The offices of Callaloo at the University of Virginia have been abuzz with work on a number of projects for the last three years, only one of which is the quarterly editing and production of the journal itself. These projects depend on financial support from private and public agencies and are designed to advertise and promote Callaloo and its special issues. Like the journal itself, these projects are public events which not only work for the good of the general American public but also for the journal’s contributors and the writing communities within which they are situated. Through these projects, not a few writers have been afforded the opportunity to speak and read at sites where they have never before had the privilege of making an intimate visit. In addition to identifying and nurturing potential writers as well as supporting and promoting new writers, these projects have helped to expand and develop the audience for 20th-century American literature in general and African-American literature in particular. We have no doubt that these Callaloo-derived projects of the past three years have performed services which our supporters affirm and applaud.
In 1997, we began the second stage of planning and initial coordination of our largest project, “Writing the Self and the Community: The Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops for Historically Black Institutions,” an outreach program coordinated by Kendra Hamilton during its first two years and by Colette Dabney, Administrative Assistant, and Ginger Thornton, Managing Editor, in the fall semester of 1999. Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lannan Foundation, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops in many ways return the journal to its roots, the writing workshops which initiated its first issue nearly 25 years ago. (With the help of a number of friends in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, I founded the journal and edited and published its first issue during the fall of 1976 as the result of a creative writing workshop we conducted on the Baton Rouge campus of Southern University.) “Writing the Self and the Community” is designed to identify, encourage, and nurture potential creative writers (poets, fiction writers, essayists, and others) who are currently studying at historically black colleges and universities in the U.S. American South. The Workshops have provided students in those institutions one week of direct study with contemporary African-American writers, most of whom are award-winning poets and fiction writers who teach courses in creative writing at predominantly white institutions. This project has also provided students at historically black institutions the privilege of receiving close readings and critiques of their work from diverse professional writers. Lucille Clifton, Percival Everett, Kevin Young, Natasha Trethewey, John Edgar Wideman, Sharan Strange, Gloria Naylor, Yusef Komunyakaa, Helen Elaine Lee, Toi Derricotte, Reginald McKnight, and Harryette Mullen—these are some of the writers who have participated in this project.
In its three-year history, “Writing the Self and the Community” has visited Morehouse College, Fisk University, Morgan State University, Spelman College, [End Page vii] North Carolina Central University, and Xavier University; and, through readings and week-long workshops at these sites, we have continued to dedicate ourselves to the four-fold purpose of the project: 1) to re-establish an all-but-severed historical link between this generation’s most gifted African-American writers and the schools that once would have nurtured and sheltered their talents; 2) to foster and encourage a new generation of African-American writers through workshops that would otherwise be unavailable to them; 3) to broaden the audience for contemporary African-American literature in Southern communities, particularly black Southern communities; and 4) to promote and market Callaloo, particularly in the Southern region of the United States. The positive reception of this project and the numerous continuing requests for our return from students and faculty suggest that The Workshops help to fulfill, however briefly, some of the collective academic needs historically black colleges and universities face.
During the spring and summer of 1998, we began at a variety of locations to mount a series of programs—public readings and symposia, literary activities—which extend the audience for modern and contemporary writing in the Americas, as well as serve to promote Callaloo. Among our first such events was a celebration of Caribbean literature in the Miami area, May 30–31, 1998, at the Broward County Library in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. To promote the special issue of Callaloo (Volume 21, Number 3, guest edited by Hilda van Neck-Yoder) devoted to literature produced in Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, and the Netherlands, and to celebrate Caribbean literature in general, we organized two public programs featuring writers from Curaçao (Nydia Ecury, poet, and Frank Martinus Arion, fiction writer and literary critic) and Caribbean-American writers from Miami (JoAnn Hyppolite, a fiction writer of Haitian ancestry; Adrian Castro, a poet of Cuban background; and Fred D’Aguiar, a Guyanese-born poet and novelist who has spent a great part of his life in England). This South Florida project celebrated Caribbean literature, a multi-lingual and multi-cultural art, in a location where exiled Caribbean communities predominate.
Several of our events during 1998 promoted special issues of the journal. In April of that year, Callaloo traveled to the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, for the first of three launchings of the special Emerging Male Writers issues of Callaloo (Volume 21, Numbers 1 & 2). On October 17, 1998, Callaloo premiered this same issue with a reading by contributors at Joe’s Pub of The Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York. Two weeks later, we arrived in Chicago, where The Black Studies Department and the English Department of the University of Illinois joined together to sponsor two programs of literary readings from the Emerging Male Writers issues. Audiences at each of these three events were treated to readings by several of the following writers: dramatist Mark Green; fiction writers Randall Kenan, Bruce Morrow, Daniel Wideman, and John Edgar Wideman; and poets Thomas Sayers Ellis, Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips, Reginald Shepherd, and Kevin Young.
The fall of 1998 was in fact a very busy time for Callaloo. October 23–25, 1998, the journal co-sponsored—with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress—a symposium on Sterling A. Brown at the Library of Congress, [End Page viii] a conference which launched the special Callaloo issue (Volume 21, Number 4) devoted to the Washington, DC, poet; the program was also a celebration of Brown’s larger career as a writer, a literary and cultural critic, and a professor of English at Howard University. Along with Sonia Sanchez, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lucille Clifton, Michael S. Harper, Robert Pinsky, and Rita Dove—all of whom read from Brown’s poetry or spoke of Brown as an artist—a number of contributing scholars to the special issue of the journal participated in panel discussions on the celebrated artist and intellectual. Taken together, the special issue and the symposium offered a fitting tribute to the life and work of Sterling A. Brown, furthering one of Callaloo’s primary goals: expanding the audience for the best work by American writers of color.
Although some of the aforementioned projects were designed as one-time events, a few of them have evolved into ongoing literary and cultural partnerships, guaranteeing Callaloo’s central role in addressing the literary needs of marginalized U.S. American communities. Like the Sterling A. Brown symposium we mounted at the Library of Congress, these continuing Callaloo programs have national and international implications for the journal. One such project stems from our continued cooperation with The Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York. October 17, 1999, we returned to Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater with Callaloo readings by dramatist Suzan-Lori Parks, fiction writer Junot Díaz, and poet Yusef Komunyakaa, readings so successful that people had to be turned away at the door because there was not enough seating space to accommodate them. These readings at The Public Theater will continue in October 2000 and in 2001, when the Off-Broadway theater will become one of the major national sites to celebrate Callaloo’s 25th anniversary.
We at the journal are also excited about the forthcoming (March 30–April 1, 2000) symposium on John Edgar Wideman at the University of Virginia. In addition to celebrating the author as novelist, short story writer, and essayist, the spring symposium will promote and celebrate the special John Edgar Wideman issue of Callaloo (Volume 22, Number 3), guest edited by Claude Julien, Professor of English at the Université de Tours in France. This special issue of the journal, focused on the life and work of the Pittsburgh-born novelist and essayist, grew out of papers presented at a symposium sponsored by the Conseil Scientifique de l’Université de Tours in 1996. The participants for the symposium at the University of Virginia will include six of the European contributors to the special issue of Callaloo and five American scholars who will join in public discussions on the work of John Edgar Wideman. Wideman himself will address different groups in lectures and discussions as well as read from his work.
This symposium will initiate the Callaloo-European Exchange, an ongoing program designed to promote the journal, African-American literature, and African-American literary and cultural studies in Europe, at the same time exposing American scholars to the cutting edge of European scholarship in these same areas. The Callaloo-European Exchange will consist of alternating transatlantic visits to academic institutions in the United States and Europe. We have already begun inviting U.S. American scholars and creative writers to join us at the Université de Tours in September 2000, for two days of panel discussions and readings; and for the fall of 2001, we are again inviting a group of European scholars to join us at the University of Virginia as part [End Page ix] of our year-long celebration of Callaloo’s 25th anniversary for a series of lectures and panel discussions. By inviting European scholars to the University of Virginia and traveling with U.S. American scholars to Europe on alternate years, we hope to share with academic communities in Europe and North America the international dimensions of the discourse about African-American and Diaspora literature and culture.
Both the ongoing programs at New York’s Public Theater and the Callaloo-European Exchange will play a part in the larger celebration of Callaloo’s 25th anniversary in 2001. The Callaloo Anniversary Celebration is a momentous occasion in African-American literary history, for no other literary journal focusing on creative work by African-American writers has survived a quarter-century with an unbroken publication history. And no other African-American literary journal has ever attempted continuously to publish work by and about authors writing in various languages in non-U.S. regions of the African Diaspora. The Callaloo Anniversary Celebration events planned at The Joseph Papp Public Theater, at the University of Virginia, and at a number of other sites around the United States will reflect the scope, purposes, and goals of the journal, which have expanded considerably since publication of the first issue in the fall of 1976 at Southern University. In 1977, Callaloo published its second issue at the University of Kentucky, where the journal was housed until we moved to the University of Virginia in 1986. The original focus of Callaloo was the Black South, but after the move to Kentucky the journal gradually became a national voice for African-American literature. The move to Virginia added another dimension to the journal: Callaloo became an international forum for work by writers throughout the African Diaspora and for the publication of critical and theoretical texts devoted to the literature and culture of the Diaspora. The Callaloo Anniversary Celebration in Charlottesville, New York, and other cities in the United States will make visible a truth that we and our readers have long known: that Callaloo is the pre-eminent journal in the fields of African-American and non-U.S. Diaspora literature.
Both Callaloo itself and the wide range of the journal’s sponsored projects attempt to address major literary and cultural problems which continue to plague a U.S. American community that struggles—what with a racialized literary economy—to reach its full literary potential. Continued financial support of Callaloo, both private and public, can help to alleviate these pervasive cultural problems. At present, Callaloo depends heavily on the largesse of granting agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, agencies which in the budget-cutting world of the recent past and foreseeable future cannot begin to meet the needs of those programs which vie for their generous support. More specifically, to provide funds in support of Callaloo’s production and its community service projects is to contribute to one of the few instruments designed specifically to develop excellence in creative writing in African-American communities. These communities have long seen their literary development hindered by racist barriers first erected during slavery—barriers which will sadly persist even into the 21st century—one of the most vicious being the continued denial of access for many black writers to the white-owned and white-dominated publishing industry. Against such exclusions, Callaloo has stood for nearly a quarter-century as a site at which both emerging and established black writers of talent can [End Page x] meet, an avenue through which many have gained an access they might otherwise have been denied.
As we continue the production of Callaloo and move toward the 25th year of its publication in 2001, and as we attempt to raise funds to continue “Writing the Self and the Community: The Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops,” we will remain mindful of the origins and development of the journal, its goals and purposes. We will especially remain heartened by our responsibility to provide a forum for writers in the African Diaspora, that group of artists who, like other writers of color, are marginalized by a white-dominated publishing industry. And we will not forget that we must continue to identify, nurture, and encourage promising new writers who would otherwise be ignored by the literary establishment. As we look at Callaloo’s past and future, what we have tried to do for the literature and culture of the African Diaspora is clear: in addition to trying to direct toward excellence the critical and theoretical texts about the literature and culture, we have also tried to locate and publish the best creative literature being written and, in turn, to create standard bearers for the literature to come. In a word, we have tried to record the best of the literature for future memory and, in doing so, direct its development. We invite you to join us in our ongoing efforts to foster the best in the arts of the African Diaspora.