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The small Bamboo with big ambition
Caribbean writers and readers have been talking about a new publishing house on the literary scene—but Bamboo Talk Press is not just any publishing house. Headed by Paula Thomas, better known as Paula Obe, who has been writing poetry since she was 12 and has many published works, it will be a hub for writers and poets regionally—offering traditional, print-on-demand and e-publishing, as well as editing, illustration, layout and launch event services. “I have always been inspired by small publishing houses,” Obe explains. “I knew first-hand about how hard it is to be published, since there are very few publishing opportunities here, and getting published internationally can be that proverbial needle in the haystack. I wanted to do my part, because there are so many talented writers locally and in the wider Caribbean.” Talent, unquestionably. But there are also challenges facing this type of start-up in this type of economy. Obe recognises them all and she’s meeting them head on. “The social and financial landscape keeps changing. The micro level really is the macro level, the personal is indeed the political, and now more than ever, the average person has the tools to re-create and nurture this changing landscape. We are pioneers and there is land for the taking. This combined with a network of my loving family, dedicated friends, including my other director in the business, has helped me go full force into this growing dream of mine.”
The foundation of this dream is poetry. Obe believes it has the power “to create a dual universe: to heal, to destroy, to help to hinder, to shout, to whisper, to love to hate, to bleed, to cry, to laugh, to lie, to tell truths… poetry speaks to every emotion possible. The question is, what is it do we want poetry to do on an individual level? What is our poetry-story?” It is a fair question, but the overriding answer—at least when it comes to the publishing of poetic works—is that poetry is unprofitable. Many established publishing houses steer clear of poetry because of its limited financial returns. Obe, however, sees the flip side: “There are poets who have been able to market themselves and do pretty well, performing and selling books and CDs at performance spaces, some of which they have created themselves. Poets have to see themselves as a brand, market themselves, create that audience… that will give a publisher an added reason to publish them.” As a publisher, she also believes in finding new ways to present the work: anthologies, and combinations of poetry and prose. “In this way,” she explains, “more people have an investment and more copies will be sold.”
She certainly walks her talk. In October, Bamboo Talk Press will launch its first regional anthology, She Sex, which features some talented female poets and prose writers from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda Jamaica and T&T. (Sunday Arts Section editor, Lisa Allen-Agostini, is one of the contributors). The company also has an imprint, Bamboo Shoots, geared towards books for children and young writers. “When Bamboo Talk Press went public,” Obe says, “I got many inquiries from writers writing for children and young writers. I recognised that this is a service that is indeed needed. Already I have lined up some talented children illustrators to work on projects. As time goes by, I will structure the business to suit the demands I see around me.”
Obe thinks that, realistically, Bamboo Talk Press will only be able to publish about three books a year the traditional way, where the press makes the investment and the author enjoys royalties. For its print-on-demand service, Bamboo Talk Press will try to offer great cost for a top quality product. The publishing house also plans to collaborate with other organisations, such as Oleander Circle, which does creative arts counselling, and Poetic Vibes, which creates events for their writers and poets. These types of partnerships, Obe says, will allow her a 360-degree viewpoint of issues and opportunities.
“There are also other ideas that will be revealed in time in the area of audio books and music publishing.” She maintains that there is an untapped market for poetry and plans to explore new ways of presenting the literary genre. “There are many spoken word poets who are combining spoken word and music now,” she says. Obe herself has performed at folk festivals that embraced her own unique style of poetry and performance: “It’s all about exploring different ways to reach new audiences.” For all Obe’s modern thinking, however, the publishing house is rooted in a deep oral tradition. “Many years ago, I was walking past Wild Flower Park, and as I passed the bamboo patch, I heard them talking… “crick”… knocking like a tamboo bamboo band, talking in Morse code. I wrote a poem called Bamboo Talk, where I aligned it to our ancestors talking to us through the bamboo.” Bamboo Talk Press is also part of an impressive publishing tradition. Anson Gonzalez, poet extraordinaire who printed the literary journal The New Voices for 20 years, routinely discovered and published promising Caribbean writing talent; Obe was among them. “Anson helped nurture my writing as a young poet, and afforded me the first space to publish my work. I believe he planted that seed to establish a publishing house just by his actions. I too want to create a space to develop words and writers and readers.” This, Obe says, is the most important work she could be doing for the country’s—and the region’s—literary landscape. “As a child, besides the recommended authors for school, I would not have been exposed to the many local writers I met being part of organisations such as the Writers Union. I want our regional children to have literary heroes that they can relate to, writers that speak their own language. I want to provide opportunities, both for writers and readers. The Caribbean is so alive with talent; going to poetry events is a testament to that.”
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