Statement for Breaking Ice
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Callaloo 23.2 (2000) 665-668

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Editing Hambone *

Nathaniel Mackey

The first issue of Hambone was published in the spring of 1974. It was then dormant for several years before being revived, the second issue appearing in the fall of 1982. Since then it has appeared at a rate just a bit slower than an issue per year, with issue number 14 forthcoming this fall. My comments will focus on the period commencing with the revival of the magazine in 1982, as it became a significantly different journal upon resuming publication at that point. For one, I became the sole editor and publisher, whereas the spring 1974 issue was a group effort initiated by the Committee on Black Performing Arts at Stanford University, where I was a graduate student. The journal in fact had a different name and a different editor at its inception; I was asked to take over when that editor, midway through the year, left Stanford for a teaching job in another part of the country. I thus, for that first issue, inherited material which had been gathered and selected by others. To this material I added contributions which I solicited from writers and artists whose work I admired. I also gave the magazine the name Hambone. Shortly after the appearance of the first issue, I too left Stanford for a teaching job elsewhere. No one at Stanford took up the job of continuing to put out the journal, so for several years I carried around the idea of someday reviving it in a somewhat different form--which, as I've said, I did in 1982.

The aim of the Committee on Black Performing Arts was to publish a journal presenting work by African-American writers and artists. This the first issue did and subsequent issues have continued to do. The name Hambone carries African-American references and resonances, conjuring and alluding to the vernacular rhyme and the vernacular figure of that name, the dialogical "'Hambone, Hambone, where you been?' / 'Around the world and I'm goin' again.'" I also, in choosing the name, had in mind a composition of the same name by saxophonist Archie Shepp, itself based on this rhyme, a signal, suggestive meeting of the vernacular and the avant-garde. The name of the journal thus accents an African-American provenance while also marking a propensity to range or to roam ("'Around the world and I'm goin' again'"), a propensity I brought more emphatically to the fore when Hambone began to appear again in the 1980s. Whereas the 1974 issue was comprised entirely of works by African-American writers and artists, I decided that, beginning with issue number 2, Hambone would include work by contributors from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, albeit continuing to present work by African-American writers and [End Page 665] artists. It would, I decided, attempt to offer an informed, coherent eclecticism, publishing work by writers and artists from various communities inside and outside the United States, bringing together contributors who, actual and ostensible differences notwithstanding, share certain formal, linguistic and social concerns. It would lean toward and feature the experimental and the esoteric, divergent artistico-cultural practices, advancing a non-centrist, counter-mainstream aesthetic. "Cross-cultural work with an emphasis on the centrifugal" is how I characterized the journal's focus for the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines' directory.

The editorial agenda which has informed Hambone since resumption of publication in 1982 has thus been: a) to create an eclectic but not haphazard mix in which writers from a variety of communities both inside and outside the U.S. are brought together; b) to highlight shared as well as contrasting concerns and artistic orientations, favoring work bent on testing and extending the conceptual and technical possibilities afforded by writing; c) to compose each issue with an eye to continuity, counterpoint, overlap and overall coherence; d) to publish unknown and less-known writers deserving greater exposure alongside well-known writers; e) to include relevant forays into the nonliterary arts (music, the visual arts, etc.). I want to emphasize the fact that Hambone has been the work...