I’ve been called a “luddite” for over a decade, mostly by myself to pre-empt the comment from others. It’s for good reason—I do, after all, make books by hand. In fact, at the University of Iowa Center for the Book, in which I am an MFA candidate for Book Arts, I make them from scratch: writing my own work, forming sheets of paper, setting and printing movable type, and binding them all into a final book object with thread and needle, and perhaps some glue. So how could I find a foothold for the Digital Scholarship and Publication Studio Summer Fellowship?
It’s true that I am not the most comfortable with technology. Do you know that my parents run the leading computer technology store in my home of Nassau, The Bahamas? Let’s just say the apple fell far, far away from that tree. But through my work at the UICB, I have gained a deeper understanding of how these crafts have shaped our digital world—even just considering the rich depth of book and type history in contemporary digital design language, these disparate realities intersect more than we think. Now more than ever, I’ve been contemplating how to use digital spaces to advance or re-examine or share literature.
In 2009, while finishing up my BFA in Writing at Pratt Institute and navigating the world of handmade books and independent press culture, I began my own small press for Caribbean literature called Poinciana Paper Press. Truthfully, two close friends, and Bahamian writers I admired, wanted to publish their work—one couldn’t find a literary magazine to accept their short story, and the other didn’t want to wait over a year for his poetry collection to see the light of day—and I offered to make limited editions of their work as handmade chapbooks. Thus began my press. I enjoy making beautiful and engaging books, but my true love remains the words that inspire these vessels. I know that I’m biased, but Caribbean literature has the most dynamic range of work out there in the literary landscape, and I want to make it more accessible.
I also love podcasts, which keep me company as I bind many books in the studio. Years ago, I entertained a light bulb moment that explored the possibility of a podcast for Caribbean literature—not in the form of a talk show, but more in the form of authors simply reading their work. “Ah,” I thought. “Maybe in another life where I have the time and skill set to record and edit audio with all that fancy and complicated equipment,” and promptly let the idea collect dust in my “one day” folder. When the opportunity for this fellowship came along, that light bulb flickered back on. What if, with the professional support and guidance from the people in the Digital Scholarship and Publication Studio, I could actually gain these unknown skills to make this dream a reality? After all, I am exploring how to diversify my publishing platforms. I put my straw hat in the ring and I am now thrilled to have the summer to produce my podcast for Caribbean literary voices, Tongues of the Ocean.
Hailing from the fractured physical landscape of the Caribbean and its diaspora, digital spaces like online forums have allowed us to sustain important literary exchanges with one another, building a dynamic community with a range of voices, histories, and experiences. While revered print publications in the region were negotiating how to move into the digital realm, an online-only literary magazine changed the game. Founded by Nicolette Bethel in 2009, tongues of the ocean brought together exciting new work by up-and-coming Caribbean authors in a very accessible way. Though it shared its last issue in 2014, the work by its contributors mark a provocative shift in voice and aesthetic, reflected in their full-length book collections a decade later. When I thought more seriously about making this podcast a reality, I approached Nicolette to ask if the name could live on in this new manifestation, and she graciously agreed. I am thrilled that she will be my first guest on the show, and overwhelmingly grateful to build the podcast upon this significant foundation.
This project is not without another important context. In the mid-20th century, the BBC’s groundbreaking Caribbean Voices broadcast made literature from the colonial Anglophone Caribbean space accessible to listeners far and wide. Giving Caribbean writers a platform through which to share their work, this program marked an important turning point in literary history in the region. I am certainly not the powerhouse of the BBC, and I don’t see myself as having any definitive authority over the Caribbean literary canon by any means; all I can hope for is that I too can successfully use a contemporary tool to share the current literary landscape of my home. Basically, my endgame is this: I just want people to hear Caribbean literature, and to fall in love with it like I do every time I open a book from the region.
So far I have been overwhelmed by the show of support from the Studio, my fellows, and also from writers and creative thinkers in the Caribbean region. Besides Nicolette’s leap of faith, I also have to thank Holly Bynoe from the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, Nicholas Laughlin from the Bocas Literary Festival, and Deborah Anzinger from NLS Kingston for their encouragement, critical feedback, vital guidance, and willingness to connect me with the tools and people I need to launch this project. Armed with these means, I have been able to spend the first part of this summer ahead of the fellowship thoughtfully fleshing out the mission and structure of the podcast and identifying how to problem-solve my anxieties (which all stem from my inexperience with audio equipment, recording standards, and editing). Also working with Cydne Coleby on branding, Liam Farmer on theme music, and Lisa Benjamin on navigating the legal precautions of this venture, the foundation of the podcast was coming together well before I started the fellowship.
After a week of weighing audio recording possibilities through the Studio, another DSPS fellow, the wonderful Mary Wise, brought to my attention a podcast recording studio on campus, helping a final piece of the foundation to fall into place (and alieving a great portion of my audio-related anxiety). After a test run this week, and with branding coming together by the beginning of July, I should be poised to take the plunge with legit guests by mid-July and will report back on those successes (and inevitable challenges and learning curves) in my final blog post.