School of Cultural Studies and Humanities

Caribbean and Black British writing and the publishing industry

As part of the LBU Centre for Culture and the Arts Black History Month programme, on Oct 27th Drs Emily Zobel Marshall and Rachel Rich will be in discussion with Jeremy Poynting, the editor of Leeds-based Peepal Tree Press; a press which is the biggest publisher of Caribbean literature globally. This will be a unique opportunity for students to learn more career opportunities in publishing and for the literary community both in the UK and the Caribbean to hear Jeremy discuss his long and outstanding career. 

Black History Month creative

Jeremy Poynting is the founder and managing editor for the Leeds-based publishers of Black British and Caribbean writing Peepal Tree Press. Whilst still working as a lecturer in further education and trade union activist, Jeremy began a PhD at the University of Leeds focusing on the relationship between imaginative literature and ethnic diversity in Trinidad and Guyana. His research brought him to the Caribbean for the first time in 1976. In 1986 he established Peepal Tree Press. Peepal Tree aims to published the very best of international writing from the Caribbean, its diasporas and the UK. Their goal ‘is always to publish books that make a difference, and though we always want to achieve the best possible sales, we're most concerned with whether a book will still be alive in the future.’ In 2014 Jeremy was awarded a DLitt by the University of the West Indies (St Augustine). The citation stated: ‘Jeremy Poynting, who for years has been an authority on Caribbean literature and culture, is recognised for his work as editor and director of Peepal Tree Press and his invaluable contributions to Caribbean literature’ [https://www.peepaltreepress.com/about-us/jeremy-poynting].

Jeremy founded Peepal Tree Press in 1985. The Peepal Tree Press headquarters are in a back-to-back converted house in Burley, Leeds – arguably an unlikely location for the largest publishers of Caribbean fiction and poetry globally. Since its beginnings, Peepal Tree has grown into the largest, worldwide publisher of Caribbean and Black British writing with a backlist of around 380 titles. Through his work as Managing Editor and Founder of Peepal Tree, Jeremy has made a significant contribution to the Arts as well as in services to the city, our region and the national and international literary community.

As well as publishing the work of others, Jeremy has authored and published numerous articles on Caribbean writing and a book on Caribbean author and intellectual Kwame Dawes. Jeremy’s goal is to ‘always to publish books that make a difference, and though [Peepal Tree] always want to achieve the best possible sales, we're most concerned with whether a book will still be alive in the future’ [https://www.peepaltreepress.com/about-us].

Students at the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities have enjoyed work placements at Peepal Tree Press and have developed their understanding of the publishing industry – and developed their creative work – as a result. Students worked to help the Press with marketing and publicity and focused on supporting the company’s social media outputs. English with Creative Writing student Faatimah Mayat stated that she picked up a range of skills from her time at the Press, including writing blurbs and producing publicity copy, and gaining experience of working in the publishing industry.

As part of her work, Faatimah had the opportunity to work with several published authors, meeting the ‘amazing’ Trinidadian author Monique Roffey and conducting an email interview with poet Marvin Thompson. She said of her experience:

‘It allowed me to witness first-hand, one avenue which my degree may take me down. I also experienced the amount of reading, re-reading and editing that goes into submitting professional writing.’ 

As well as getting to see how a publishing house works, Faatimah highlighted how working with Peepal Tree helped her develop her research skills. Regarding the student placements, Peepal Tree stated; ‘we really enjoy seeing students realising that their uni skills are relevant to workplaces, and passing on some knowledge about indie publishing. We also value their responses to our books - they bring a younger, fresh perspective’ [read more here].

For decades, Peepal Tree Press have hosted and organised cultural events and readings across Leeds and the North of England and have also worked in partnership with Leeds Beckett University (with Emily Zobel Marshall and Claire Chambers from the School of Cultural Studies and Humanities) to deliver an international conference on Caribbean writing entitled ‘Narrating the Nation’ in 2011 which brought together our students and Caribbean poets and authors from across the globe [https://ukblackwritersforum.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/narrating-the-caribbean-nation/].

Through their ‘Inscribe’ programme, housed at Peepal Tree, Jeremy and the Press have nurtured the talents of budding writers of colour across the region and often facilitated the publication of their first pieces of work. The mission statement for inscribe is; ‘supporting writers of colour in England to professionally advance their creative work and their careers through coaching, mentoring, workshops, residentials, training, newsletters, publications and general advice’ [https://www.peepaltreepress.com/inscribe].

Without Jeremy’s tireless dedication to nurturing and publishing Caribbean and Black British writers, as well as establishing, educating and supporting a literary community of students and readers, none of this would have been possible. We look forward to discussing his long career in publishing on Oct 27th and we do hope you can join us. Please register for the event via this link: https://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/events/bhm-caribbean-and-black-british-writing-and-the-publishing-industry/

 

Dr Emily Zobel Marshall

Reader / School of Cultural Studies & Humanities

Emily’s research is informed by postcolonial theory and includes examinations of constructions of identity, race and racial politics and Caribbean carnival cultures. She is particularly interested in forms of cultural resistance and cross-cultural fertilisation in the face of colonialism. Emily is an expert in the role of trickster figures in the literatures and cultures of Africa and its Diaspora and has published widely in this area.

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