Irving W. Andre
In the early 1990s, after a five year sojourn studying law, I came across a box which was filled with the arcanae of a past life. In that box, which was emblazoned with the word SODABIX on its sides, and which had been shipped from Dominica to Baltimore, Maryland, and finally in 1984, to Brampton, Ontario, was a collection of essays, research notes from the University of the West Indies and John Hopkins University, photocopies of works from the US Library of Congress, copies of manuscripts from the University of Toronto, and an assortment of letters, old Chronicles and all the literary detritus of an aspiring academic turned lawyer.
It occurred to me that perhaps I could compensate for turning my back on academia by embarking on a literary project, a book on Dominica, focusing on the last twenty-five years (i.e.. from 1967) of the island’s history. My brief recollection of the limited material on Dominica appeared to justify the plan. Other than Honeychurch’s 1984 The Dominica Story, Cracknell’s 1973 Dominica, Trouillot’s 1988 Peasants and Capital, there was no intellectual probing of the island’s fortunes since the 1967 attainment of Associated Statehood. Furthermore, there was nothing by the generation of Dominican students who had been nurtured in the radical chic of the 1970s and who had played a part in the advent of political independence in 1978.
With this in mind, I contacted a few comrades, most notably Gabriel Christian and Steinberg Henry. Gabriel and I had attended the Dominica Grammar School but had had little contact with each other. The school was a microcosm of our community and social distinctions in the broader community were carefully preserved at the DGS. In the mid seventies however, we had met on common ground in a little house overlooking Queen Mary Street in Roseau. WE were members of a little radical cell called Cadre #1 which had the resources to print a monthly newsletter called Vanguard. During our weekly sessions, we would periodically look through the jalousies, with an apprehension akin to that of a youthful Jean Rhys, for the approach of any special enthusiasm for a socialist state. By 1978 I would take my leave, after a giant bear hug and a salutary a “Luta Continua” instead of a more gentle au revoir, bound for the Mona Campus, in Kingston, Jamaica. I would return, first in 1979 and then in 1981, but by then the tide of socialism had ebbed and with it, a desire to remain on the island.
And so in the early 1980s, I blundered out of Dominica, bound for Johns Hopkins University. Gabriel and I maintained contact with each other. In one letter, I suggested that his professional aspirations could only be attained, and his boundless energy assuaged, outside of Dominica and that failure to migrate would result in a daily abortion of all his professional hopes and aspirations. The reason for this advice was simple: The Freedom Party administration in the early 1980s buffeted by the chilling winds of Reaganomics, would not give a scholarship to an erstwhile radical as he was then. Spurred on by family members, he subsequently left and blazed a trail onto Georgetown University Law Center.
I contacted Gabriel with my proposal. A book on Dominica’s history from 1967 to the present, with significant aspects of this history being written by notable Dominicans.
He needed no convincing. We set about to persuade other Dominicans to become involved, but for myriad reasons, the response was lukewarm. We ultimately concluded that we should do the book ourselves. IN Search of Eden was born.
Alongside the decision to forge ahead with In Search of Eden, was the decision to establish our own press. The agony of doing a manuscript, foraging for a publisher, sending copies to dozens of disinterested publishing houses, the attendant frustration, the attendant self doubt, were luxuries we could all afford. We contacted a dew printing pressed and decided we would bear the cost of this book.
We then looked for a name. Preferentially a local name. Many flitted in and out of our minds, Balizier, Ainse De Mai, Waitikubuli, Coulibri.
Like a revelation, we settled on Pont Casse. Why? It was an elevated part of Dominica: almost its centre. It symbolized this very heart of the island, an ideal metaphor for the book.
In the Search of Eden, proved a labour of love. We divided the 25 years into focal areas and wrote the chapters accordingly. We agreed on a printer in Virginia, and sent them the necessary floppy discs. My discs proved more sloppy than floppy since the publishing company printed the book with my unedited work.
In 1992, I boarded an airplane to Washington to meet with Gabriel. After breaking bread, we rented a van to Virginia and with great fanfare, received copies of “In Search of Eden. The presence of a few errors in the text did not dim our spirits and with great excitement, we announced the newly published work on Dominica.
Since 1992, seven additional works have been published by Pont Casse Press, most based on Dominica. The include: Distant Voices, The Genesis Of Indigenous Literature in Dominica, A Passage to Anywhere, The Island Within, Rain on a Tin Roof, The Jumbie Wedding a Revised Edition of Distant Voices and Tales From Hurontario High. Other works are in progress. Collectively, they seek to heighten our understand appreciation of the island we call home.
The books have been well received even by those little or no affiliation with Dominica. Our readers’ encompass all backgrounds and have generally reacted favorably to the books. Indeed, there has been a effervescence of local writing since the advent of Pont Casse Press in 1992.
This literary renaissance, emerging as it is, from the inertia of the 1980s, augurs well for Dominica’s literary future. Hopefully, it will receive a further impetus, as expatriate Dominicans refocus their efforts on the future of their island.