restricted access Callaloo : Brief Notes on a Tradtion of Engaging the Diaspora, Thirty Years and Beyond
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Brief Notes on a Tradition of Engaging the Diaspora, Thirty Years and Beyond

Over the past thirty years few journals in the academy have made the type of impact upon the field of the African Diaspora as has Callaloo. Immediately recognizable by name and instantly associated with the publication of high-quality poetry, short stories, visual art, essays, and other forms of cultural production, Callaloo stands alone among its peers as a premier journal that both displays and analyzes the cultural and social experiences of the African Diaspora. Moreover, unlike other journals that may feature an occasional article or two on these themes, Callaloo consistently showcases a wide variety and impressive quantity of pieces that document and interpret the story of the African heritage's global impact.

At the very center of its endeavors, Callaloo keeps alive one of the integral features of the African Diasporic experience—the promulgation of creative innovation and vitality. In a recent lecture delivered at Johns Hopkins University, the sociologist and Africana philosopher Paget Henry, reflecting on the work of C.L.R. James, reminded his audience that one of the key forms by which peoples of African descent have engaged modernity and participated in its construction has been through an "improvisational metaphysics."* By this, he means that it is through the act of creative and oftentimes spontaneous improvisation, manifested in such arts as writing, music, and visual culture, that Blacks have challenged the centrality of dominant social and philosophical discourses of the Western tradition. Improvisational creativity, because of its very de-centered nature, allows space for a plurality of modes of social understanding and interaction. Improvisational creativity can also be seen as the root of an "Africana phenomenology" that differs from "Western phenomenology."

The cornucopia of artistic work that has regularly appeared in the pages of Callaloo exudes improvisational creativity. Meanwhile, the literary criticism that has graced the journal has gone far toward helping translate important works of literature within an Africana framework. Furthermore, the interviews that Callaloo has recorded for posterity have served to personalize the producers, thinkers, and agents of diasporic cultural and intellectual production. The particular slant of the interviews, richly informed by the interviewers' abundant knowledge on Africana topics, has typically served to elevate the content of subject matter to new registers. Callaloo has also periodically featured works [End Page 626] of nonfiction—essays, articles, and scholarly treatment of topics far removed from the artistic realm. In this sense, the journal has brought to its readership a taste of the totality of the African Diasporic experience.

The outreach that Callaloo has made into the Caribbean and Latin America, particularly in recent years, has been extremely encouraging. For instance, the journal's efforts to identify and publish Afro-Mexican poetry, short stories, and critical essays (in bilingual form) have done much to raise public awareness on an area of the diaspora that had received little previous attention. Indeed, through publishing the work of Afro-Mexican authors, as well as the oral histories of certain Afro-Mexican regions, the journal has provided international stature and legitimacy to works that have long been marginalized. Through such enterprises the journal has not only presented its readership with concrete representations of the diaspora but it has also taken the important step of building new Afro-Diasporic connections. More can be done in this regard, and I believe that this is part of Callaloo's future. Just has the journal has sensitized a North American public to the broader Black world, future bilingual publications of Black poetry, short stories, and cultural traditions from other understudied regions—such as Bolivia, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Argentina—may serve to build further bridges into the African Diaspora, especially by bringing together the authors and intellectuals from these regions. In this sense, Callaloo may move forth in helping better connect disparate parts of the Afro-Diasporic world.

Of course, as an historian, I can't resist the temptation of commenting upon yet another feature that Callaloo has ably modeled. Over its thirty-year life span, the journal has created a living archive that, in and of itself represents an organic record of the lived...