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The Selected Diaries and Writings of Henry Swanzy: Ichabod 1948-58

"An unrivalled and often witty account of the Caribbean Voices and West African Voices programmes and the writing personalities involved in the crucial 1950s period." - DAVID DABYDEEN


Henry Swanzy, Michael Niblett, Chris Campbell, Victoria Ellen Smith
Memoir, Biography, Cultural Studies
England, Pan Caribbean, Ghana
Date published
20 Apr 2023

Henry Swanzy (1915-2004) has an unrivalled position as the midwife of Caribbean writing in the post 1950s period. As the editor of the BBC Caribbean Voices programme (initiated by Una Marson) between 1946 and 1956, he was there as the careers of George Lamming, Edgar Mittelholzer, Jan Carew, V.S. Naipaul, Sam Selvon and many others took off in London. As a programme aimed in the first place at a Caribbean listenership, Swanzy encouraged writing that was authentic to its Caribbean roots, in language, theme and social concern. As an Irishman, Swanzy retained enough of a post-colonial sensibility to be positively sympathetic to the nationalist thrust of the writing. He was evidently 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 (including Mittelholzer and V.S. Naipaul) and Swanzy himself went off to Ghana in 1956 to encourage and support writers and broadcasting there. 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 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, in many cases undeservedly disappeared from view.

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Victoria Ellen Smith

Victoria Ellen Smith is a senior lecturer at the University of Ghana. Her research interests include2 0th century Ghanaian literature and literary networks, cultural history, oral history and oral traditions, history of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, Okyeame: Ghana’s Literary Magazine, B.B.C. Overseas Service to West Africa, oral literature and sites of memory, West African state building, 19th century Anglo-Fante society, British Empire, Fante Asafo military companies, West African domestic slavery, European fortified trading warehouses in West Africa.

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Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell is a Lecturer in Global Literatures at the University of Exeter and his research focusses on the intersections of world literature, postcolonial theory and environmental criticism. He is particularly interested in Caribbean literature and culture, world-ecology and postcolonial ecocriticism, and histories of broadcast culture and empire. From a broader perspective his research interests include: world literature as literature of the modern world-system; literary and cultural theory; the environmental humanities, debates in modernity and modernism; colonial/postcolonial Cyprus; and west country writing.

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Michael Niblett

Michael Niblett is Associate Professor in modern world literature, and teaches on the English and Comparative Literary Studies programme at the University of Warwick.

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Henry Swanzy

Henry Swanzy (14 June 1915 – 19 March 2004) was an Anglo-Irish radio producer in Britain's BBC General Overseas Service who is best known for his role in promoting West Indian literature particularly through the programme Caribbean Voices, where in 1946 he took over from Una Marson, the programme's first producer. Swanzy introduced unpublished writers and continued the magazine programme "with energy, critical insight and generosity". It is widely acknowledged that "his influence on the development of Caribbean literature has been tremendous".

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