Paria — a national treasure
HELEN DRAYTON Sunday, September 23 2012
It is a remarkable publishing company and a national treasure. Its historical archive contains thousands of documents on the history of Trinidad and Tobago, and photographs, which were collected over a 30-year period. Its exhibitions can be viewed at the Pitch Lake Museum in La Brea, at the Museum of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service in the old Police Headquarters, and at the City of Port-of-Spain Museum in Fort San Andres.
There are many rootsy people whose work epitomises excellence in this small nation. These people and their institutions enrich and uplift our society. For a long time I have known Mr Gerard A. Besson, fondly called Jerry by friends, writers, poets, historians, bookworms, artists, connoisseurs of stronger-type beverages, and cordon bleu chicken-destroy meals. It is from a time gone by when members of the advertising agencies fraternity indulged in have-a-good time events at Davidson’s pool, which was located on Maracas Road. Later, I came to know Alice Besson, who is a consummate professional and multilingual writer, photographer and graphic designer, and Dominic Besson, who is a genius of a graphic artist.
Gerard A. Besson gave birth to Paria Publishing in 1981. It was a visit to Paria Bay, on the north coast, which inspired the name. Now 31 years later, the company has grown into a multidisciplinary publishing house at the heart of authors’ dreams, especially those desirous of publishing history books.
So many names were mentioned as having made outstanding contributions to the advancement of Trinidad and Tobago over the past 50 years. However, little has been said on the magnificent contributions of the local publishing industry, which includes Paria Publishing, Script-J, Morton Publishing, Lexicon Trinidad Limited, Media & Editorial Projects Ltd (MEP), Royards Publishing Company Ltd to name those at the top of mind.
I have singled out Paria because of its unique positioning and focus. It is mostly through the written word that the stories of civilisations and current affairs are told, and consequently knowledge, thoughts, opinions, folklore and stories get transferred from generation to generation.
A thriving publishing industry has to be a significant asset in the development of a nation, and says a lot about the pursuits and quality of society. It is to the credit of these publishing institutions that they rode out rough waves, and have survived. Paria Publishing is testimony to the creativity and intellect of Jerry Besson, who wrote, printed and published, in 1974, his first book called Tales of the Paria Main Road. This is a collection of charming short stories inspired by north coast hikes.
It was an invitation to help compile a history of the Valleton de Boissière family, as they approached their bicentennial in 1981, which sparked Jerry’s interest in the history of Trinidad and Tobago. The local historian, Olga Mavrogordato, was the first editor, proofreader and archivist for Paria Publishing, and it was that gracious lady who had encouraged the dapper advertising executive to enter the noble world of publishing.
Significantly, in the early 80s, the approaching 200th anniversary of the Cedula of Population (1783-1983) also prompted the idea of the publishing company specialising in historical publications. Prof. Carl Campbell, in his book Cedulants and Capitulants, described the Cedula, issued by the Spanish crown, as the island’s first Constitution. This anniversary had excited Paria to publish out-of-print and seminal works on the history of Trinidad and Tobago - a trend that has continued since then.
Among the first books republished were: The History of Trinidad under the Spanish Government by Pierre Gustave Louis Borde, Free Mulatto by J.B. Phillippe, and This Old House by Gerald Watterson. The first in a series of corporate publications was the Republic Bank history, From Colonial to Republic. Paria has since published many successful local works, including textbooks, children’s books, poetry books, autobiographies and business books.
Probably the most noteworthy aspect about the genesis and success of this company, and its significance in a national context is the fact that it published a historiography for Trinidad and Tobago.
This was not in existence prior to 1981. Paria is the oldest existing book publishing house in Trinidad and Tobago, and one of the oldest in the region.
Now, the international trend is print-on-demand and self-publishing, and Paria keeps authors in print and assists them in getting their works on the market. It provides a comprehensive range of services from manuscript editing to publishing. This includes getting the books online at Amazon, and also in Barnes & Noble. They now plan to produce e-books.Three decades ago, a little turtle came out from its nest and had gone into the cerulean sea at Blanchisseuse. More than likely it returned and started another generation. It had inspired the company’s logo. So too, Paria’s work will flow throughout time and enrich the landscape for generations to come. Their legacy would be a lasting one.