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Narrating the Caribbean Nation Outline Programme and Themes


February 24th-25th 2017

We invite you to celebrate 30+ years of Peepal Tree Press in conjunction with the University of Leeds Poetry Centre.

Over the weekend panellists and performers confirmed so far include Jean Antoine-Dunne, Melanie Abrahams, Malika Booker, Kwame Dawes, Corinne Fowler, David Hamilton, Thomas Glave,  Khadijah Ibrahiim, Gail Low, John Lyons, Nick Makoha, Alecia McKenzie, John McLeod, Michael Niblett, Desiree Reynolds, Roger Robinson, Jacob Ross, Leone Ross, Clem Seecharan and Kadija Sesay.

Events will take place in the Workshop Theatre of the School of English at the University of Leeds. 

There will be no charge for any of the events, though you can make a donation to costs. Space is limited and attendance will be by prior registration on the following Eventbrite links.



Booking tickets from London? Try signing up for Virgin Cheap Seats notifications to get the best price on your tickets. National Express and Megabus also do promotional fares.

Outline programme:

Friday 24th – An evening of performances: 7.00 – 9.00  Click here for tickets and line-up   At the Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds. Then after the performances join us for Peepal Tree's birthday party with open mic and bar at Live Art Bistro, Regent Street , Leeds, LS2 7QA  

Saturday 25th – The conference: A day of surveying the scene. We invite you to take part in a series of discussions about current developments in Caribbean and Black British writing and in the academic study of those fields. We want to bring together the perspectives of writers, readers, academics and publishers. There will be a keynote speech from Kwame Dawes and a series of round tables. There will be no academic papers, and round-table presenters are asked to prepare brief (10 minutes max) reports on such matters as writing or academic research projects, surveys, agreements, disagreements, provocations – all with the scope for participation from attenders.

There will be a number of readings during the day, including a performance by Khadijah Ibrahiim and David Hamilton. Click here for day conference tickets


Key conference themes:


If the 1950s-1970s were supposedly pan-nationalist, male and heterosexual (well mostly), since then Caribbean writing and criticism has diversified into collectivities around gender, around ethnicities (African, Indian, European, Chinese) around nation-states (Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana etc etc), around the distinction between the Caribbean Caribbean and its diasporas, and around sexualities (LGBTI) – to say nothing of the place of ideologies from historical materialism to spiritualisms of African, Euro-Christian, Hindu and Muslim kinds. The evidence of conferences, book-buying habits and critical publications suggests – as Kamau Brathwaite noted/feared many years ago in Contradictory Omens (1975) is that these have become subgroups talking to themselves. Similar fractures have occurred in the old political inclusiveness of Black Britishness.

  • Have the explorations of such diverse identities changed the way the Caribbean is seen?

  • Do they still represent ways forward for Caribbean writing and critical reading?

  • Where is the Caribbean and its nations as specific, material, geographic entities in a globalised, postcolonial discourse, with its concerns with such overarching themes as global ecologies and transnationalism?

  • What are the points of contact between such divergent angles of perception?

  • Are there unresolvable divergencies of view?

  • Are there ways of seeing the Caribbean whole (or is this even desirable) in ways that encompass these diversities? Is the unity still submarine?



One of the conclusions that reading some Caribbean writers (witness George Lamming in The Pleasures of Exile in the 1950s) and listening to some recent ones is that they believed they were the pioneers and nothing came before them, or at least nothing of value. Some at least of this can be explained by the disappearance and difficulty of accessing earlier publications. The evidence is of course, as a number of books (Donnell, Rosenberg, Cudjoe et al) that question the accepted canon show, and as the former publishing enterprises of New Beacon Books, Heinemann, Longman and MacMillan (now no longer active) and Peepal Tree with its Caribbean Modern Classics have made available, is that there were always books that came before, or sometimes authors who should have been published, but weren’t. As John La Rose argued, recovering the past is crucial to establishing “an awareness of the dangers and pitfalls that lie ahead if facile solutions are expected or attempted”.

  • But what are the interests (and are they different?) of writers, critics, readers in the recovery of the past?

  • What work are researchers currently doing on the Caribbean and Black British literary past?

  • What work are writers currently/recently engaged in that is/has been concerned with recovering aspects of the past

  • What remains concealed, too little known? What are the priorities for recovery?

  • What weight should publishers be giving to the backwards look when the present presses so heavily?



There’s nothing new about Caribbean writing that looks both in the direction of the physically experienced, remembered or imagined world and other books. Even before Jean Rhys with Sargasso and Jane Eyre, VS Reid was giving a nod to the Aeneid in New Day (and see Emily Greenwood’s Afro-Greeks: Dialogues between Anglo-Caribbean Literature and the Classics), but making connections with the world of the book is only one of the ways in which Caribbean & Black British authors have been writing in relationship to other artistic and cultural forms including the visual arts, popular musics and folk-cultural narratives. Again, a feature of more recent writing (with some earlier pioneers) has been a branching out from the dominant forms of literary realism to exploring the potential of more “popular” genres: police procedurals, crime, noir, science fiction and speculative fiction. This session is an invitation to writers to say something about the connections between their reading and their writing, and for readers and critics to talk about the issues this raises.

  • How much does it matter what texts, genres and cultural forms writers connect to?

  • Do some of these speak more closely to Caribbean experiences (whatever they may be!) than others?

  • What cultural/historical issues does this raise?

  • Does it matter if readers don’t know or don’t spot the “intertexts”?

  • And why has it become ever more common?



Jeremy Poynting, Peepal Tree's managing editor, has just reached his 70th year, and Peepal Tree has reached 31/32 years (the first book did come out in 1985, really). There are practical issues that we have to deal with as part of our continuing desire for support from the Arts Council both for our publishing, related public activities and our writer development programme (including Inscribe, our readers and writers group and the kind of involvement we have with Caribbean focused projects such as CaribLit and Peekash Press). These practical issues include the pressure to have an advisory board. We know too that we have to start putting in place a succession plan. Several things are plain:

1) Jeremy and the team (and hopefully our writers and readers) want Peepal Tree to have a continuing life.

2) We will have to replace Jeremy's input at a point that gets closer each year.

3) But above all, if Peepal Tree is to continue, then we know it needs to listen to what its core supporters want from it.

This round-table is a challenge to look forward and think about some of the matters that concern all of us who care about Caribbean and Black British writing as an essential element in understanding, delighting in, sustaining, challenging and fighting against elements of the world we live in.

  • How can we create a more supportive environment for our writers as creators?

  • How can we grow readerships and speak across cultural boundaries?

  • What role can academia play in shaping the contexts for reading and appreciation?

  • How can Peepal Tree ensure its relevance (the only real purpose for its survival) in the future?


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