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Monday, April 25, 2016


Callaloo #1 to #7


 This year I will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Callaloo, based on the fact that the date on the first issue was December 1976.  On the other hand, Charles H. Rowell's "Editor's Note" in Issue #2 (February , 1978) indicates "CALLALOO first appeared in January, 1977...."(3).  For the sake of scholarly exactness, one should accord greater credibility to Rowell's assertion and not begin the anniversary celebration until  January 2017.  If I prematurely celebrate, I prematurely celebrate.  Until the latter part of 2015, I only had Issue #1 through Issue #4 in my library.  Hurricane Katrina destroyed my extensive collection of Callaloo, Hoo-Doo,  OBSIDIAN, African American Review and its earlier iterations, and the cassette-magazine Black Box.  Thanks to the generosity of the  New Orleans novelist Michael A. Zell and Crescent City Books, I acquired Callaloo #5, #6, and #7.  My celebration is informed by a sense of urgency spiced with paranoia.  In addition, my rejoicing is accompanied by a need to create a bit of what people have taken to calling "back-story," which I assume is information that hitherto has not been made public.

Founded in 1974 by Alvin Aubert , OBSIDIAN  like Nkombo, which was established  by Tom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam in December 1968, stood in a prototypical relationship to Callaloo, not in format but in being marked by a multi-layered Black South aesthetic.  At one time or another,  Dent,  Aubert, Rowell, and I talked  frequently about the distribution of creative expressions. We were friends in a sense that  is difficult to communicate in 2016.  We were not "friends" in the dubious way the social network of Facebook  juggles the word.  It is more accurate to say we were comrades, our personalities and understanding of literary and cultural work having been forged on the anvil of segregation in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

 All of us were products of the gendered geographies of race, region, and literature so eloquently discussed by Thadious Davis in Southscapes (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), and we believed African American  literature and art were not artifacts designed  for museums and archives.  For us, cultural expressions  were processes and products for serving the aesthetic (perceptional) needs of people who may or may not have possessed  academic yearnings or  have given  allegiance, in the words of George Kent,  to "traditional  high ground humanism."  Read Kent's remarks in Blackness and the Adventure of Western Culture (  Chicago: Third World Press, 1972). Our universalism was concrete not abstract.  It was that spirit which led Rowell, Dent, and me to conceptualize Callaloo during our Southern Black Cultural Alliance debates in Birmingham in the summer of 1975. Some weeks ago, Kalamu ya Salaam asked me to explain why after Callaloo moved from Southern University (Baton Rouge) to the University of Kentucky, Dent and I were rusticated and had insignificant roles in the subsequent  growth of Callaloo after 1979.  An explanation can be made by remembering clashes of value and  noting a few changes Rowell orchestrated in the first seven issues of  Callaloo.


Remembering from April 2016 back to December 1976 exposes the subjectivity of   explaining  a few things that occurred between December 1976 and October 1979. Calendar dates are necessary for making a chronology, but they  reveal  little about cycles of clock time and much less about the  psychology of time, which is a virtual Louisiana swamp.  When the dates are juxtaposed with one-sentence assertions of what a magazine is, the subtle differences in wording  do suggest changing intentions:

#1 (December 1976) ---CALLALOO is a non-profit, tri-annual journal devoted to the creative and critical writings, arts, culture and life of the Black South.

#2 (February 1978) --CALLALOO is a non-profit, tri-annual journal devoted largely to the creative and critical writings, visual arts, culture and life of the Black South. ["Largely" delimits the scope of devotion, and "visual" excludes forms of art that might depend on sound , taste, touch, or smell.]

#3 (May 1978) --  CALLALOO is a non-profit, tri-annual (February, May, and October) journal devoted largely to the creative and critical writings, visual arts, culture and life of the Black South. [ The addition of months makes "tri-annual" more specific.]

#4 ( October 1978) ---CALLALOO is a non-profit, tri-annual (February, May, and October) journal devoted largely to the creative and critical writings, visual arts, culture and life of the Black South.

#5 (February 1979) ---The wording is identical with that of October 1978.

#6 (May 1979) --The wording is identical with that of October 1978.

#7 (October 1979)--The wording is identical with that of October 1978.

When the simple chronology is inspected from other angles, it spills the beans.

It must be noticed that the mailing address for #1 was P. O. Box 9677, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70813 and for #2-#7, it was Department of English, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40506.  The change of location included a change in the editorial hierarchy. Dent, Rowell, and Ward were Coeditors for #1. Dent and I did not fail to note that P. O. Box 9677 was not associated with the Department of English at Southern University (Baton Rouge),  nor did we fail to note  that with #2, Rowell made  a refined distinction between Managing Editors for the Lower South (Darrell K. Ardison and Johnnie M. Arrington ) and those for the Upper South (Chester Grundy and Robert Hemenway).   I can't speak for Dent.  His papers in the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University have to do so.  I did not exactly like the lower /upper distinction, because it reminded me of White South aristocracy rather than Black South democracy.

 Fourteen months later, Rowell is Editor-in-Chief and Dent and Ward are Editors.   Kentucky made him upper; Louisiana and Mississippi ensured that Dent and I would be lower and that we would know our place in the evolving scheme of things.  The editorial structure remains intact for #3-#5.  Rowell resumed the title Editor  with #6, and Dent and Ward are assigned to the category "Contributing and Advisory Editors," which is below the categories "Assistants to the Editor" and "Managing Editors."  If the discriminating language of the academic world means anything, it is important that fateful naming or discrimination occurred between  Callaloo #2 and Callaloo #7:

#2 --Editor-in-Chief, Editors, Associate Editors,  Managing Editors, Editorial Assistants (Lolita Burns, Harry P. Styles II and Michael Tourjee ), Contributing and Advisory Editors

#3 ---Editor-in-Chief, Editors, Associate editors, Managing Editors, Editorial Assistants ( Jonas Chaney, Bernie Lovely, Styles and Tourjee ), Contributing and Advisory Editors

#4 and #5 --Editor-in Chief, Editors, Associate Editors, Assistant Editor, Managing Editors, Editorial Assistants, Contributing and Advisory Editors [Lillie Lolita Burns was elevated from editorial assistant to Assistant Editor]

#6 and #7 --Editor, Assistants to the Editor, Managing Editors, Contributing and Advisory Editors [The hierarchy is streamlined.  Rowell  no longer needs to  proclaim that he has  "in-chief" status.  The Assistant Editor is replaced by Assistants to the Editor, and Associate Editors (Mercedese Broussard, Paulette S. Johnson, Oneada S. Madison, and Sondra O'Neale --who was added only for #5) disappear.]

The prototype for future issues (1980 to 2016) was firmly established with Callaloo #7. Truth be told, rustication or being dismissed had some virtues.  Dent and I were still in the good company  of such Callaloo contributing editors as Alvin Aubert, Melvin Dixon, Ernest Gaines, Gloria Wade Gayles, Stephen Henderson, George Kent, Pinkie Gordon Lane, James Alan McPherson, Arthenia Bates Millican, Sondra O'Neale, Huel D. Perkins, Horace Porter, Lorenzo Thomas, Electa Wiley and Al Young.  After 1979, Dent had more time to pursue his Black South oral history and making connections among artists and writers from Africa, the United States,   the Caribbean, and Central America and to write the very fine book Southern Journey.  I had more time to attend to the Black South education of my students at Tougaloo College, to invest energy in the Project on the History of Black Writing and research on Richard Wright, Lance Jeffers, Ishmael Reed and other writers, and to remain faithful to  Black Arts Movement imperatives  until the present. My 2016 celebration is a bit removed  from what Callaloo is in the 21st century, namely "a journal devoted to creative works by and critical studies of black writers worldwide" that also publishes  visual art and "studies of life and culture in the black world."  My celebrating is still attached to Tom  Dent's assertion  in Callaloo #1 ------

Though CALLALOO will not be limited to Black Southerners, it will be an organ of expression for new Black Southern writers and other artists.  CALLALOO will also give news of the new Black community theaters and cultural groups in the South, the existence of which is hardly known to the larger Black artistic community. (page v)

 I can't remember  and don't  have an urgent reason  to remember in what year Dent and I were totally erased from Callaloo.  I do have more to say about Callaloo #1-#7, but I'll do the saying in a book rather than in a blog.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            April 25, 2016

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