Works in Progress: Tropic Death: A Scholarly Digital Edition by Eric Walrond and Edited by Ryan Weberling and Caitlyn Georgiou


Tropic Death: A Scholarly Digital Edition is the second publication in IOPN’s series of digital critical editions of texts that recently entered the public domain and is currently available in beta version. Tropic Death is the best-known work of writer Eric Walrond, an Afro-Caribbean writer of the Harlem Renaissance. The work is a collection of ten short stories, some which were published prior to the book’s publication in 1926. Considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance, Tropic Death explores themes of racial oppression, economic deprivation, and death.

The current beta version includes the full text from the 1926 publication with glossary terms, earlier printings of selected chapters, side by side comparison of these chapters, and commentary on the changes between versions. The final version will include additional editorial content. We are excited to feature an interview with Ryan Weberling, one of the editors, about the publication.

Interview Questions

Why did you choose Tropic Death? What drew you to create a digital edition of this work in particular?

I became enamored with digital editions during grad school. I really enjoyed the different ways of engaging with literature that they enabled for me as a reader and also as a teacher. After initiating or collaborating on a few small-scale projects, I thought I’d eventually love to work on a book-length digital edition. Tropic Death had been on my radar for some time as one of the Harlem Renaissance-related works that would be coming into the public domain. It’s an important and fascinating but (at least until recently) underappreciated work. It sprung to mind immediately when I saw an announcement/CFP from IOPN titled “Digital Critical Edition for a Text Recently in the Public Domain.”

What led you to working with IOPN for this digital edition?

I first learned about IOPN through its announcement/CFP for a series of digital critical editions. The first edition in the series, Dan Tracy’s Anita Loos’ Gentleman Prefer Blondes, had exactly the sort of features that I had always appreciated about digital editions–a focused presentation of the primary text and its history, but enhanced for the screen and supplemented with various contextual information and visual materials. So I knew the edition would be in good hands, in addition to having some institutional support from the library there, which is crucial for digital projects.

Can you describe your research process for the glossary? What types of sources did you use to create definitions for the slang terms?

My co-editor, Catie, completed most of the legwork for the glossary. I did some initial research early on looking for potential reference sources, and then returned at the end to try to fill in some missing/partial entries. It can be interesting but difficult to find a textual record or authority for slang and other vernacular language. We started with the Oxford English Dictionary but eventually turned to more specialized resources, including Richard Allsops Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage and the wonderfully rich digital compendium, Greens Dictionary of Slang.

What have been the most rewarding and challenging parts of the project so far?

The most rewarding part of the project for me has been spending such extended time with the text of the short story collection, especially the two stories where we tracked differences between earlier and later versions. You notice so many details in formatting, spelling, punctuation, and word choice; and the contrast between how small and large revisions affect the story, from the tone or mood of a sentence to the overall structure and plot. The challenging part of the project for me has been seeing it through as I had to shift out of academic work soon after beginning the edition. It has certainly slowed down my progress at times.

How has working with the text to prepare the digital edition shaped your understandings and interpretations of it? Has working with the text in this way revealed new insights about the work?

Editing Tropic Death gave me a new appreciation of how vivid and complex these stories are. They can be highly lyrical, even cerebral, in their inventive use of language, and they incorporate such a wide range of geographical and cultural details, even trying to represent the differences between regional dialects and vernaculars across the Caribbean. At the same time, each story focuses on such mundane and concrete details, the experiences and physical sensations and (as the book’s title suggests) the deaths of ten individual characters, primarily peasants, day laborers, mothers, and young people. There’s a lot of food and chitchat, amidst the poetry and violence that Walrond portrays as elemental forces. After editing Tropic Death, I see how brilliantly “modernist” the work is, based on that term’s usual parameters, but I also see literary modernism very differently in what it can do and what it can show us.

If you would like to share feedback on the beta version of Tropic Death: A Scholarly Digital Edition, please contact Ryan Weberling via email at

If you are interested in proposing a digital critical edition, please contact IOPN via email at