Caribbean literature is alive and thriving, and our people are truly the only ones who could tell or relate to our experiences.
That’s the consensus BUZZ got from Tanya Batson-Savage, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for Blue Banyan and Blouse & Skirt Books.
Batson-Savage, a native of St. Andrew, told BUZZ that the region is rich with stories. In a riveting interview at Bookophilia, she added that the company owes its name to the late pan-Africanist and national hero Marcus Garvey – but notes its vision as pan-Caribbean.
‘Even in the sky, you stay rooted’
“At Blue Banyan, we produce a range of books from zero to 100. Under Blouse & Skirt Books, however, we publish [literature] specifically for the ages of 12 to 100,” Batson-Savage began.
Having registered the company in 2016 and beginning operations roughly a year later, Batson-Savage explained that her team decided to come up with a new name that would encapsulate the vision of the publishing house.
“I was trying to think of an image that would totally solidify who we are and what we do. Of course, [Marcus] Garvey comes into play for that,” she told BUZZ.
“The book business is about keeping people rooted and the banyan tree is a tree with aerial roots. How cool is that? Even when you’re reaching for the sky, you still stay rooted. So, we thought it was the perfect fit,” Batson-Savage beamed.
For Blouse & Skirt Books, the editor-in-chief told BUZZ that the idea behind the name was much simpler…
“We want when you read one of our books, you finish and you say, ‘Blouse an’ skirt, that was a good book!’. We want you to look at the covers and say, ‘That was worth the hours I committed; I got something back and I left this book a richer person’,” Batson-Savage explained.
Showcasing the Caribbean’s rich literary versatility
“We [at Blue Banyan] are into books that explore, showcase and celebrate the Caribbean and [its] culture,”— Tanya Batson-Savage explaining her company’s mandate.
The Blue Banyan publisher further noted that the company’s approach to showcasing every aspect of our collective ‘Caribbean-ness’ was intentional, as no one outside of the region could truly understand our experiences as we do.
“[Being Caribbean] is who we are. It is the core of what we do. We publish Caribbean writers wherever they live, no matter where they are, that’s the key thing,” she posited.
“We are completely and totally dedicated to quality: from the look and feel of the book right down to the experience,”— Blue Banyan refuses to skimp on its core values.
“I started in publishing because I had been looking for a book of Caribbean folktales, growing on those stories from my grandmother – I couldn’t find any. And that’s what we do. If we do not see the books we want to see with us, reflecting our realities, who we are, what we do, how we do [it], how we talk, how we eat, how we love, how we just breathe, then write it. That’s what we do at Blue Banyan,” Batson-Savage added.
“We [at Blue Banyan] are into books that explore, showcase and celebrate the Caribbean and [its] culture. Being Caribbean is key. Whether you’re Caribbean in Jamaica, Trinidad, Toronto – it’s all a part of who we are,” the Blue Banyan publisher told the BUZZ team.
‘Caribbean people do read!’
Tanya Batson-Savage disagreed with the widespread misconception that Caribbean people ‘don’t read’, offering her take as to why the region is perceived that way.
“I think one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves and other people tell us often is that we don’t read. We read different things and we have been a reading and thinking community. We just don’t read as much as we would like,” Batson-Savage retorted.
“I started in publishing because I had been looking for a book of Caribbean folktales, growing on those stories from my grandmother – I couldn’t find any,”— A simple but poignant reason to enter any profession, let alone publishing. Well done, Tanya Batson-Savage!
“I think what’s happening [today through] the beauty of social media is that now if you’re reading, you can share with others. You can say ‘I love this book’ and it’s not just you, so it’s becoming a lot more visible that Caribbean people are interested in reading,” she told BUZZ.
To this end, Blue Banyan has published dozens of books, highlighting the best of Caribbean culture, mythos, customs and experiences – and people are starting to notice.
“I’m focusing on perfecting, producing really great books. Those are things I want to bring out to the world,” Batson-Savage told BUZZ.
“One of the amazing things about being in publishing is that you realise there is so much more to do. I have great hopes for Blue Banyan. There are a lot of books we want to do. Illustrated adult books, anthologies, graphic novels, comic books, Caribbean plays and books that are boy-friendly,” she noted further.
Batson-Savage told BUZZ that the company is targeting more coming-of-age stories for young Caribbean boys in the next six to eight months, to keep up with the growing demand in the market.
“…One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves and other people tell us often is that we don’t read…we have been a reading and thinking community,”— Tanya Batson-Savage challenges the widespread misconception that Caribbean people ‘don’t read’.
“Quite accidentally, we’ve ended up with most of our books having female protagonists. So, I want to do more books that are boy-friendly because there are boys out there looking for things to read,” Batson-Savage told BUZZ.
New to reading? Blue Banyan has you covered…
The Blue Banyan Editor-in-Chief was happy to share her recommendations for a reading neophyte, offering her two personal favourites…
“All Over Again is an absolutely great read. It was our first novel and we’re very proud of it and it won the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean literature. [All Over Again] is a coming-of-age story about growing up as a boy, but it’s also a book about growing up as a person, as a Jamaican and it’s fun, easy to digest and has life lessons I find myself mentally quoting it sometimes,” Batson-Savage recalled.
“If you are not a big reader, this book is a great intro. If not that, then it’s Dancing in the Rain, which is also for young readers and it’s about the fall of the Twin Towers. But it’s so lyrically written [that you can] look at a very dark time in history and it shows you the light,” she told BUZZ.
Quality at the forefront of every published book
Tanya Batson-Savage was very succinct with her impression as to what separates Blue Banyan from others in the publishing landscape. She told BUZZ it comes down to quality, firstly and lastly.
“The book business is about keeping people rooted and the banyan tree is a tree with aerial roots. How cool is that? Even when you’re reaching for the sky, you still stay rooted,”— Tanya Batson-Savage, telling the BUZZ team the concept behind the naming of the Blue Banyan publishing house.
“What sets us apart is we’re tiny and that tininess means every book we produce, we have to be committed to – because it takes so much effort, care and it means so much,” Batson-Savage responded after a brief pause.
“We are completely and totally dedicated to quality: from the look and feel of the book right down to the experience. We believe that you work hard for your money and have limited time, and you need to spend [them] wisely when you spend it with us,” she added.
Check out some of the impressive published books offered by Blue Banyan in our BUZZ gallery below:
“It sounds very clichéd but quality. We take the time to make sure we do our books right,” Batson-Savage told the BUZZ team.
Blue Banyan, as well as Blouse & Skirt Books, are available at Bookphilia, The Readers’ Book Shop and Kozy Korner in Kingston, in addition to select Kingston Bookshop and Sangster’s Bookstore locations.