Buzz Johnson, people’s educator and the founder of Karia Press, died this week.
Two giants of the Caribbean diaspora died this week – Stuart Hall, academic and cultural theorist; Buzz Johnson, publisher and people’s educator. They represented two ends of a black left spectrum of politics – the one an acclaimed theoretician and eminent wordsmith who influenced a phalanx of students with his ideas, the other a practical man who single-handedly ran a black publishing venture, Karia Press, which uncovered/discovered and publicised a whole range of Caribbean writers and thinkers. Stuart Hall has been rightly claimed and acclaimed for his massive contribution. But Buzz, in the shadows till the last, has never had his due recognition.
Born in Buccoo, a small fishing village in Tobago, Buzz set up the Karia Press in London in the early 1980s. Despite being dogged by constant financial problems and having frequently to move base, he managed, as a one-man-band, to publish an amazing array of over fifty books. And they were important ones. Many of the Caribbean poets who are now household names, were first published by Buzz – Elean Thomas, Merle Collins, Brother Resistance. He published key Caribbean writers on Language such as Hubert Devonish writing on Creole and Dr Morgan Dalphinis on language and memory. He kept in the public eye the works of veteran Caribbean stalwarts such as George Lamming and Richard Hart.
But more than that, Buzz was an innovator and excavator. It was he who researched, authored and published the first book on then forgotten Claudia Jones, I think of my mother in 1984. He commissioned and published Amos A. Ford’s book on the obscure British Honduran Forestry Commission’s work in Scotland 1941-44. Steeped as Karia was in Caribbean history and thought, Buzz was to use the press, too, as a tool in UK-based struggles. He published the report of the independent inquiry into the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985, chaired by Lord Gifford and followed it up with Broadwater Farm Revisited in 1989. He published too the independent inquiry report into the shooting to death in Stoke Newington Police Station of Colin Roach in 1983.
For Buzz, publishing was never about fame or fortune; it was part of struggle, educational struggle. He pioneered the publishing of many books in London so as to then ship them back to small Caribbean islands that had no presses of their own. And he would also superintend the shipments of remaindered and used books to schools in Trinidad and Tobago that could not afford their own textbooks.
A fighter in his own right, a pioneer and risk-taker he was also a great friend, giving of himself – his smile shy and rueful, his manner gentle and self-effacing. He will be sorely missed.
Read an IRR News story: ‘Stuart Hall: 1932 – 2014‘