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Little Magazine, World Form$

Eric Bulson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780231179768

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231179768.001.0001

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Little postcolonial magazines

Little postcolonial magazines

(p.189) No. 5 Little postcolonial magazines
Little Magazine, World Form

Eric Bulson

Columbia University Press

Abstract and Keywords

In Nigeria and Uganda during 1950s and 60s, the little magazine was being nurtured by postcolonial nations looking to produce a literature that was regional, national, and global. By importing the foreign form of the little magazine, a diasporic network was created linking newly independent African nations with cities in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America, and the West Indies. Black Orpheus (Nigeria), Transition (Uganda), Bim (Barbados), Kyk-Over-al (Guyana), and The Beacon (Trinidad), accommodated a black internationalism that challenged the hegemony of a globalized book business (anchored in London and New York) actively repackaging “African writers” for a Western audience.

Keywords:   little magazine, black internationalism, postcolonial

The history of con temporary letters has, to a very manifest extent, been written in such magazines.

Ezra Pound, “Small Magazines”

The history of literary movements is more often written in some long forgotten dead little magazine.

Lewis Nkosi, “On Okyeame


LITTLE MAGAZINES MADE literary history in the twentieth century. On that point, Lewis Nkosi and Ezra Pound would agree. But if you begin to ask for more specific details—whose history? what literature? which magazines?—these two would necessarily part ways. When Pound was writing his brief history of “the small magazine,” he had in mind an Anglo-American high modernism made in the pages of Others, the Egoist, the Little Review, the Criterion, and the Dial in the 1910s and into the 1920s.1 Nkosi, who made this observation in a review of Okyeame, a little magazine published in Ghana in the 1960s, was referring more generally to modern African literature published after 1950.2 Same medium, different time and place: modern but not necessarily modernist. And in both cases, the little magazine functioned as a world form, a place where writers, (p.190) readers, critics, and translators could imagine themselves as part of a global community that consisted of, but was not cordoned off by, national boundaries.

And yet you begin to wonder if that’s all there really is to this story of the little magazine: European, British, and American modernists and avant-gardists using the medium to house and exhibit their literary experiments, and postcolonial writers adapting it in the second half of the century to accommodate the rise of independent, national literatures. This particular spin on the little magazine’s transmission ends up making Anglo-European modernism responsible on some level for the birth of modern literature in places like Africa, the West Indies, South Asia, and the Pacific Rim, which is to radically oversimplify and misrepresent the issue. The form of the little magazine, so often identified with modernism, does not, as I’ve already discussed in the introduction, belong only to Eng land, the United States, and Europe, even if it was the vehicle that carried so many modernist texts to readers in and between them. When the little magazine comes to West Africa in the 1950s, for example, it owes as much to the legacy of Anglo-American and European avant-garde and modernist magazines as it does to an expansive network of Lusophone and Francophone newspapers and periodicals that had ballooned in the 1940s along with a lively pamphlet culture transported from India by African soldiers after World War II.3 The African little magazine, in particular, is a strange amalgam of print media (newspapers, pamphlets, academic periodicals), something that could only emerge in the postwar conditions when independent nations were being born out of the wreckage of collapsed empires and a modernist magazine culture that was already a thing of the past.4

Though critics regularly make this connection between modernist and postcolonial little magazines, it is never given much scrutiny, treated more as an obvious historical fact than a problematic possibility that didn’t necessarily have to happen. What gets lost along the way is any sense that the two actually shared a common, if vexed, past, and when read diachronically, it can change our perspective on the print cultures of modernism and postcolonialism in some unexpected ways. Debates about the relationship between the two have tended to focus on questions of influence, genre, language, (p.191) style, and technique, with some critics emphasizing the creative appropriations and others the deliberate breaks. For more than half a century, in fact, modernism itself was regularly identified with a Eurocentrism bolstered by the institutions and ideologies of colonialism that postcolonial writers could subsequently expose and attack.5 As a result, there was considerably less interest in the continuities between them, and there remained a great deal of suspicion about modernism’s productive influence on the development of postcolonial literature in the decades after World War II.

More recently, however, critics such as Neil Lazarus, Jahan Ramazani, Peter Kalliney, and Simon Gikandi have provided new ways to frame this relationship, acknowledging the adversity but also tracing lines of connectivity and commonality that enable us to read modernism through the postcolonial and vice versa.6 Lazarus, in particular, has argued that in postcolonial critics’ effort to break with Euromodernism, they have, in fact, gone too far and ended up ignoring a critical, anticolonial dimension that he identifies explicitly with “modernist protocols and procedures” employed by con temporary writers (not all of them postcolonial). The little magazine, I would add, is one of the “protocols and procedures” that has been repeatedly ignored by modernist and postcolonial critics alike, in large part because both groups prefer to treat 1945 as a convenient, if problematic, dividing line. For this reason, the modernist and postcolonial magazines have been unnecessarily cut off from one another even if, as I argue, the postcolonial mobilization of this medium in the West Indies and Africa allowed for the radical reconsideration of what the little magazine was to Euromodernism and what it could mean afterward.

What follows is an attempt to read modernism and postcolonialism against each other through the medium of the magazine. To do so, I focus on the little magazine both as a set of media procedures used by postcolonial writers for literary transmission and as a material object designed to function within a transnational literary field that emerged in colonial and postcolonial countries after World War II. This chapter takes seriously the idea that publishing in little magazines in these postwar years was an activity associated with an established and, for many colonial countries, (p.192) inherited Euromodernist tradition. And while Gikandi has made the bold claim that postcolonial literature “would perhaps not exist” without modernism (citing the establishment of colonial schools and universities consuming the English literary canon), I would add further that it would not exist without the historically validated material practice of publishing like a modernist.7 Not every one, of course, wanted to be like Pound or Eliot, but for a poet like Christopher Okigbo, whom I discuss at the end of this chapter, it was impossible to ignore the fact that their greatness was first glimpsed in the pages of little magazines published in Eng land, Europe, and the United States. Transition, where Okigbo first brought out so many of his poems, was quite different from the transition that preceded it by a few decades, but as I explain, the sheer variety of structural differences within this and so many other postcolonial little magazines indicates just how malleable the form could be as it moved beyond Western metropolitan centers after modernism and how the arrangement of every thing from the contents and cover design to the presence or absence of book reviews, correspondence, distribution lists, and editorial blurbs reflects the complicated process by which this medium negotiated local, regional literary production and the emergence of a global literary field in modernism’s wake.

The postcolonial little magazine isn’t just one more category to add to the mix of immobile, exiled, anti-Fascist little magazines or an afterthought in modernism’s genealogy. It challenges some of the most basic assumptions that have been in place for so long to describe how the little magazine was made to function in the world throughout the rest of the twentieth century. In previous chapters, I’ve exposed some of the myths about transatlantic mobility and the harsh, though productive, realities of homelessness and exile, but in this instance, I’m interested in the fact that the postcolonial magazines had to deal with circumstances that their Euromodernist counter parts did not. And not all of them were alike. They developed in countries such as Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Martinique, Nigeria, and Uganda, each one of them with unique political, economic, and social situations, literary histories, and print institutions and cultures. Together, however, they managed to transform the little magazine into a medium that could consolidate national and regional literatures while also (p.193) constructing transnational networks capable of catering to a widely dispersed diasporic readership.

Before any comparative analysis of postcolonial and modernist magazines is even possible, we need to enlarge the geography and expand the timeline. It’s a step, in fact, that requires adjusting a narrative about the rise and fall of little magazines that has been in place for almost a century: born on or around 1910 during Ford Madox Ford’s brief reign as editor of the English Review (1908–1909) or the founding of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry (1912), Harriet Shaw Weaver’s the Egoist (1914), and Margaret Anderson’s the Little Review (1914), reaching middle age in the 1920s with the Dial, the Criterion, the transatlantic review, and transition, and taking its last gasp in the late 1930s with the closing of the Criterion and the NRF. Accurate to a degree, this tale is, finally, partial, incomplete, and misleading. What do you do with La revue indigène (1927) in Haiti, Vöörslag (1926) and Drum (1951) in South Africa, Trinidad (1929) and the Beacon (1931) in Trinidad, Tropiques (1941) in Martinique, Kyk-over-al (1945) in Guyana, Bim (1942) in Barbados, Focus (1943) in Jamaica, Black Orpheus (1957) in Nigeria, Transition (1961) in Uganda, and Okyeame (1961) in Ghana?

Here we have a dozen little magazines outside the usual transatlantic or trans-European orbit, and this is only a tiny fraction of the titles and places they were published. They appeared during the rise and, in some cases, after the fall of the Euromodernist little magazine, and none of them were actually plugged into this network. In most cases, they flew under the radar, some of them becoming part of an emerging flood of Francophone and Anglophone magazines crossing and recrossing the Atlantic, others remaining stubbornly anchored in their town, province, or nation (sometimes voluntarily, other times involuntarily). And perhaps that’s why they have been so easily excluded from view. They have nothing explicitly to do with the production or reception of European modernism (western, eastern, or central), many of them belonging instead to that pile of “long forgotten dead little magazines” that Nkosi first identified back in the mid-1960s.

A medium-based history, however, brings modernism and postcolonialism together, not because they circulated the same texts or writers but (p.194) because they encouraged similar literary and critical practices. In fact, it’s interesting to discover how familiar the origin narratives are for both. Take, for instance, Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane’s classic account in Modernism: A Guide to European Literature, 1890–1930: “It was largely through such magazines that the evolving works of modernism achieved their transmission, sought out their audiences, as Ulysses did through the American Little Review. And, gradually, it was the self-consciously small paper, in an era of large publishing ventures, that began to take over not only the localized work of particular movements but the larger tasks of cultural transmission.”8 Now compare it with a statement in 1950 by A. J. Seymour, editor at Kyk-over-al (Trinidad, 1945–1961), which refers specifically to the West Indies but will get modified by later critics writing about Africa: “It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of the Little Reviews appearing in the West Indies because they have been and still are the nursery of literature.”9 At the most basic level, this repetition suggests that the framework used to describe modernist literature can easily be emptied out and recycled for its postcolonial successor. In Seymour’s account, the “Little Reviews” (still capitalized and kept in the plural), which once named a specific modernist magazine, have become a generic signifier for the medium itself in the postwar, and soon postcolonial, period. This slip reveals a connection, but one that has been deflated. For as much as Seymour wanted to suggest at the time that West Indian writers were repeating history, it was, in fact, a history that remained to be written, making the “Little Reviews” in the West Indies more like nurseries than museums. Seymour, it turns out, was on to something here; but subsequent critics didn’t pick up on the modernist magazines’ postcolonial legacy, and it didn’t inspire much critical reflection on the pronounced differences between the two.


While the little magazine in Europe, Eng land, and the United States developed in response to an increasingly commercialized literary culture, in the West Indies and Africa, it was in response to colonialism and decolonization. (p.195) These contexts, in fact, generated one of the most striking differences between little magazines in the “West” and those in the West Indies and Africa. The little magazine may have played a significant role in the realization of modernism’s larger cosmopolitan project, which involved the emphasis on a denationalized internationalism, but just the opposite was true for the postcolonial magazines: they helped to generate national and regional literary fields, which, instead of being isolated from one another, actually fostered transnational linkages that had never existed before.10

Little magazines published in the West Indies and Africa fostered the kinds of literary and critical affiliations that would end up reinforcing their status as both national, regional and international, cosmopolitan. It was an association that editors and reviewers attributed to the rise of a global book business firmly anchored in modernism’s metropolitan centers (London, New York, and Paris). One reviewer in Black Orpheus (1964), for instance, pointed out that magazines like Bim (Barbados) and Présence africaine (Dakar) were “reservoirs for Afro-Caribbean literature” precisely because they published “a great deal of indigenous writing that might other wise never be printed in English, French, and American journals which demand a kind of compromise from their overseas contributors in order to make their material suitable for their own readers.”11 For A. J. Seymour, whom I just mentioned, the so-called third-world magazine was a repository for the “values of the past” with the power to guide African and West Indian writing in the future.12 And for Emilio Rodriguez, a reviewer at Bim, little magazines were an antidote to the exclusionary practices of “metropolitan publishing houses,” allowing for the preservation of a “national linguistic expression” that would other wise have been lost.13 Indeed, the little magazine’s impact on the emergence of global literary production often came from its isolation, and these various testimonies articulate the strange paradox that the formation of national languages and literatures within this medium actually required occupying a position on the margins of the system free from the burden of ever having to pass through a Western metropolis for validation.

The Beacon, which appeared irregularly in Trinidad between 1931 and 1933 (thirty issues in all), was one of the places where it all began, intended (p.196) to counteract the demoralizing effects of the West Indian magazines where, as Albert Gomes put it, “immaturity assumes concrete form.”14 In this context, “immaturity” was synonymous with a lack of originality and reflected, in Gomes words, “what slaves we still are to English culture and tradition.”15 And at a time when magazines like transition and the Criterion were busy catering to an established modernist tradition on the other side of the Atlantic, the Beacon was designed to take on the role of cultural agitator. In this case, however, the target for this agitation was more explicitly a foreign British empire that had effectively controlled literary production up until that point through both its owner ship of the machinery and the dominance of its literary models. Writers like Gomes, C. L. R. James, and George Mendes contributed prose fiction to the Beacon, interspersed with more politically explosive essays about colonialism in East India and Africa, which repeatedly offended the Catholic Church, the British government, and the indigenous middle-class elite and often ended in boycotts, bans, and seizures.16

The Beacon was an early example of what soon became the more common practice of adapting the little magazine as an anticolonial device. And all of the qualities associated with the littleness of modernist magazines in the West were getting modified to accommodate the development of a modern Anglophone literature in the Caribbean. All too often this relationship between modernism and the formation of postcolonial literatures gets read as a process of subversion taking place within, through, and against European high-modernist styles, languages, conventions, and genres, but what gets repeatedly ignored is the presence of medium itself as both a concrete and a symbolic form for literary and critical transmission.17 So many of these newly emerging writers from the West Indies were not just working through imported, modernist models they were using the same medium to do so, and I want to emphasize that the very idea of any anticolonial subversion came to involve a simple strategy for publication. To publish in a little magazine in the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s was to be part of a tradition that was already tried and tested, complete with a long list of underdogs who had managed to make their mark. In this context, however, littleness was associated, consciously or not, with (p.197) the reality of writing as a subject living under foreign domination instead of voluntary exile, and it identified as much a connection with this Euromodernist tradition as it did a marked departure.

Consider, for example, one of the few explicit references to the little magazine tradition as it appeared in an editorial from Kyk-over-al (1950): “Traditionally the little review in Europehas been the vehicle for experimental writing and free expression of criticism without concession to the convention of commerce. In Britain, there has been a recent island outcrop of periodicals displaying literature and the arts on a regional basis (e.g. Wales, Scotland and even a smaller unit such as the Reading area of Eng land), and at the same time making available the best ideas from outside the area. In the West Indies also the little review has begun to express West Indian culture.” Here’s another one thirteen years later in Transition: “And so the small American magazines, which were the first publishers of Hemingway, Faulkner, Frost, Pound, Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Katherine Anne Porter—and, in fact, an estimated 80 percent of all American writers of any literary stature since 1912—have been run out of the pocket books, if not the sheer nerve of their editors.”18 Many people have heard some version of this story before, but when it gets spun in Kyk-over-al or Transition, the moral is different. These little magazines in Europe, America, and Britain, now part of a tradition, have become something to emulate, and magazine editors living in colonies on both sides of the Atlantic were beginning to wonder if the process could be repeated under radically different historical, political, and economic conditions, in island outcrops instead of urban centers.

Unlike genres, styles, or even literary techniques, however, the little magazine didn’t have any single national origin precisely because it had already been adapted by so many different cultures in such a short period of time. Still, if it was going to be identified with a European, British, or American modernist tradition (to use the locations identified earlier), it did not have to be pinned down to a specific place, and I suspect that this was why the little magazine was so readily adaptable in such an uncritical way in the decades that followed. Writers living in colonized countries, so many of them barred from a book industry abroad and frustrated by the absence (p.198) of one at home, used the little magazine as their own: it was a resource capable of providing them with an opportunity to generate an independent literary field. Bim (1941) in Barbados and Kyk-over-al (1945) in Trinidad are frequently identified as two of the most successful examples of this process in the West Indies, both of them starting out as isolated island ventures before expanding outward to embrace the entire region and eventually coming to define a West Indian literature that included writers such as Sam Selvon, George Lamming, Edward Kamau Braithwaite, Andrew Salkey, V. S. Naipaul, Derek Walcott, and Roger Mais.19

“Regional cradles” is the term Reinhard Sander employs to describe Bim and Kyk-over-al.20 They nurtured new writing, of course, but the term also describes the fact that they were at a crossroads in the Caribbean, each of them bringing together writers, isolated in the past, who began to imagine the possibility of a collective literary future. Bim, once referred to as “an oasis in that lonely desert of mass indifference,” was the earliest and longest lasting of them all, and it started out, modestly enough, as an alternative to the periodicals sponsored by the conservative, and by all accounts dull, literary clubs.21 It didn’t take long before Bim was transformed from an “island magazine,” as George Lamming remembers it, to “a regional magazine,” and this shift was made possible by the fact that writers from around the archipelago were beginning to circulate their work more than ever before.22 By 1948, when the Montego Bay Conference was held to discuss the possibility of a West Indian Federation, Bim was already seven years old, and it served the following year as a platform for the Caribbean Quarterly, an academic periodical sponsored by the recently founded University College, West Indies, in Jamaica.

The 1940s were a pivotal decade in the history of Anglophone West Indian literature. For the first time, a small network of independent magazines worked together to connect writers on the various islands, all beginning to imagine themselves serving the same literary, and quite possibly political, future. The mass exodus of so many West Indian novelists to London in the 1950s, however, has effectively obscured the fact that these magazines continued to exist, sharing writers and critics and often reviewing one another in an act of regional solidarity. Though the Beacon folded (p.199) shortly after James and Mendes went abroad in 1932, Bim and Kyk-over-al kept on running, the former bringing out issues until 1961 (five years before Guyanese independence), the latter making it all the way to 1981. I bring up the fact of their longevity in order to emphasize that mass migration to the metropolis actually ended up having a positive effect on the Carib bean magazine scene. Not only did writers such as Lamming, Selvon, Salkey, Naipaul, and Braithwaite continue to publish pieces back home, but their positive critical reception abroad effectively brought their native countries into the metropolitan spotlight. So if, as Simon Gikandi contends, the condition of exile was the “ground zero of West Indian literature,” generating a nationalist identity and fanning the desire for decolonization, it was the little magazine that played a formative role in the articulation of any independent literary and political program, opening up its pages to discussions regarding a West Indian identity that was being realized as much through literary production as it was through political action (the short-lived West Indian Federation being the primary example, 1958–1962).23

The BBC’s Caribbean Voices program facilitated this transatlantic exchange between London and the West Indies, bringing together exiled writers, who would read from their work, with critics reviewing the latest publications.24 The little magazines where so many of them first got their start weren’t forgotten in the process: Bim, for instance, would frequently publish work that was already broadcast, sometimes even choosing to pass along original material straight to the radio. At the same time, Frank Collymore would communicate regularly with BBC programmers about the selection of material, and on one occasion, Henry Swanzy, the producer, scheduled a reading from Derek Walcott so that it would coincide with a review of Bim, Focus, and Kyk-over-al because he knew that audiences across the Caribbean “would be turning on their radios.”25 For writers and editors back in the Caribbean, there may have been a legitimate fear that a radio program of this stature, one produced in London no less, could put an end to the little magazine, but it never did. And as Gail Low has recently discovered in her work in the BBC archives, the eradication of this print outlet was never the intention. Swanzy was particularly sensitive about undermining the influence of little magazines in (p.200) the Caribbean, occasionally offering to review issues of Focus, Bim, and Kyk-over-al in order to reaffirm the idea that the BBC’s “‘main purpose’ was to stimulate West Indian writing in the West Indies.”26

West Indian writing in the West Indies: that may be true, but it was not always writing for the West Indies. The gradual move from a more local literature organized by island to a regional one organized by archipelago eventually led to an international one organized along the shadow lines of a diaspora that led all the way back to Anglophone West Africa. That, in fact, was one of the ways that the West Indian little magazine continued to maintain its relevance over the decades: after helping to regionalize West Indian literature, it established links with a West African literary scene that exploded in the 1960s and came to include Gabriel Okara, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, Chinua Achebe, J. P. Clark, and D. O. Fagunwa. Already by 1957, when the first issue of Black Orpheus appeared in Nigeria, a new narrative of the little magazine was being written, and it was one that involved a celebrated cast of West Indian isolatoes, first nurtured in regional cradles like Bim and Kyk-over-al, who then managed to prove themselves on an international stage, putting the West Indies on the map of a much expanded British literary scene.27

Based on the success of these isolatoes, it’s no surprise to discover that many of them helped launch this awakening of Anglophone literature in West Africa. In the first three years and seven issues of Black Orpheus, during what Bernth Lindfors has called its “West Indian infancy,” writers from this region dominated the pages, contributing eighteen of the twenty-six poems and six of the ten short stories and serving as the subject for twelve of the sixteen essays (including those devoted to French West African poets and novelists).28 With numbers like these, it’s safe to conclude that Anglophone Africa was looking westward during this early period, and a magazine like Black Orpheus was more than heartened by the fact that so many West Indian writers, all of them raised in colonized countries, had created a new literature that was nationally, regionally, and internationally relevant. Indeed, it was a fate that awaited this new generation of West (and soon East) African writers as well, one that makes it impossible for us to ignore how far the little magazine traveled (p.201) since the days of its infancy in the United States, Eng land, and across Europe, stubbornly refusing to die out even if so many individual titles found it impossible to stay alive.


When the little magazine arrived in West and East Africa, the issue of readership and distribution was complicated immediately. Transport and communications technologies were lagging far behind those connecting London, Paris, and New York, making the most basic movement of people, print, and paper from region to region difficult, costly, and time-consuming. Sure, there was an infrastructure that British, French, and Belgian empires helped to create, but with the independence of dozens of African countries in the 1950s and ’60s, movement by land, sea, and air became even more difficult, unreliable, and expensive. In the early years of Transition, which was based in Kampala, Uganda, there were plans to publish a West African edition with more space for criticism and the potential to reach a wider non-African public. Once Transition’s editors Rajat Neogy and Christopher Okigbo realized just how expensive such a collaborative venture would be (including exorbitant air freight costs for the distribution), they were forced to drop it.29 That may help to explain why Okigbo arranged for the simultaneous publication of his own poem “Lament of the Drums” in Transition and Black Orpheus in 1965, much like Eliot did for his Waste Land: it was one way to meet the demand of two audiences at once.30

The rise of the little magazine in Africa is intimately linked with two related changes in the geopolitical and world-economic order in the mid-twentieth century: decolonization and the formation of the global book business.31 The withdrawal of Western empires from African nations in the 1950s and ’60s coincided with the entrenchment of commercial conglomerates eager to establish their interests in newly independent nations, and the book business was no exception. British publishers (Oxford University Press, Heinemann, Longman), in particular, realized the potential of an untapped Anglophone market and soon began consolidating their interests. This commercial literary exchange between imperial metropoles (p.202) and their former colonies was also working in the other direction: Anglo-phone African and West Indian writers were getting published by these same British firms and becoming part of a postcolonial novel boom that is still with us today.32

Amos Tutuola’s Palm-Wine Drinkard was one of the first modern African novels to reach a wider Western audience. It was composed entirely of Yoruba folktales woven together around the figure of the trickster (in this case one who loves palm wine) and written in what Tutuola described self-consciously as “wrong English.” When Faber and Faber published the novel, it included an image of an original manuscript page in Tutuola’s own hand with a few editorial corrections in order to authenticate their latest discovery.33 Eileen Julien has called this novel and so many others produced during these decades “extroverted.”34 It is a term that identifies those novels produced in one place (in this case Nigeria) for consumption in another (in this case Eng land). And there is a very real cost to this extroverted literary production. Extroversion is, very often, dependent on exclusion. Writers like Tutuola, Cyprian Ekwensi, and Chinua Achebe were being published abroad throughout the 1950s, but their books very often could not be afforded or, in some cases, even found in their native countries.35

This is where the little magazine comes in. While so many commercially motivated foreign publishers were “extroverting” African literature, the little magazine, you could say, was “introverting” it by bringing together, issue by issue, modern Anglophone texts for an African readership.36 Looking specifically at Black Orpheus and Transition, Peter Benson has argued that this process was critical to the formation of a postcolonial literature in Africa. And more recently, Peter Kalliney has pointed out that it was enabled, in part, by the promotion of a modernist autonomy once associated in the first half of the twentieth century with political and aesthetic detachment. For some of the African writers who were publishing in these magazines, however, autonomy was redeployed to signify nationalist, anticolonial engagement and a rejection of Cold War ideologies promulgated by the United States and the Soviet Union. Once it was revealed in 1967 that both magazines had received funding from the Congress for Cultural Freedom (p.203) (CCF; Black Orpheus beginning in 1961 and Transition in 1962), a nonprofit front for the CIA, Neogy and Ulli Beier (founding editor of Black Orpheus) lost their credibility, even if both were completely unaware of what had been going on behind the scenes.37 The truth is that institutions like the CCF may have provided funding to these (and other) magazines in Africa and elsewhere, but they did not dictate what appeared in their pages, literary or critical, and made no attempt to control the message in order to maintain the utmost secrecy. Kalliney believes that this “no strings attached” policy of CIA-sponsored organizations coincided with its desire to promote democratic freedom (as opposed to Soviet authoritarianism) and “backed the idea that emerging African cultural institutions were autonomous of colonialism, of the nation-state, even of Cold War ideologies.”38

Black Orpheus and Transition may have cultivated this sense of autonomy in order to promote an independent literary and critical sphere in countries across Africa, but the network to which they belonged, and the affiliations established therein, made it impossible to detach completely from the geopolitical games going on around them. Even if both editors, then, were ignorant of the funding that was arriving from Western political institutions, they were still involved with them. This oblique relationship, in fact, may not have compromised the content or form of their magazines, but it did force their affiliation with other titles in this foreign-funded network, including Encounter, the CCF’s Anglo-American magazine, which was being used as part of a more extensive propaganda machine to enlist intellectual, and anti-Communist, sympathizers worldwide. In the decentralized Dada network, which I discussed in chapter 1, it may have been possible to get off the grid in order to resist political and commercial appropriation (and the very design of the grid in the magazines was an expression of it), but this was not the case for those titles plugging into a Cold War network that was bringing countries and continents into even closer contact with one another. In an interesting twist, modernist autonomy may have been adapted for a political end, but it was not to be confused with avant-garde strategies for autonomy that were always already political, adapted by Dadaists to reaffirm their detachment from bourgeois (p.204) institutions (political, cultural, and commercial). Decentralization, then, may have worked in the Dada network, which was largely based in Europe, but it should not be confused with a Cold War version that was using globalization, and a black diaspora, as an opportunity to try and consolidate power and increase the range of cultural and political influence.

When Black Orpheus first started out in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1957, bringing out twenty-two issues until 1967, Nigeria already had a lively and established print culture in place.39 In addition to the many foreign-controlled newspapers, there were literary magazines, leaflets, periodicals, and scholarly journals printed and distributed by the University of Ibadan. With the exception of the popular general culture magazine Nigeria Magazine, which regularly included a literary supplement, most of them were amateurish ventures intended for a small audience composed mostly of students and faculty.40 With a matte cover, woodcut images in bold colors, and thick paper, Black Orpheus stood out (figure 5.1). Between the covers, readers would find the contents laid out on the page with generous margins, free from advertisements or letters from readers (and/or the editor). Black Orpheus was professional in quality, but it would never be confused with a popular magazine. Before long, issues were being picked up by Nigerian universities and used as anthologies for the classroom.

Black Orpheus, unlike so many of its Western precursors, was a little magazine intended for a general readership; it was not predisposed to experimental writing; it was not an enemy of the mainstream commercial literary marketplace, because there was none. There were no wealthy patrons (such as John Quinn or Harriet Shaw Weaver) to support production, so Black Orpheus relied on funding it received from a government-sponsored agency (the Ministry of Education) and, after 1961, from a foreign, Western one (the CIA). The circulation numbers were on the “high” end of the spectrum (around thirty-five hundred at its peak), and that was because it did not have to compete with other commercial or noncommercial publications for con temporary Anglophone literature. Instead of Black Orpheus catering to the fit and few, its readership was still very much in the making, and the editors were more preoccupied with finding an audience than offending one. (p.205)

Little postcolonial magazines

5.1 Front cover of Black Orpheus.

Black Orpheus from its inception wanted to do for Anglophone literature what Présence africaine had done for Francophone literature a decade earlier: provide a space for African writers to publish their work and establish a network of contacts that would put them in dialogue with writers and readers from the West Indies, the United States, and Europe, as well as East, West, and, when possible, South Africa. And the impact of Présence africaine on the overall scope, scale, and direction of Black Orpheus cannot be overemphasized. Présence africaine set the standard for African magazines during this period. It was an ambitious venture devoted to Francophone art, politics, and culture with bases of operations in Dakar and Paris. Not only did it help consolidate the philosophical and aesthetic principles behind the négritude movement, but it was also an active ideological force behind anticolonial movements worldwide. Présence africaine was as much a magazine as an institution with connections to (p.206) the leading Francophone and French writers and intellectuals of the time (included among them Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire, André Breton, and Jean-Paul Sartre), and it was part of a subversive tradition of Francophone periodicals published in Paris, Senegal, and New York that were, as Brent Edwards explains, “a threat above all because of the transnational and anti-imperialist linkages and alliances they practiced.”41

From the beginning, the founding editor of Black Orpheus, the German expat Ulli Beier, believed that the magazine could mediate between Francophone literature and an Anglophone reading public.42 In Beier’s one and only editorial statement in the first issue, he laments the fact that “it is still possible for a Nigerian child to leave a secondary school with a thorough knowledge of English literature, but without even having heard of such great black writers as Léopold Sédar Senghor or Aimé Césaire.”43 Indeed, Black Orpheus lived up to its promise of making the Francophone world accessible to a wider non-French-speaking audience, and its association with writers and editors from Présence africaine provided the cultural prestige that it needed to get started. The title itself is a direct translation of “Orphée noir,” the title for an essay written by Sartre and appended in 1948 to the wildly popular Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache, which was edited by Senghor.44 The Francophone and Anglophone writers were part of a shared colonial history, but if the case of Black Orpheus is any indication, there were often marked ideological differences. Black Orpheus, though sympathetic to the négritude movement, eventually distanced itself, focusing more explicitly on literature. Con temporary political and social critiques were avoided, and there was an almost stubborn attempt to keep Anglophone writers free from politics.

The task of reading Black Orpheus for its form requires taking a panoramic view of its entire print run with an eye toward the structural additions and omissions.45 As much as the content changed with every issue, the format remained largely the same: a matte cover with a woodcut image, the magazine title in block print on the masthead, printing and publication information with names of the editorial board, table of contents, an assortment of prose, poetry, and fiction in no particular order, (p.207)

Little postcolonial magazines

5.2 ”How to Obtain Black Orpheus,” Black Orpheus 4 (1958): 61.

followed by a note on the contributors. One of the more curious, though fleeting, formal changes occurs in the fourth issue when a distribution list appears with the addresses of bookstores that carry Black Orpheus (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden), a list that gets reprinted an issue later (with Eng land, the United States, France, and Belgium added) and then is never seen again (figure 5.2)

The disappearing distribution list, much like the network maps I discussed in chapter 1 and the private list of British book dealers in chapter 2, raises an interesting question about the real and imagined globality of little magazines in general, all of them forced to deal with the question of advertising their range and, in doing so, defining their audience. Being global (p.208) in such concrete terms does have its benefits: for one thing, it provides clear geographical parameters, making the world of the magazine mappable and showing readers that they are connected to a community of others in Ghana, Germany, and Sweden who are leafing through the same material at the same time. But global concreteness can also work the other way: it can make the magazine seem more provincial precisely by drawing attention to gaps in and between places where it should be going. Where on this list is Uganda, Zimbabwe, or South Africa? How about Barbados, Trinidad, or Jamaica? The pan-African and West Indian trajectories, which became so critical to the success of Black Orpheus in the Anglophone world, are conspicuously absent. Global distribution, then, may make more of an impact when it remains abstracted, maybe even fictional. Instead of being circumscribed by definite locations, the effect of a global magazine culture can be generated by their absence, by the possibility that a little magazine printed in Nigeria could end up making its way to Sri Lanka or São Paolo.46

Although the distribution list was dropped, Black Orpheus developed other formal strategies for signifying its affiliation with a more expansive literary and critical scene, including the insertion of a book review section that was in place for the entire run. In the beginning, Beier did a majority of the reviewing himself, often under the nom de plume Sangodare Akanji, but with every issue, new names popped up, many of them of African writers and intellectuals on their way to becoming part of an organic intelligentsia. It would seem logical, of course, to have book reviews in a literary magazine, but in this case, the situation is not so clear-cut. Since so many African novels were being exported and published abroad, the book review was often put there in place of the book itself. The review, for that reason, was not so much concerned with consumption as it was with the less lucrative pursuit of local critical evaluation. This displaced critical practice, one that involved the recognition of books written by African writers and published in Eng land, was part of a symbolic strategy for national and regional reclamation. Africa may have been “losing” so many of its writers to foreign publishers, but magazines like Black Orpheus were helping to reappropriate, maybe even repatriate, them, making these same books share review space with locally produced plays, poetry, and anthologies, (p.209) many of them printed by Mbari Publications (thirty of them, mostly poetry, between 1961 and ’65), a publishing house run by Beier for the sole purpose of bringing writers such as Okigbo, Soyinka, Okara, and J. P. Clark to an African audience.

In addition to the “foreign” books by African writers, it was just as common in Black Orpheus to find reviews of the latest Anglophone little magazines coming out of the West Indies, South Asia, and around Africa. In this case, the affiliation was motivated less by a symbolic reappropriation of African writers than by the desire for solidarity. There is often a paternalistic tone in these reviews, one meant as much to encourage other ventures, some of them already in print for ten years, as to recognize Black Orpheus’s triumphs. Something else is going on as well. The review of other magazines was a way of establishing a shared postcolonial print culture, one in which the connections between regional literatures only reaffirmed their indigenous, local affiliations. When assessing the importance of Bim and Okyeame, one reviewer in Black Orpheus put it this way: “The function of periodicals in nurturing the new literatures in Africa and the Carib bean cannot be overstated. They represent necessary documentary proof of fashion and growth. Their function is not so much to preserve as to link. Often they stand at the very beginning of the development of local literature, setting up standards and providing a literary market for buyer and seller—the indigenous reading public and the artist.”47 There is an awareness here in this synopsis that different media can perform different functions in the literary field. In this case, the reviewer contrasts the archival function of the anthology with the serial ephemerality of the little magazine; the relatively rapid production time of the magazine gives it a spontaneity that other print media lack. The monthly or bimonthly turnover of literary production, sometimes at the expense of quantity over quality, has a way of encouraging “links,” as this reviewer put it, between Africa and the Caribbean because it involves a mode of literary production in the present, one that is becoming possible because little magazines are creating the conditions for an international literary standard. Literature produced in Africa and the Caribbean, then, will not only be judged according to a national or regional literary marketplace or tradition. Rather, (p.210) it will have to stand up in quality against what is coming out in other postcolonial countries with which it shares a common literary-historical trajectory.

Reviews were one place for this international critical standard to be applied, but it was even more forcefully introduced within the longer essays that began to appear under a separate heading in issue 9 (June 1961). “Criticism” is one of the more complicated generic categories in Black Orpheus.48 Before it began appearing, there were scholarly journals devoted to traditional, and especially oral, African literature, but there was no available critical tradition in Nigeria for modern Anglophone literature.49 But the wider availability of a more substantial body of fiction and poetry in five years (engendered largely by Black Orpheus) made it necessary to establish criteria on which it could be evaluated and judged both as African literature and as world literature. A majority of the critical essays that appeared in Black Orpheus are devoted to Francophone writers and texts, but they are interwoven with more general surveys of African literature, traditional visual art and poetry (Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo), and the self-consciously modern Anglophone arrivals (Achebe, Clark, Soyinka, D. O. Fagunwa).50

This separate category for “criticism” reflects a concrete change in the African literary field, one that involved critics from African countries worried about a European takeover and the imposition of foreign standards. The question of who speaks for African writers was hotly debated in the following decades, in newspapers, academic journals, and big magazines alike, but what interests me here is the role that a little magazine like Black Orpheus played in the process. It had European and African critics writing side by side about every thing from West Indian novels to Haitian poetry to South African short stories. There was no clearly defined critical practice in place or ready-made concepts to draw from, and though Western comparisons were there to be found, some critics chose to emphasize regional contexts instead.

Elsewhere, in Eng land, Germany, and France, where African works were being published, the question of critical standards was especially vexed. Some African writers wanted to be judged as equals with their (p.211) Western counter parts; others argued for their cultural, historical, and linguistic singularity. One article about Soyinka’s trip to a drama conference in Edinburgh captures the complexity of the situation. “He was insistent,” the Scottish actress Una MacClean explains, “that drama from Africa deserved to be judged by universal standards of criticism and that the enduring value of any African drama must depend upon the adequacy of its representation of universal human experiences.”51 For Soyinka and so many others, there was always the danger of being exoticized and treated as something marginal to Europe’s history and literary tradition. “Universal standards,” then, was his way of emphasizing the links that existed between them, a subtle reminder to his foreign audience of a shared history that went well beyond the borders of a single country or continent.52 The critics writing in Black Orpheus realized that the field of English literature was opening up to accommodate new human experiences from the former British colonies, and it was an association that would take some getting used to. But leafing through the pages of this little magazine, you discover that criticism was less about anchoring African literature in a European past and tradition than about imagining what such an affiliation might look like in a literary-historical future that included both.


Black Orpheus certainly earned its reputation as “the doyen of African literary magazines.” But even Beier recognized that his magazine had lived long enough to experience middle age. Worried that Black Orpheus was losing its edge and with a civil war in Nigeria on the horizon, Beier retired from his post in 1968. During an interview that same year, he explained that Black Orpheus was a propaganda magazine meant to fill a need in what had been a barren literary field. In a decade, the Anglophone literary scene had changed significantly both within Africa and around the world. It was time, he thought, to encourage the local production of low-cost poetry magazines or, if possible, to reinvent his own magazine by changing the title simply to Orpheus.53 That would be one way to distance the magazine from its original associations with an ideological program first established (p.212) by Présence africaine and, in doing so, reach out to an even wider audience, one in which Francophone African writers could be published alongside their English-speaking counter parts.54 After Beier’s departure, Abiola Irele and J. P. Clark took over the editorship, keeping the original title and bringing out issues sporadically until 1976. The black internationalism that was so carefully orchestrated by Beier and his team of editors gave way to a more parochial focus on Nigeria and Ghana, which was compounded by the collapse of a distribution structure that made Black Orpheus available only to readers in Lagos.55

All was not lost, however. On the other side of Africa, in Kampala, Uganda, Transition was in full swing and had been for four years, and under the editorship of Rajat Neogy, it continued laying the foundations for a network of little magazines that would connect Africa with readers, writers, and critics around the world. “Both authors and editors, as well as the reader,” Neogy wrote in one editorial, “must feel gratified when, to cite one example, a Nigerian writer in the United States has an article published in a magazine in Uganda which is replied to and discussed by correspondents in London, Nairobi, Kampala, Ibadan, Cape Town, and Edinburgh.”56 In the magazine’s seven-year run (1961–1968) of its first phase with Neogy at the helm, Transition became a truly international little magazine, with a print run that eventually exceeded twelve thousand (figure 5.3).57 Considering that East African literature at the time was lagging far behind Nigeria, that there was very little institutional funding to support it, and that a majority of the audience was hard-pressed for cash, the circulation of Transition, which equaled the Dial in its heyday, was no small achievement. When Transition received ecstatic praise from the New York Times, the Observer (London), the Oslo Dagbladet, the Globe and Mail (Toronto), and Die Zeit (Hamburg) for achieving such success on a “shoestring bud get,” Paul Theroux was quick to remind every one that “in a country like Uganda where 90% of the population is barefoot, even shoestrings are hard to come by.”58

Black Orpheus paved the way for another little magazine in Africa by providing a crew of writers and readers trained in its pages and a design (p.213)

Little postcolonial magazines

5.3 Cover of Transition 8 (March 1963).

for what the medium might look like. But Transition was very much a creation of its own, more avant-garde than its predecessor and prepared to rouse, shock, provoke, and alienate whenever possible.59 It immediately distinguished itself from other publications by claiming, in its inaugural issue, “to provide an intelligent and creative backdrop to the East African scene, to give perspective and dimension to affairs that a weekly or daily press would either sensationalise or ignore.”60 Topics were not introduced in one issue and then forgotten; they were meant to develop organically over time, and the editor, for that reason, functioned much like an “obstetrician” (Neogy’s phrase).61 After Obiajunwa Wali’s “The Dead-end of African Literature?” appeared (Transition 10), in which he argued that African writers should reject the foreign languages imposed on them by colonialism and write in their native tongues, letters poured in for two (p.214) years. As a courtesy, space was always made for the debate to unfold, and it was assumed that readers would be able to keep track of its attenuated twists and turns along the way.

Transition also found a way to make the reality of a global readership more tangible by introducing a “Letters to the Editor” section, one of the formal features that Black Orpheus lacked. The letters included in this section ran the gamut from appreciation and bewilderment to disdain and outrage. It was the space in the magazine that allowed readers to communicate not just with the authors of the articles and the editor but with one another. Each letter was preceded by a title and concluded with a name and address where the writer could be contacted directly. As polite as Neogy was with his correspondents (even going so far as to correct silently their grammatical and spelling mistakes when necessary), he was not afraid to pit them against one another or turn their discomfort to the magazine’s advantage. Such was the case after Paul Theroux’s fierce indictment of the white expatriate community in East Africa, which was published with the sardonic title “Tarzan Is an Expatriate” (Transition 32). Letters of complaint arrived for over a year, and Neogy decided to republish them together with the original article and offer it as a gift to new subscribers.

Though letters to magazines are often treated as a curiosity, one of the guilty pleasures readers can indulge in before getting to the real content, this was not true of Transition. These letters were critical to the goals of the magazine because they allowed for the kind of open, sustained dialogue that could not have happened anywhere else. Positioned in the opening pages, they acted as an entry way into the discussion and helped to establish continuity from one issue to another. In the first few issues, “Letters” took up a page or two and often included statements of appreciation from countries far and wide. Later on, as the magazine gathered momentum, it was just as common for the letters to run a full four or five pages, some of them long enough to function as stand-alone essays or editorials. Abiola Irele believes that the conversational aspect gave Transition its force and “helped reduce African problems to some kind of unified intellectual order.”62 The lead articles in each issue were not treated as (p.215) the final word; they were printed in order to be “analysed, commented upon, queried—turned inside out, as it were—and sometimes more closely scrutinized” in the letters that followed in subsequent issues, sometimes with half a dozen arguments alive at once.63 Neogy was very tactical about the kinds of letters he would print, but in his capacity as editor, he actively engineered a space where ideas could be debated; and he did it in such a way that the barriers between professional critics and average readers were lowered. Every one was free to have an opinion, but only if he or she was ready for debate. In a lengthy editorial on the subject, Neogy put it this way: “Unless writers and readers sense this atmosphere of ‘aggressive non-prejudice’ they will not be tempted to be provocative or even just plain naughty, and the kind of humour that accompanies such exaggerations of sensibilities will be markedly missing. More important, what might creep into the magazine’s columns is a tone of genteelness, sinister and syrupy, where every one is quietly patting every one else on the back.”64

By making “Letters” such a prominent formal feature of Transition, Neogy created an expansive community of readers who could engage in a conversation about current literary and cultural events without any significant time lag. Time was indeed passing between issues, usually two or three months, but the back-and-forth helped make what was being published more urgent. Transition, then, functioned as a cultural medium in a very literal way, bringing Uganda, East Africa, and the rest of Africa to a wider audience, making domestic issues involving African literature and politics a topic for discussion and demonstrating, finally, that the little magazine can cater to local and global readerships all at once without ever losing sight of its particular time and place. Is it a surprise, then, to find that in the mass of letters from poets, politicians, academics, and students, one arrived from Lionel Trilling in 1965 telling Neogy, “No magazine I can remember reading—except maybe the Dial of my youth—has ever told me so much about matters I did not know about.”65 As Trilling himself noticed, Transition and the Dial did have a lot in common. Though produced under radically different conditions, they created a space where modern literature could happen. The medium harnessed critical and cultural energies (p.216) and delivered the message to a public that might other wise miss out on “matters” worth knowing.

The globality of Transition was managed in other ways as well. Evidence of its international circulation was scattered throughout the pages, from the different prices on the cover to the advertisements for oil, steel, and foreign car manufacturers to the addresses of the correspondents. One subscription flier that popped up frequently in Transition contained an image of an unidentified bookstand with magazines arranged neatly on the shelves (figure 5.4). Because of the angle from which the photograph was taken, only one title can be identified with any certainty. Copies of Transition are tucked away on a back shelf, in the middle of the rack, and seem larger than the others. And that, of course, is the point. This little magazine stands out in a sea of print, and the simple question at the top, if answered correctly, is there to remind readers they can do the same: “What

Little postcolonial magazines

5.4 “What kind of magazine do you read?,” Transition.

(p.217) kind of magazine do you read?” What’s so striking about this image is its generic, placeless quality. This black-and-white bookstand could be anywhere in the world, and that, I think, is why this particular image can do what no distribution list ever could to advertise Transition’s globality, by asking readers to consider where they are in the world by what they’re reading.

In the end, all of these paratextual details suggested one thing: mobility. The world was moving through these pages, and the magazine was moving through the world. Transition did not exist in an autonomous literary or cultural sphere free from mass consumption, capital, and geopolitical intrigue. It was itself an object of global production and consumption—an example of a postcolonial culture trying to establish itself within a much larger world system during the Cold War. The title of Neogy’s magazine couldn’t have been better chosen. It gestures backward toward Eugene Jolas’s transition, one of the most successful little magazines published in France in the 1920s and ’30s, while at the same time acknowledging the difference, which is immediately discernible in the capital T.66 Transition was a magazine meant to register the shocks that were being felt across Africa at a decisive moment in its history: superpowers battling, empires collapsing, nations rising, traditions dying, cultures being born. Unlike Black Orpheus, it engaged head-on with the social and political issues of the day (love, violence, war, democracy, socialism, drugs, racism) and was unafraid to challenge hypocrisy in all of its forms, especially when it was being advertised as independence or freedom. It was politics that put an end to Neogy’s editorship. His status as the disinterested editor was severely shaken when, as I mentioned earlier, it was discovered that Transition had been receiving financial support from the Congress for Cultural Freedom (from issue 5 onward).67 But a second, more fatal, blow came when Milton Obote’s government arrested Neogy for sedition under an Emergency Powers Act.68 One article by Abu Mayanja in Transition 32 (April 1968) and a letter to the editor by Steve Lino in Transition 34, both of them critical of Obote’s proposals for a Ugandan constitution, were cited as evidence of the magazine’s anti-Ugandan stance, and they were both used to justify Neogy’s arrest. After an inconclusive (p.218) trial in which he was acquitted and then rearrested, Neogy spent four months in solitary confinement before being abruptly released.69 Transition was revived two and a half years later in Accra, Ghana, one of the few democratic governments in Africa at the time, where the magazine could be published with relative freedom. Its first editorial replied to the events that had transpired back in Uganda and argued that the arrest of Neogy and the closing of its offices was a sign that “a magazine such as Transition has obviously no useful function in that society.”70 Transition was not alone. Most little magazines have had to deal with the politics of print in some form or another. The Little Review had its censors just as Transition had its political tyrants.

The general lesson, though, has more to do with the form of the magazine. Transition, as I discussed earlier, prided itself on a democratic mode of communication that encouraged dialogue between every one involved. This particular form was necessary because there was no other medium in existence that could generate a global readership of this sort at the time. And it was this opening up of Africa to the world that gave the magazine its force, making it a forum for intense political and literary discussion as well as a target for political leaders within Africa who were afraid of opposition. Transition might not have been welcome any longer in Obote’s Uganda, but as Neogy explained in an open letter to readers, it didn’t matter: “Transition’s home is also all Africa. And it was at home in the world outside.”71

That’s one way to look at things. It turns out, though, that Transition really wasn’t at home in “all Africa,” at least when considering that fact that it was unable to get back to Uganda after Neogy’s imprisonment. This raises a question about what it means for any magazine, African, West Indian, or other wise, to be at home in the world. If nothing more, the examples I’ve discussed here and throughout this book return again and again to the same conclusion: the world is not always home for the little magazine, and that’s especially true if it is meant “to offer honesty,” as Neogy once put it, “when every body wants slogans.”72 At least, it is not a home that you can count on being there, which is another way of saying it’s not a home at all but a refuge, a temporary place for the little magazine (p.219) to spend what there is of an always limited life span. In Europe, the Fascists and Nazis were very often to blame (as I discussed in chapters 3 and 4); in Eng land and America, the censors and printers had a hand in it (as discussed in chapter 2); and in Africa, there were dictators like Obote taking over decolonized nations. And maybe that’s why Transition, like its predecessor transition, still managed to have such an impact: it was there temporarily to record this radical, though evanescent, change in time, one whose effects continued to reverberate long after copies stopped hitting the shelves.


The little magazine, as I’ve been arguing throughout this chapter, is part of a much longer literary history, and its arrival in the West Indies and Africa reveals that changing the address can change the function. And if the inequities of print capitalism with its “large publishing ventures” were responsible for the production of so many little magazines in the West, colonialism, which was followed by decolonization efforts worldwide, did something similar to modern Anglophone literature shortly thereafter. But the argument that the little magazine successfully crossed this great divide separating European high modernism from a soon-to-be-decolonized “postcolonial” literature should not lead us into an all too easy conflation between the two. To do so, we risk erasing their specificity by effectively anchoring one to the other (first the magazine made modernism in the West, then it made modern literature in the colonies/postcolonies, etc.). This sequencing presumes an inheritance, affiliation, and influence that does not always play out as we might expect. With the exception of the Beacon, West Indian and African little magazines began appearing after European high modernism is supposed to have ended, but they were reacting to new historical, social, and political situations that would have been incredibly foreign to the modernist magazine editors, writers, and readers who preceded them.

I mentioned before that the practice of publishing like a modernist was one way for Anglophone writers and critics to begin building an alternative (p.220) tradition (in the West Indies especially), but it turned out to be more complicated than any of them could have anticipated. The more that West Indian and West and East African literature matured in little magazines, the less this earlier modernist moment mattered as a source of legitimation, and as both examples demonstrated, the little magazine was not simply getting recycled but was getting appropriated to present other non-Western literatures that were building on foreign and indigenous traditions alike. Indeed, Transition may have reminded Lionel Trilling of the Dial in its early days, but even he knew that there was a difference between the two; and this difference was not just about what was getting published between the covers. What Trilling sees in 1965 is a little magazine from Uganda arriving in New York long after the Dial stopped ticking, and it was capable of doing what no Dial ever could, that is, bring Africa and the West together and, in doing so, make the little magazine less the provenance of modernism’s European legacy and more a promise that a modern Anglophone future was, in fact, still evolving.

To continue thinking through this relationship between modernism, postcolonialism, and the magazine, I want to focus on a single example: Christopher Okigbo’s “Limits” as it first appeared in two installments in Transition (July and October 1962), before getting reprinted as a single poem in a volume brought out in Nigeria by Mbari Publications (1964).73 The linguistic and formal difficulty of Okigbo’s poetry has made him both the target of detractors denigrating his deliberate obscurantism, which they identify with an inherited Eurocentrism, and the mantel for supporters celebrating his skillful fusion of Western modernist and indigenous Nigerian/Igbo literary traditions.74 More recently, Jahan Ramazani has argued that both positions, in fact, are not irreconcilable. A poet like Okigbo, raised in the context of this colonial hybridity, can be both, a modernist and a postcolonial writer, who uses this inherited Western tradition with its complicated poetic forms as a “tool for liberation.” “To insist in the name of anti-Eurocentrism,” he explains, “that Euromodernism be seen as an imperial antagonist is to condescend to imaginative writers, who have wielded modernism in cultural decolonization.”75

(p.221) Before looking at “Limits” as an expression of this specifically modernist form of “cultural decolonization,” a few more details regarding its publication history need to be established. Though Okigbo had already published a handful of poems in Black Orpheus, “Limits” was the first to appear in Transition and was followed up by “Silences: Lament of the Silent Sisters” (1963), “Distances” (1964), and “Lament of the Drums” (1965). All of Okigbo’s poetry in these magazines is distinguished by the disjointed typographical arrangements on the page, with lines broken up, sometimes creating jarring visual configurations (including pictograms) with entire stanzas and words offset from the middle of the page. The printers for both magazines catered to this desire for experimental layouts, leaving big margins and blank space so that the individual lines and words could breathe. “Limits,” however, is unique in Okigbo’s catalogue because of the way in which it was published. Instead of getting brought out in a single issue, it was divided into two parts, “Limits I–IV: Siren Limits” (composed in 1961) and “Limits V–X: Fragments out of the Deluge” (composed in 1961–1962), each one taking up two full pages (though the second installment includes two rows for each section instead of one). It’s unclear, finally, why this decision to divide was made (and by whom) since “Distances” and “Silences,” which came afterward, were both printed as single installments of four pages, the first ones devoted almost entirely to the title, epigraph, and a brief note of explanation. What ever the case may be, it turned out that by staggering the publication between July and October 1962, the appearance of the second installment of “Limits” ended up coinciding with the decolonization of Uganda, thereby becoming, quite literally, a poem that straddled both political situations.

This convergence might be nothing more than a beautiful coincidence, but it can still productively frame the way we read “Limits” in Transition during what turned out to be a momentous transition in Uganda’s history. “Limits,” after all, is a poem that confronts the very question of Western inheritance in Africa’s colonial past (and postcolonial future), and it also stages that confrontation on the page by using the fragmented layouts and interrupted serial installments to dramatic effect. Let me begin, though, (p.222) with the epigraphs, both of them set in italics (only one in quotation marks), placed in parentheses below the title at the top of the page, and left unattributed, waiting there for readers familiar with the modernist poetic tradition to begin decoding. The first is taken from Ezra Pound’s Cantos (“& the mortar is not yet dry”) and the second from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (“These fragments I have shored against my ruins …”).76 Next to Joyce’s Ulysses, these are two of modernism’s most canonical texts, and though Okigbo famously denied the influence of Eliot and Pound on a number of occasions (preferring instead Mallarmé, Debussy, Ravel, Malcolm Cowley, and Tagore), he is uncharacteristically explicit here.

The excerpt taken from Pound’s “Canto VIII” involves Sigismundo Malatesta, fifteenth-century Lord of Rimini, who is passing along a message to his maestro di pentore, telling him that the walls of the chapel cannot be painted “as the mortar is not yet dry.” In a canto preoccupied with the way that patrons and artists can work together to revive a culture, this line conveys the idea that the moment for such a symbiosis has not arrived. When the mortar is dry, in other words, then the chapel will be painted, and the artist will become an integral part of the culture as it is evolving. The line from Eliot, which appears in the fifth and final stanza of The Waste Land, works differently. In this instance, the voice is reflecting on some kind of poetic production that has already happened, and it is, as Michael Levenson has persuasively argued, the moment when the “fragments of consciousness” become “a consciousness of fragmentation,” which is there to recommend not unity but transcendence to a higher point of view.77 By this point in The Waste Land, the fragments have been “shored up” all right, but they are still left incomplete; and knowing that is infinitely better than being duped into believing that something eternal or total has been produced.

Instead of keeping the epigraph from “Canto VIII” at the top of the page, Okigbo incorporates it several times into the third section of “Limits,” always in italics and always positioned between paragraphs so that it is both in the poem and still strangely set apart. In an appreciation of Okigbo, Beier has argued that his use of a “‘ready-made’ language,” influenced by Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins, was one of the ways that he could (p.223) paradoxically “burst out of the limitations set by the adopted language.”78 And, indeed, that is what’s happening here in a quite literal way. This “ready-made” epigraph, however, is not just being adopted; it is being stolen (as Eliot would say of all “good poets”), lifted right out of Pound’s poem and made to appear within the context of another sequence of fragments.79 I want to draw your attention to the fact that Okigbo has also made a subtle modification to the original line, preferring the conjunction “&” over the preposition, or adverb, “as.” “&,” which could signal some kind of causal or temporal connection, instead creates a moment of disruption, one made even more powerful by the fact that the word itself appears in the form of an ampersand:

  • BANKS of reed
  • Mountains of broken bottles.
  •           & the morter is not yet dry …80
  • Silent the footfall
  •           Soft as cat’s paw,
  • Sandalled in velvet,
  •           in fur
  •                     So we must go,
  • Wearing evemist against the shoulders,
  • Trailing sun’s dust saw dust of combat,
  • With brand burning out at hand-end.
  •           & the mortar is not yet dry …
  •                   Then we must sing
  • Tongue-tied without name or audience,
  • Making harmony among the branches.

In a sequence of jagged line formations, the images and alliterative sounds accumulate one at a time only to pave the way for an action that gets deferred into the future (“so we must go,” “then we must sing”). “& the mortar is not yet dry,” followed as it is by an open ellipsis, never quite fits in. Sure, it’s (p.224) there on the page, but instead of getting integrated into the main stanzas of the poem, it remains stuck in between, per sis tent in its refusal to dis appear.

Indeed, this is not simply a moment when we have one poet alluding to another. By keeping the italics, Okigbo reminds the reader that this line first appeared as an epigraph, but it refuses any assimilation either in the lines of the paragraphs or, as could have happened, through the loss of italics. It’s almost as if the epigraph has taken on a life of its own, inserting itself forcefully onto the second page (where there is no epigraph), with the ampersand, separated by blank space above and below, trying to hold them together. Strangely enough, however, these paragraphs resist the connection, and the line itself sticks around like a dog yapping at the heels of a stranger, getting more frantic as this section continues, doubling up in the end, moving over to the left, until the main body of the poem steals the ampersand, removing the italics along the way, before bringing it all to a close:

  • & the mortar is not yet dry
  • & the mortar is not yet dry …
  •         & the dream wakes
  • & the voice fades
  • In the damp half light,
  •              Like a shadow,
  • Not leaving a mark.81

And for what remains of “Limits,” that is the case: this line dis appears in the final sections, “not leaving a mark.”

When Eliot’s line appears as the epigraph for the second installment of the poem, the effect is quite different. There is no repetition at all. But the appearance of six sections in double columns has a way of making the entire form of this section of “Limits” resemble a heap of “fragments,” and it becomes, in its own way, the very thing the epigraph names. This particular affiliation, which connects the two poems, can also work in reverse so that “Limits” reflects backward on what Eliot has written, though in (p.225) this context, the fragments are those coming from the collapse of a foreign empire as it was felt far away from London’s bridges. Throughout “Limits,” Okigbo is careful to establish that his cultural tradition, though partly influenced by a foreign British invader, is also closer to other ancient religions, literatures, and civilizations in Africa and the Far East, so that allusions to Gilgamesh (the character of Enki), The Golden Bough (the Scottish phrase malisons, malisons, mair than ten), and Babylonian mythology (Irkalla, the land of the Dead) get incorporated into his poem without seeming like the dissociated parts of a failed collage. It is in the penultimate section, in fact, that the poem takes a turn, bringing a few of these allusions together to describe the arrival of an unnamed foreign force:

  • AND TO US they came—
  •       (Malisons, malisons, mair than ten)
  • And climbed the bombax
  •       & killed the Sunbird.
  • And they scanned the forest of oilbean,
  •        its approach,
  • Surveyed its high branches …
  •        And they entered into the forest,
  • And they passed through the forest,
  •        of oilbean,
  • And found them the twin-gods of the forest:
  • The grove was damp with airs, with airs,
  •        the leaves,
  • And morndew beckoned, beckoned afar,
  •        from the oilbean trees,
  • From the branches of the gods of IRKALLA.

This colonial allegory may seem generic, but it could apply only to one region. The Sunbird, bombax, and oilbean are all indigenous to West Africa, and when the invader comes, they are bought, sold, maimed, and killed so that not even the gods are safe. “Malisons, malisons, mair than ten” is the (p.226) only foreign phrase to appear here, and it is taken from Sir James Frazer’s Golden Bough when he describes the practice of wren killing in modern Europethat has lasted since ancient times and is connected, he suspects, with a long-forgotten pagan ritual.82 For ancients and moderns alike, killing the wren, deliberately or not, was considered bad luck, and this is one of the reasons why, Frazer explains, Scottish schoolboys still sing, “Malisons, malisons, mair than ten,/That harry the Ladye of Heaven’s hen.”83

Frazer’s Golden Bough was one of the first sources that Eliot acknowledged openly in his footnotes to The Waste Land, and Okigbo certainly got more out of it than information about “vegetation ceremonies.” In this case, he used Frazer’s anthropological insights about the origins of pagan rituals to identify a much longer history of European brutality that has moved on in the modern day from wrens to human beings. And the fact that this line appears where it does in “Limits,” that is, immediately after “they came,” is ironic indeed, since it is a song sung by Scottish schoolboys but made to resonate in West Africa. But even here, of course, the words sound out of place, and they would have been indecipherable to so many of Okigbo’s English-speaking readers. So what’s he doing?

I pointed out earlier that the epigraph from The Waste Land does not circulate in the poem. However, this moment of incorporating words from a foreign language, which only happens in this instance, recalls the closing lines of The Waste Land, where this epigraph is taken from, and it appears in the middle of a pile of allusions in Italian, Spanish, Greek, and Sanskrit. Some critics have argued that the mixing of so many different traditions and languages reflects a moment of imperial hubris, as if all of the cultures of the world could, like Britain’s colonies, be brought together under the shadow of one enormous flag. Others have argued to the contrary that the fragmentation itself reveals a deep-seated ambivalence about the British Empire’s ability to contain and/or incorporate so many disparate cultures and traditions. Both sides of this argument, I think, are convincing, but in the context of Okigbo’s “Limits,” there is only one way to spin it. The Empire, by spreading out around the globe and opening itself up to the contamination of so many foreign cultures, has infected (cursed) itself, and it is a historical process that cannot be reversed. They came, (p.227) bringing their language with them, and in the process provided the conditions through which a British literature could be adapted. That, in the end, is the curse identified here: an African experience that gets mediated through imported forms left over by the Empire and transformed into something that neither Pound nor Eliot, writing as they were in 1922, could have ever imagined.

What makes all of this so compelling, though, is the fact the Okigbo wasn’t just blatantly stealing from Eliot and Pound when he framed his poem for Transition: he was also publishing like them. Indeed, The Cantos and The Waste Land may have become monuments of high-modernist Anglo-European culture, but they were first printed in little magazines (“Canto VIII” in the Criterion in 1923, The Waste Land in the Dial and the Criterion in 1922), and their reappearance as one-line fragments so prominently displayed at the beginning of “Limits” (even if left unidentified) signals as much an identification as it does a resizing. Eliot’s fragments and Pound’s mortar get recycled as Okigbo’s epigraphs, and if there is, as Ramazani contends, a poetic practice of “cultural decolonization” by way of techniques like bricolage, polyphony, and allusion, it is prominently on display here through the materiality of the publication itself, which stages, quite prominently, the performance of all three.84

In “Limits,” Okigbo puts himself in good company, but while it may be tempting to see him standing on the shoulders of giants, just take a look at the layout of the page: these giants, if we want to call them that, are on his shoulders, their words a gateway into his world. And is it really a surprise to discover that when preparing to reprint this poem in a collection of his works (one that he unfortunately did not live long enough to see in 1971), Okigbo removed the epigraphs altogether as if recognizing in hindsight that there were different versions for different media at different moments in his own career as a poet in Nigeria? It is hard to say with any certainty why he arrived at this decision, but I like to think it had something to do with the fact that this serial version was a performance above all, an attempt to let his readers know that all great poets have to start somewhere, even in little magazines, but that they are in no way obligated to keep an exact record of it later.

(p.228) In the years immediately before and after World War II, modernism ended up having a material legacy as much as it did a linguistic, formal, thematic, and stylistic one. And this was as true for those African and West Indian novelists who kicked open the doors of the metropolitan publishing houses as it was for the poets and short story writers for whom so many of them were closed. For Okigbo, in particular, the little magazine was a lifeline that made communication with a small international audience possible, and as the publication of a poem like “Limits” demonstrates, the history of this medium was actively getting rewritten in the second half of the twentieth century to accommodate these emerging postcolonial literatures, which, by now, have their entrenched canons and narratives of development.85

The challenge of thinking through this transnational history and geography of modernist and postcolonial magazines remains and will continue to require finding more ways to address their intersections, tensions, and differences without relying only on a colonizer/colonized paradigm that casts them as antagonists or tries to render them entirely incompatible. As I hope to have demonstrated in this chapter, the situation was significantly more complex, and by examining the materiality of some representative West Indian and African magazines, I have argued that they were locked in a productive struggle that did not end up with any clear victor. Going ahead, it would be worthwhile to continue reading modernism against this postcolonial print culture and in doing so come up with ways to think not just about where it was but where it led. The full benefit of a media-based approach has the potential of revealing more forcefully that literary history doesn’t just emerge from nowhere: it happens somewhere on the page, and media like magazines are sites where we get to observe movement across different periods, however arbitrary, and geographies, however vast. It’s only by taking this long and wide view that the unwritten history of the medium will, in fact, come to include a much bigger pile of modernist and postcolonial little magazines, dead, maybe, but forgotten, definitely not.


(2) See Lewis Nkosi, “On Okyeame,” Transition 12, no. 1 (1964): 28. Bernth Lindfors, repeating Nkosi, later put it this way: “When comprehensive histories of modern African literature come to be written, some attention will have to be given to ephemeral printed media that provided aspiring authors with opportunities to express themselves.” Lindfors, Loaded Vehicles: Studies in African Literary Media (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World, 1996), 43.

(3) “Onitsha authors were influenced by Indian popular pamphlets which were in turn based on Victorian popular magazine fiction introduced into India by colonising troops and traders. India pamphlets were brought back by African soldiers returning from Burma and the Far East campaigns after the Second World (p.307) War and inspired the Onitsha Market pamphlet.” Emmanuel Obiechina, An African Popular Literature: A Study of Onitsha Market Pamphlets (New York: Africana, 1971), 95.

(4) For a broad overview on the subject of little magazines and Africa, see Milton Krieger, “The Formative Journals and Institutions,” in The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature, ed. Abiola Irele and Simon Gikandi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 398–407.

(5) Simon Gikandi identifies modernism as a site of “Eurocentric danger,” which is one of the reasons postcolonial critics have treated it with suspicion. Gikandi, “Modernism in the World,” Modernism/Modernity 13, no. 3 (2006): 421.

(6) Neil Lazarus, The Postcolonial Unconscious (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Jahan Ramazani, A Transnational Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Peter Kalliney, “Modernism, African Literature, and the Cold War,” Modern Language Quarterly 76, no. 3 (September 2015): 333–68; Simon Gikandi, Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992).

(8) Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, Modernism: A Guide to European Literature, 1890–1930 (London and New York: Penguin, 1978), 203.

(9) A. J. Seymour, “Little Reviews,” Kyk-over-al 2, no. 10 (April 1950): 204. The terms little review and little magazine get applied to West Indian and African in an uncritical manner again and again in the following decades. Here are a few representative examples: “Bim and Kyk-over-al are more in the nature of the little reviews.” J. A. Ramsaran, Black Orpheus 4 (October 1958): 58. “Little Magazines have played a big role in the development of anglophone African writing.” Lindfors, “African Little Magazines,” in Mapping Intersections: African Literature and Africa’s Development, ed. Anne V. Adams and Janis A. Mayes (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World, 1998), 87–94. “What has been called the explosion of creative writing which took place in the late forties and early fifties owes an important debt to a little magazine in Barbados, one of the smallest of the islands.” John Wickham, introduction to Bim: The Literary Magazine of Barbados, 1942–1973, vol. 1 (Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus Reprint, 1977), iii.

(10) I am modifying a formulation made by Neil Lazarus regarding the globality of anticolonial nationalism: “In its appearance in works of literature, anticolonial nationalism is seldom narrow, sectarian, or chauvinistic; it seeks instead to open the community up to the globe. The fostering of nationalism is also the fostering of internationalism and transcultural solidaristic affiliation.” Lazarus, Postcolonial Unconscious, 65.

(11) O. R. Dathorne, Black Orpheus 15 (1964): 60.

(12) A. J. Seymour, “Literature in the Making—the Contribution of Kyk-over-al,” Kyk-over-al 33–34 (April 1986): 3–12.

(p.308) (13) Emilio Rodriguez, “An Overview of Caribbean Literary Magazine: Its Liberating Function,” Bim 17, 66–67 (1983): 126; Lindfors, “African Little Magazines”; Mervyn Morris, “Little Magazines in the Caribbean,” Bim 68 (1984): 3–9.

(14) Albert Gomes, “West Indian Magazines,” Beacon 3, no. 4 (November 1933): 74–75.

(15) Albert Gomes, “West Indian Literature,” Beacon 12, no. 12 (June 1933): 4.

(16) For a sampling of the most significant literary and political contributions, see Reinhard Sander, ed., From Trinidad: An Anthology of Early West Indian Writing (New York: Africana, 1978).

(17) Jahan Ramazani, The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

(18) Robie Macauley, “The ‘Little Magazines,’” Transition, no. 9 (1963): 24.

(19) “The most important—and the most enduring—of the little literary magazines that arose in this period was Kyk-over-al, in Guyana, edited by the poet A. J. Seymour from 1945 to 1961 and then revived in the 1980s by Seymour and Ian McDonald, and Bim in Barbados, edited by Frank Collymore (and later John Wickham) from the 1940s through to the 1990s.” Stewart Brown and Mark McWatt, introduction to The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse, ed. Stewart Brown and Mark McWatt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), xxviii.

(20) Sander, From Trinidad, 9. He’s playing off a statement made by A. J. Seymour in an editorial for Kyk-over-al: “It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of the Little Reviews appearing in the West Indies because they have been and still are the nursery of literature.” Seymour, “The Little Review,” Kyk-over-al 2, no. 10 (April 1950): 204.

(21) In an early editorial, in fact, an anonymous writer for the Beacon points out that the number of literary clubs in Barbados is limited (the Barbados Literary Society and Forum Club), both of them run by individuals who “take an exceptionally keen interest in the historic background of the Negro.” “Barbados Notes,” Beacon 3, no. 4 (November 1933): 90.

(22) Erika J. Waters, “Music of Language: An Interview with George Lamming,” The Caribbean Writer 13 (1999): 193.

(23) Simon Gikandi, Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature (Ithaca, NY: Cornelll University Press, 1992), 33–34.

(24) See Peter Kalliney, “Metropolitan Modernism and Its West Indian Interlocutors: 1950s London and the Emergence of Postcolonial Literature,” Publication of the Modern Language Association 122, no. 1 (2007): 89–104.

(25) George Lamming, “The Caribbean Artist in Society,” Caribbean Writer 13 (1999): 190–200.

(26) Gail Low, Publishing the Postcolonial: Anglophone West African and Caribbean Writing in the UK, 1948–1968 (New York: Routledge, 2012), 100.

(27) In a review that appeared in Black Orpheus, Bim gets singled out: “Bim takes the palm for literary eminence since in its pages have appeared over a number of (p.309) years poems, short stories, and essays by such well known West Indian writers as Edgar Mittelholzer, Samuel Selvon, George Lamming, Roger Mais, and John Hearne.” J. A. Ramsaran, “Caribbean Little Reviews,” Black Orpheus 4 (1958): 58.

(28) See Bernth Lindfors, “A Decade of Black Orpheus,” World Literature Today 42, no. 4 (1968): 509–16.

(29) Christopher Okigbo, interview by Dennis Duerden, August 1963, London, Transcription Service, Sc-Audio C-3 (side 1, no. 1), tape cassette, Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, N.Y. See also Peter Benson, “Black Orpheus,” “Transition,” and Modern Cultural Awakening in Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 298. Okigbo’s primary role as West African editor involved finding material to publish. An announcement for the West African edition did appear in an early issue, stating that it would be printed in Ibadan as a quarterly and edited by Okigbo. Though the literary content was going to be the same, the political and nonliterary material would be different. In a 1963 interview, Okigbo claimed that there were two hundred subscribers for Transition in West Africa, but the “sell or return” policy of bookstores raised the overall cost, further limiting its potential to travel. Okigbo interview, Sc-Audio C-3 (side 1, no. 1).

(30) Transition 18 (1965): 16–17; Black Orpheus 17 (1965): 13–17.

(31) For a valuable overview of the global book business, see Andre Schriffin, The Business of Books: How International Conglomerates Took Over the Book Business and Changed the Way We Read (New York: Verso, 2001).

(33) Bernth Lindfors, “Amos Tutuola’s Search for a Publisher,” in Toward Defining the African Aesthetic, ed. Lemuel A. Johnson et al., (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1982) 100–101.

(34) See Eileen Julien, “The Extroverted African Novel,” in The Novel: History, Geography, and Culture, ed. Franco Moretti, 2 vols. (Prince ton, N.J.: Prince ton University Press, 2006), 1:685.

(35) Oxford University Press, Heinemann, and Longman ended up producing cheap paperback books, mostly as a special series, and they were intended to reach audiences across Africa, many of them with substantial discounts, ready for use as textbooks in schools and universities. But this process did not kick in until the mid-1960s. See Low, Publishing the Postcolonial, 43–47, 66–73.

(36) British publishers catering to universities and schools had more success because their books were getting adapted for syllabi. Robert Fraser points out that during this process of the “internationalisation of African Literature” in the 1960s, 80 percent of Heinemann’s sales from its African Writers Series (begun in 1962) went to Africa and 10 percent to Britain and the United States. From the mid-1980s, however, and largely as a result of the rise of black studies programs in the United States, that number changed dramatically, with 50 percent getting absorbed by a “diasporic constituency” and 20 percent arriving in (p.310) Africa. Fraser, Book History through Postcolonial Eyes: Rewriting the Script (New York: Routledge, 2008), 182. The Heinemann series, as James Currey contends, provided “good serious reading at accessible prices for the rapidly emerging professional classes as the countries became independent,” helping to do in Africa what the Penguin paperback did in the United Kingdom. Currey, “Africa Writes Back: Heinemann African Writers Series—A Publisher’s Memoir,” in Books without Borders, ed. Robert Fraser and Mary Hammond, 2 vols. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 1:159. The market in Africa was “primarily educational rather than general” (Low, Publishing the Postcolonial, 67). The reason for this, Low explains, “was that the Anglophone book trade in Africa was at this juncture left more or less to lie in the consumption of textbooks, despite the presence of popular local publishing such as the Onitsha market or pamphlet literature” (ibid.).

(38) Ibid., 340.

(39) The Daily Times had a readership of around 100,000 and the weekly Sunday Times around 127,000, both of them exceeding the average circulation for a West African newspaper by five times. See Committee on Inter-African Relations, Report on the Press in West Africa (Ibadan, Nigeria: Department of Extramural Studies, University College, 1960). There was a wide range of student-union magazines, campus newspapers, literary leaflets, departmental periodicals, scholarly journals, and church bulletins. See Bernth Lindfors, “Popular Literature for an African Elite,” Journal of Modern African Studies 12, no. 3 (1974): 471–86.

(40) Ibid., 473.

(41) Brent Edwards, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 9.

(42) Janheinz Jahn resigned as coeditor after issue 6, and the role was taken over by Ezekiel Mphahlele (until issue 17) and Wole Soyinka (until issue 14).

(44) In an essay devoted almost entirely to Aimé Césaire, Janheinz Jahn took some time to explain the origins of the title: “In 1948, Senghor was able to combine sixteen black authors in an anthology to which no less a writer than Jean-Paul Sartre produced the preface. In this preface ‘Orphée Noir’ we find the enthusiastic sentence: ‘The black poetry in the French language, is in our days, the only great revolutionary poetry.’” Jahn, “Aimé Césaire,” Black Orpheus 2 (1958): 35.

(45) Critics who have tracked the development of Black Orpheus (twenty-two issues in ten years, collecting 224 writers from twenty-six African nations) notice the marked shift in content over the years: there are, at first, frequent translations of Francophone poets such as Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire, and Leon Damas (p.311) that later open up to West Indian and African American writers before arriving at a more consistent run of Anglophone contributions from all over the continent.

(46) Even without the official distribution list informing readers where Black Orpheus could be found, it was still making its way around the world. Andrew Salkey, for one, claimed that he came across individual copies in the United States, Jamaica, Eng land, France, and Germany. And when meeting a reader from South Africa, Beier inquired how much Black Orpheus was selling for on the newsstands. “I don’t know,” the man replied. “I usually buy a stolen copy.” See Ulli Beier, “Black Orpheus” (discussion of the aims of the magazine), a conversation with Andrew Salkey and Gerald Moore, 1966, London Transcription Service, Sc-Audio C-27 (side 2, no. 2), Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, N.Y.

(47) Black Orpheus 14 (1964): 60. This review is unsigned, but Peter Benson suspects that it is Gerald Moore (“Black Orpheus,” “Transition,” and Modern Cultural Awakening in Africa, 19).

(48) “While all this new literary activity was going on, the critics were silent. Only three critical articles appeared, one on Langston Hughes, the other two introducing Flavien Ranaivo and Tchicaya U Tam’si. The West Indians and francophone Africans who had attracted a great deal of attention in the first numbers of Black Orpheus were no longer mentioned; the new writers springing up in every issue were perhaps too new and too little published to be intelligently discussed. For the critics it was a time of watching and waiting, a time for writing book reviews rather than lengthy articles.” Lindfors, Loaded Vehicles, 28.

(49) For an informative account regarding Nigerian magazines published before Black Orpheus, see Lindfors, “Popular Literature for an African Elite.”

(50) In Black Orpheus 19, a sample of each of them can be found: Ulli Beier, “Naive Nigerian Painting,” Black Orpheus 19 (March 1966): 31–32; Marin Esslin, “Two African Playwrights” [Soyinka and J. P. Clark], Black Orpheus 19 (March 1966): 33–39; Janheinz Jahn, “Senghor without a Propeller,” Black Orpheus 19 (March 1966): 40–47; and Lewis Nkosi, “South African Fiction,” Black Orpheus 19 (March 1966): 48–54.

(51) Una MacClean, “Soyinka’s International Drama,” Black Orpheus 15 (1964): 46.

(52) Neil Lazarus points out that Chinua Achebe would put a different spin on the term universal, seeing it instead as a code word for Western, modern, European. See Lazarus, “Modernism and African Literature,” in The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms, ed. Mark Wollaeger with Matt Eatough (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 229.

(53) Beier, “Black Orpheus,” Sc-Audio C-27 (side 2, no. 2).

(55) For a discussion of this volte face (and a valuable overview of the first ten years), see Bernth Lindfors, “Black Orpheus,” in European-Language Writing (p.312) in Sub-Saharan Africa, ed. Albert S. Gérard, 2 vols. (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1986), 2:668–79.

(56) Rajat Neogy, “Editorial Note,” Transition 12 (January–February 1964): 3.

(57) Twelve hundred copies of issue 1 were printed; eight hundred copies of issue 2 followed. An advertisement in issue 33 (October–November 1967) boasted a readership of thirty-six thousand. I’ve been unable to confirm whether this is true.

(58) Paul Theroux, “Slickest, Sprightliest, Sexiest,” Transition 37 (1968): 41.

(59) For Okigbo, the difference between the two magazines was clear. Black Orpheus will publish “anybody who is black,” while Transition was put in place “to establish the criteria for judging good African literature.” Christopher Okigbo interviewed by Lewis Nkosi, Dennis Duerden, and Robert Serumaga, African Writers Talking: A Collection of Radio Interviews, ed. Cosmo Pieterse and Dennis Duerden (New York: Africana, 1972), 142.

(60) Neogy, “An Introductory Offer,” Transition 1 (November 1961).

(62) Abiola Irele, “Review of Transition (Issues 1–32),” Journal of Modern African Studies 5, no. 3 (1967): 444.

(65) Lionel Trilling, “Letter to the Editor,” Transition 18 (1965): 6.

(66) For a discussion of the similarities and differences between the two t/Transitions, see Dayo Olopade, “The Meaning of Modernism in Two Transitions,” Transition 106 (2011): 45–61.

(68) Ali Mazrui’s controversial piece “Nkrumah: The Leninist Czar” convinced some people that the magazine was publishing propaganda for the U.S. government. Transition 26 (1966): 9–17.

(69) Barbara Lapcek-Neogy, “A Matter of Transition,” Transition 75–76 (1997): 244–48.

(70) Editorial, Transition 38 (1971): 5.

(71) Rajat Neogy, “Letter to the Editor,” Transition 38 (June–July 1971): 6.

(73) Michael J. C. Echeruo, ed., A Concordance to the Poems of Christopher Okigbo (With the Complete Text of the Poems, 1957–67) (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 2008), 550.

(74) Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and Ihechukwu Madubuike, after making a series of fierce indictments against Okigbo’s difficulty, argue that “Limits” and “Heavensgate” have occasional flashes of power, but the lack of a coherent plot and well-formed thoughts makes them “rather sorry imitations of Okigbo’s anglomodernist masters.” Chinweizu, Jemie, and Madubuike, Toward the (p.313) Decolonization of African Literature (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1983), 276.

(76) See Romanus N. Egudu, “Ezra Pound in African Poetry: Christopher Okigbo,” Comparative Literature Studies 8, no. 2 (1971): 143–54; and M. J. C. Echeruo, “Traditional and Borrowed Elements in Nigerian Poetry,” Nigeria Magazine 87 (1966): 142–55.

(77) Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine, 1908–1922 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 194.

(78) Ulli Beier, “Three Mbari Poets,” Black Orpheus 12 (1963): 47.

(79) It turns out that Eliot’s Waste Land played a role in this as well. In early 1922, while Pound was writing “Canto VIII,” he was also reading Eliot’s poem in manuscript form, and both of them benefited enormously from the interaction, Pound finding a new direction for his Cantos (including using blocks of quoted text), Eliot discovering a new structure for The Waste Land. “Canto VIII” opens, in fact, with an allusion to Eliot as the editor: “These fragments you have shelved (shored),” drawing attention in this particular adaptation to the shelving, not the shoring, of poetic fragments. And there’s something else here that might help us understand Okigbo’s choice of this particular line for his epigraph. “Canto VIII,” which became the first in a sequence of what became the “Malatesta Cantos,” marked a turning point in the composition of the Cantos as a whole. Up until that point, Pound had imagined that they would be strung together by a single sensibility, but here he realized that the juxtaposition of historical figures, events, and voices could create the kind of polyphonic depth he was looking for to guide his epic pursuits. Pound, “Canto VIII,” in The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1970), 28 (lines 30, 28).

(80) The typo for “mortar” is in the original and has been kept here.

(81) In the authorized final version, the ampersand in these final lines is replaced by “and,” and the final line is detached from the others.

(82) Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild (New York: Macmillan, 1914), 310–35.

(83) Ibid. Frazer has butchered the line here, which should read, “‘Malisons, malisons, mair than ten / That harrie the nest o’ the heavenly hen.” See William Cadenhead, “The Laverock’s Song,” in Flights of Fancy, and Las of Bon-accord (Aberdeen, U.K.: A. Brown, 1853), 115.

(84) Donatus Nwoga has singled out sections X and XI “as a description of the colonial and missionary exploitation of Africa and the demise of Africa gods and values,” noting that other critics before him have seen “Limits” as an allegory for Nigerian independence and the Congo crisis of 1960. See Nwoga, “Okigbo’s Limits: An Approach to Meaning,” in Critical Essays on Christopher Okigbo, ed. Uzoma Esonwanne (New York: G. K. Hall, 2000), 143.

(p.314) (85) Still, it’s interesting to know that even back then, a poet like Okigbo, though publishing like the modernists, still didn’t feel as if he fit in entirely. In 1963, two years after “Limits” appeared, he approached the editor of Poetry magazine, the same one used by Eliot and Pound almost half a century earlier (as advertised in the inside cover), about bringing out “Lament of the Silent Sisters” so that he could “have an audience in America.” Nothing came of the request, but it makes you wonder if Okigbo somehow hadn’t realized that he had already found readers in Europe, Eng land, and America, though it was through a magazine based in East Africa—and, what’s more, he managed to insert himself in Pound’s and Eliot’s company without ever having to appear directly in the pages of an American one. See Michael Echeruo, “Christopher Okigbo, Poetry Magazine, and the ‘Lament of the Silent Sisters,’” Research in African Literatures 35, no. 3 (2004): 10.