To the editor: I’ve been researching recently a small project in Barbados about access to the Frank Collymore papers. With this in mind I was drawn to the CRB’s “Reading list” essay (“Yours etc.”, August 2008) about writers’ private papers. I thought it might be worth sharing a few of my findings and one or two of the issues the piece raises.
The Barbados National Archive manages the Frank Appleton Collymore Collection. This collection of books, memorabilia, and correspondence is quite a treasure trove of raw material for literary historians and artists interested in the early development of Caribbean literature. In the collection there are letters to Collymore from around twelve Caribbean authors. Among the more substantial correspondence are fifty letters from Edgar Mittelholzer, twenty-nine from George Lamming, and seven from Derek Walcott. There are also between one and five letters from, among others, John Figueroa, Geoffrey Drayton, A.J. Seymour, Harold Simmonds, Albert Gomes, and Austin Clarke. The letters reveal much about small magazine publishing, the role and development of Bim as a regional literary magazine, and the nature of Collymore’s relationships with many of these writers.
As the “Reading list” essay points out, there are various issues about access to this sort of material. Access to and citation of the material is not easy. The collection is “restricted,” requiring a formal application to view the documents and a signed agreement by the researcher to abide by copyright conditions. Permission to cite from correspondence also rests with the author of the correspondence or their estate. Obtaining these various permissions may take a while, if they are ever granted.
In the collection there are also letters from Henry Swanzy, the producer of Caribbean Voices, the BBC radio programme. Over a period of eight years, between the late 1940s and early 1950s, some thirty letters passed between Swanzy and Collymore. Letters from Collymore are located in the Swanzy papers at the University of Birmingham, and those from Swanzy in the Barbados National Archive. The correspondence sheds light on their enabling roles as editors involved in the mid-twentieth-century development of Caribbean literature.
In my own writing I have also used this correspondence to draw a picture of Collymore’s in-between status in the Caribbean literary world. The piece is in the collection of essays that I edited titled Remembering the Sea, and published in 2004 by the Central Bank of Barbados [reviewed in the May 2005 CRB].
St Thomas, Barbados