Callaloo #1 to #7

This year I will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Callaloo, based on the fact that the date on the first issue was December 1976. On the other hand, Charles H. Rowell’s “Editor’s Note” in Issue #2 (February , 1978) indicates “CALLALOO first appeared in January, 1977….”(3). For the sake of scholarly exactness, one should accord greater credibility to Rowell’s assertion and not begin the anniversary celebration until January 2017. If I prematurely celebrate, I prematurely celebrate. Until the latter part of 2015, I only had Issue #1 through Issue #4 in my library. Hurricane Katrina destroyed my extensive collection of Callaloo, Hoo-Doo, OBSIDIAN, African American Review and its earlier iterations, and the cassette-magazine Black Box. Thanks to the generosity of the New Orleans novelist Michael A. Zell and Crescent City Books, I acquired Callaloo #5, #6, and #7. My celebration is informed by a sense of urgency spiced with paranoia. In addition, my rejoicing is accompanied by a need to create a bit of what people have taken to calling “back-story,” which I assume is information that hitherto has not been made public.

Founded in 1974 by Alvin Aubert , OBSIDIAN like Nkombo, which was established by Tom Dent and Kalamu ya Salaam in December 1968, stood in a prototypical relationship to Callaloo, not in format but in being marked by a multi-layered Black South aesthetic. At one time or another, Dent, Aubert, Rowell, and I talked frequently about the distribution of creative expressions. We were friends in a sense that is difficult to communicate in 2016. We were not “friends” in the dubious way the social network of Facebook juggles the word. It is more accurate to say we were comrades, our personalities and understanding of literary and cultural work having been forged on the anvil of segregation in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

All of us were products of the gendered geographies of race, region, and literature so eloquently discussed by Thadious Davis in Southscapes (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), and we believed African American literature and art were not artifacts designed for museums and archives. For us, cultural expressions were processes and products for serving the aesthetic (perceptional) needs of people who may or may not have possessed academic yearnings or have given allegiance, in the words of George Kent, to “traditional high ground humanism.” Read Kent’s remarks in Blackness and the Adventure of Western Culture (Chicago: Third World Press, 1972).
 Our universalism was concrete not abstract. It was that spirit which led Rowell, Dent, and me to conceptualize Callaloo during our Southern Black Cultural Alliance debates in Birmingham in the summer of 1975. Some weeks ago, Kalamu ya Salaam asked me to explain why after Callaloo moved from Southern University (Baton Rouge) to the University of Kentucky, Dent and I were rusticated and had insignificant roles in the subsequent growth of Callaloo after 1979. An explanation can be made by remembering clashes of value and noting a few changes Rowell orchestrated in the first seven issues of Callaloo.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
April 15, 2016