In Memory of Dr. Lorris Elliott, Ph.D. (1932-99): A Founding Author and Critic of African-Canadian Literature

Article excerpt

This special issue of Kola is occasioned not merely by its twentieth-year milestone but also by the need to recognize its absolute distinctiveness. Indeed, though its subtitle names it "A Black Literary Magazine," it publishes Caucasian and Asian writers. (For Kola, "Black" does not mean "Black-only" but rather "Black-edited.") Moreover, though the Montreal-based journal issues work by African-Canadian writers, it is so unrepentantly international and cosmopolitan that no Canadian government offers it any meaningful support.

Hence, Kola is fairly unusual among Canadian literary magazines: it is more or less privately funded by its subscribers, contributors (voluntarily) and those who believe in it; it is resolutely Pan-African, but also multicultural, essentially publishing anyone and anything the editors deem worthy, without regard to "race" or nationality. Yet, the only appropriate adjective for a mainly Caribbean-Canadian-edited literary journal that publishes black writers from everywhere as well as works by non-blacks is, well, Canadian.

Looking back over the first ten years of the journal, I see that one effect of the open-submission policy was a de facto domination of Kola's pages by African-American authors. This point is fascinating, for it suggests the mass acceptance of the notion of "Black" as a synonym for "African American." Clearly, African-American writers felt no disjuncture in submitting work to a Quebec-based, Canadian-edited journal, for it was "A Black Literary Magazine" and, thus, automatically, as it were, African-American; that is to say, an international extension of publications such as Callaloo and the African American Review.

There was--and is--nothing wrong with this determination (definition). However, it illustrates that the ideology of "Pan-Africanism" tends to be more American in impetus than truly global.

Ironically, though, Kola is a descendant of West Indian journals such as Savacou, which, in the 1960s and 1970s, from its base in London, England, disseminated the short fiction, poetry, reviews and critical essays of exiles and migrants back to the anglophone Caribbean. Savacou hosted major writers and debated major issues, thus serving to build an audience--popular and critical, domestic and international-for the writings of the first-generation, post-independence, well-educated and travelling Antillean intellectuals.

Intriguingly, if Kola was intended to be a Canadian version of Savacou, it has failed to win such influence. It remains obscure for most African-Canadian writers, of whatever background, and relatively few have published therein. Nor can it be effectively described as an organ of specifically Caribbean-Canadian authors: its pages host little of the Caribbean demotic or vernacular that abounds in Savacou, nor does it have the institutional anchoring afforded the Caribbean Quarterly.

(At this juncture, it is fitting to recall Caribe, a Winnipeg, Manitoba-based, African-Canadian literary journal that published from 1979 to 1993. Caribe was also, like Kola, essentially privately funded, but more Caribbean and Canadian in focus than "Pan-African." The story for Black Images, a Toronto-based "little magazine" published between 1972 and 1975, was different again, for it was so adamantly internationalist that few African-Canadian writers appeared in its pages. Its interest was African and West Indian literature, with an occasional American aside.)

Then again, African-Canadian writers, of whatever background, especially the young, do not tend to contribute to literary journals. First, for many, the primacy of voice and audience response motivates them to pursue declamatory recording and broadcasting venues, a mode of production (instrumentation) that marginalizes print. Secondly, the mainstream (Caucasian-established and dominated) lit-crit enterprise-whether amateurish, journalistic or academic-has been viewed as suspect, as disrespecting "black" writing. …