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George Lamming a pioneer

The following Editorial was carried in Sunday’s edition of the Jamaica Observer.

Tomorrow, Barbados will celebrate National Heroes Day, and highlighting the activities will be the presentation of the prestigious Clement Payne Appreciation Award to legendary Barbadian novelist, political commentator, essayist, and public intellectual, George Lamming, appropriately marking the 60th anniversary of the publication of his seminal work, In the Castle of My Skin.

The octogenarian still exudes the physical profile of a 1960s Black Power advocate and is possessed of the erudition and razor-sharp mind that has been emblematic of his long and distinguished career.

Lamming, one of the Caribbean’s pioneering novelists and essayists, started as a teacher and went to England in 1950 where he became a broadcaster with the BBC Colonial Service. In the Castle of my Skin, his first novel, was published in 1953 and achieved renown when it won the Somerset Maugham Award. Richard Wright wrote the introduction to the US edition.

Further acclaim came when Lamming was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he used to fund travel in the United States and West Africa. He was later honoured with the Order of the Caribbean Community in 2008 and here in Jamaica he was made a fellow of the Institute of Jamaica. He subsequently published five more novels: The Emigrants (1954); Of Age and Innocence (1958); Season of Adventure (1960); Water with Berries (1971) and Natives of My Person (1972).

His passionate revolt against injustice, starting with his struggle against colonialism and continuing critique of contemporary political and cultural neo-colonialism, is reflected in his non-fiction essays and his 1960 collection of essays, The Pleasure of Exile (1960). It is his fight for cultural decolonisation which is the focus of a recent collection of essays on his work, titled Caribbean Reasonings: The George Lamming Reader: The Aesthetics of Decolonisation edited by Jamaican Professor Anthony Bogues of Brown University.

Lamming was part of the halcyon era of Caribbean literature which emerged from regional writers living and working mostly overseas, especially in London in the 1950s. Others included V S Naipaul, Nigel Harris, John Hearne, Andrew Salkey and C L R James. Lamming, however, decided to reside in Barbados. This was a conscious decision to be nearer and more involved in the Caribbean.

He views the writer as having, in his words, a “social role” of revealing “the experiences of that society at any or all of its levels” and this “function has truly been fulfilled if such work helps to create an awareness of society which did not exist before; or to inform and enrich an awareness which was not yet deeply felt”.

We extend our own congratulations to George Lamming and express our appreciation for his powerful novels and his lifelong commitment to a better Caribbean.

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