarkable thing about small publishers is that you have to provide everything – all the skill areas – in-house, while the big publishing companies will have specialists in various area, so most of the work you have to do yourself and present to the printer something to roll out.
This is something to note: our archives are lodged at the London Metropolitan Archives and one of the items is that we have over 200 manuscripts which we did not publish for one reason or another…so you can see the amount of manuscripts a publisher receives and many never see the light of day…
PP ‘Come Lehwe Reason’, your [Huntley] new book….
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