Henry Swanzy (1915-2004) has an unrivalled position as a midwife of Caribbean and West African writing in the 1950s period. As the editor of the BBC Caribbean Voices programme (initiated by Una Marson) between 1946 and 1954, he was there as the careers of George Lamming, Edgar Mittelholzer, Jan Carew, Andrew Salkey, Wilson Harris, Kamau Brathwaite, V.S. Naipaul, Sam Selvon and many others took off in London. He was pleased to receive work from women in the Caribbean such as Edwina Melville, Gloria Escoffery and Eula Redhead. As editor, Swanzy looked for work that was authentic to its Caribbean roots, in language, theme and social concern. As an Irishman, Swanzy had a sufficiently critical view of colonialism to be positively sympathetic to the nationalist thrust of the writing. He was well-respected by the writers to whom he offered both literary and personal support – and not least for his awareness of their pecuniary needs. Once Caribbean Voices was well established, it was left in the hands of Caribbean editors and Swanzy went to Ghana in 1954 to encourage and support writers and broadcasting there, launching the radio programme The Singing Net and being part of the writing careers of Cyprian Ekwensi, Efua Sutherland and many others. Thanks to the generosity of Swanzy’s heirs, his private and often amusingly indiscreet diaries of this period (known as “Ichabod”) have been made available and carefully edited and documented by the team of Niblett, Campbell and Smith. With an introduction that puts Swanzy and these radio programmes in context, this is both an essential, entertaining and highly readable book for anyone even remotely interested in the development of Caribbean and West African writing.
Not least of its value is the extensive appendix where Niblett et al. have documented all the writers mentioned in the diary. This, in itself, is a salutary reminder of the wealth of writing talent in both the Caribbean and Ghana that flowered in this period but then, in the absence of other opportunities, disappeared from view.
Read the introduction made at the launch at the Bocas Litfest on Sunday 30th April. by Jeremy Poynting