J. Dillon Brown & Leah Reade Rosenberg (eds.), Beyond Windrush: Rethinking Postwar Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015. 260 pp. (Cloth US$ 60.00)
In Beyond Windrush, J. Dillion Brown and Leah Reade Rosenberg have gathered together a timely, insightful, and important collection of essays that generatively recasts Anglophone Caribbean literature’s postwar genesis narrative. As they note, “the term ‘Windrush’ has become a potent signifier in scholars’ understanding of both British and Anglophone Caribbean cultural history” (p. 3). Accordingly, “the Windrush years—effectively 1948 to 1962—mark an especially poignant period for the English-speaking Caribbean, rich with dreams and controversies about migration, identity, national culture, regional unity, and decolonization” (p. 3).
This period, bookended by the Windrush voyages and the granting of political independence to Trinidad and Jamaica, becomes critical to a seminal and triumphant narrative of Caribbean literary history and politics that is, among other things, heteronormatively masculinist and nationalist. It is well known that this is in large part because a cadre of writers, from diverse backgrounds and chosen genres, were among the metropolitan migrants. As the editors acknowledge, “this generation of male, exilic authors brought international acclaim and regional recognition to Anglophone Caribbean literature as a tradition, and the concepts and themes articulated in their work decisively shaped Caribbean literary criticism for over half a century” (p. 4). While at no point do the editors or contributors discredit this auspicious legacy, the collection nonetheless endeavors to demonstrate how “various institutional and critical biases have [also] decisively shaped the characterization of this period, pruning out much of its diversity and interest in favor of a simplified account of regional-national literary triumph” (p. 4, my emphasis). In response to this “pruning,” recent scholars, many of whom are contributors to the collection, have broadened the limits of the postwar literary period, often referred to as the “boom,” to the corpus of Caribbean literature written before Windrush. What this collection offers then, is primarily “a much broader spectrum of more contemporary authors in regard to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, as well as genre” (p. 5).
The book’s central project is to excavate some of the omissions of the postwar founding narrative. Taking up Alison Donnell’s observations that the Windrush “myth of origins … held other stories and other claims in suspicion and abeyance,” Beyond Windrush “positions itself, likewise insisting that it is necessary to uncover and go beyond the ideological blind spot and biases that arise from the core Windrush writers’ sense of their own aesthetic mission and its subsequent acceptance by later commentators” (Donnell, quoted on p. 5). Where the collection functionally diverges from Donnell is in its refusal to abandon this particular origin myth entirely. Rather than draining the Windrush paradigm of its importance as a progenitive point in Caribbean literary history, Beyond Windrush seeks to “excavate forgotten facets of genre, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, transnationalism, and the local in the era’s writing” to demonstrate that “much more remains to be said about this postwar period so crucial to Caribbean literatures in English” (p. 12).
Each of the book’s four parts takes up an area of diversity that has been excised from the Windrush narrative to “attend to the lesser known register of that period,” to model “less teleological accounts of literary history,” and thus to “ask different questions about how that history might usefully speak to us today” (p. 18). Although language is not mentioned specifically in the book’s list of diversity categories, the attention to intersections between Anglophone and Francophone writing and theory in Part Four struck me as being among the strongest and most interesting features of the collection. Raphael Dalleo’s essay in particular demonstrates how a “translinguistic comparative frame” can “dislodge romantic accounts of nationalism, obliging a harder look at the role that literature did and can play in the social and political circumstances out of which it emerges” (p. 16). Dalleo illustrates how “considering Caribbean literary history comparatively, across linguistic and national boundaries, makes clear that ideas of anticolonialism and exile represent writerly responses to the region’s larger social transformations” (p. 204).
The essays in Beyond Windrush show clearly the wealth that becomes available for our understanding of the Caribbean region and its conceptions of postcolonial sovereignty by disrupting and stretching the Windrush paradigm. They attest to what has “until now, been overlooked in critical accounts of the Windrush era,” and in turn how “much remains to be said about this postwar period so crucial to Caribbean literature in English” (p. 12). If there is a flaw, it is one that the editors themselves acknowledge—one of generic consideration (p. 17). The novel remains the hegemonic and central form of critical inquiry. Thus, Beyond Windrush discusses neither poetry nor drama in a sustained way, an incompleteness perhaps inherited from the Windrush narrative itself. Nonetheless, to my mind there are more than enough examples of how to do such work throughout the collection.