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  • Jorge Froes, Ronald Augusto and João Batista Rodrigues*
  • Charles Henry Rowell, Jorge Froes, Ronald Augusto, and João Batista Rodrigues
    Translated by Bruce Willis

I began Callaloo as a Black South forum in 1976, when I was teaching in the Department of English at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. However, I actually conceived the idea of such a literary and cultural journal during the spring of 1974, when I was visiting my father's farm in Auburn, Alabama. As I look back now, I recall again, as I have done so many times, what I saw as the urgent need to accommodate, nurture, and help develop black literary voices in the South. I was fully aware that the need for such a forum resulted mainly from two separate but related realities: 1) the White South's policies of racial exclusion, one of the tenets upon which white supremacy is based; and 2) the Black North's will, for some nefarious reason, to place itself in a position of superiority over black people in the South. In other words, African American writers in the South were being systematically excluded from Southern (and more often than not from Northern white) literary journals, magazines, and publishing houses; and Black South writers were only occasionally published by black periodicals in the North, even during the 1960s and early 1970s, when short-lived black literary journals in the North seemed to "jes' gro'." Then, too, there was no forum for black visual artists in the South, a problem that I, even with the very first issue of Callaloo, tried to address. One might say Callaloo began as a journal of necessity.

I first realized how I could help address the need for a Black South literary forum while I was on an NEA Fellowship leave from my teaching duties at Southern. There I was one morning in the peace and quiet of my father's farm in Auburn, Alabama—some three hundred miles away from the rush of classes and office hours and the crush of students—in a setting where the intellect and imagination are allowed to range, without interruption, over vast pastures. It was late March in 1974, and there I was, I recall, sitting at my father's kitchen table, ruminating after breakfast. Two or three days earlier, I had returned from Washington DC, where I had met and taped a long interview with Sterling Brown, poet and critic, who was still teaching at Howard University. To the kitchen table I had moved books, writing paper, and a portable typewriter to begin my article on Brown and his use of the Southern folk tradition in his poetry. Sitting there alone, I thought, for not a short while, about what I had discovered in the interview about Sterling Brown's long career as a pioneering figure in African-American literary and cultural studies. His studies, as well as his own poetry, had led him to the vernacular culture of the South, a region so in need in his youth and in 1974—yes, in need of justice, fair play, basic material comforts for the many poor, and high standards of formal education for all, and yet so very rich in song and language and eloquent speech acts and other instruments of expressive culture. As I thought about all that Sterling Brown had done to preserve, promote, and celebrate African American life and culture and the written word originating from them, I began to wonder what I could do. The answer was immediately apparent: a independent venue in which new and developing black writers in the South could make their voices heard, [End Page 402] a periodical that would not only publish their work but would also encourage, nourish, and support them as artists. With Sterling Brown's eloquent and erudite voice lingering in my ear that spring morning, I began to realize the Black South needed a forum that neither subscribed to a narrow political ideology nor attempted to dictate to authors what to write. In the wake of the demise of the Black Arts Movement, what we needed in the South, I concluded, was a free and open journal whose...