Black History Month Series: Guyana Writers of African Ancestry, part one

There are as many ways to celebrate as there are appropriate ways to celebrate. The tenor of Black History Month should be celebrated with books. Here’s a short (but by no way a comprehensive) list of Guyanese works and their authors which could be used to commemorate the above.

Ivan Van Sertima ‘They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America’, written by Ivan Van Sertima, published 1977, was one of those controversial books that stabbed at misconceptions about Africans. Van Sertima knew what he was doing when he set out on that scholarship ‘many people feel a certain kind of happiness when they read my book. A certain kind of shadow lifts. The psyche of blacks is raised. No man who believes his history began with slavery can be a healthy man. If you lift that shadow, you help repair that damage’.
Educator, researcher, critic, writer, poet, Ivan Van Sertima was born in 1935, in Kitty Village, British Guiana. He competed his early schooling in Guyana and entered the world of work as a Press and Broadcasting Officer, Government Information Office. For higher education, Van Sertima attended the London School of Oriental and African Studies, London, England, where he studied African languages and literature and during which time he also he learned to speak Swahili and Hungarian fluently.

Norman E. CameronEducationist, mathematician, historian, poet, dramatist, sportsman, cultural activist and social reformer, Norman Eustace Cameron was born in New Amsterdam, Berbice, in 1903, not far from the birthplaces of Edgar Mittleholzer and Wilson Harris. Although Cameron was blessed with a ‘light but pleasant tenor voice’, he was a trailblazer, pioneer and pacesetter. All of this due in no small way to the fact that his father’s great thirst for knowledge rubbed off on him and his mother’s wonderful organising ability grounded in religious tenets was foisted on him.
As a trailblazer, pioneer and pacesetter, Cameron did what had to be done, filling the lacuna in many areas. His magnum opus The Evolution of the Negro a subject shunned by thinkers on the British colonial portion of the world, published while yet in his 20s was one such significant feature of his contribution to society.

Jan Carew
‘The Gentle Revolutionary: Essays in Honour of Jan Carew’ edited by Joy Gleason Carew and Hazel Waters is the book paying tribute to a man who lived and worked in many places, with the singular fixation to right wrongs of discrimination, marginalisation and even gender inequity, fighting the ‘same cause’ by re-writing and righting history.
Carew is best known for his novel ‘Black Midas’, first published 1958. As a cultural historian, he wrote ‘Rape of Paradise’, ‘Moscow is not my Mecca’, ‘Ghosts in my Blood’, ‘Grenada, the Hour will Strike Again’ and ‘Fulcrums of Change’; setting history right, contrary to Euro-centric bias designs previously forced upon us.

O. R. Dathorne
Dathorne is better known for his novels ‘Dumplings in the Soup’, and ‘The Scholar-Man’, describing the academic world in Africa but he also published academic works including the following:

‘The Black Mind: A History of African Literature’, University of Minnesota Press, 1974.
‘African Literature in the Twentieth Century’, University of Minnesota Press, 1976.
‘Dark Ancestor: The Literature of the Black Man in the Caribbean’, Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

Beryl Gilroy
Writer and educator, Beryl Gilroy was born in 1924, in Springlands, Berbice, Guyana, later becoming the first black head teacher in Britain.
Beryl Gilroy who gained her doctorate in counselling and ethno-psychology wrote two historical fiction books ‘Steadman and Joanna’(1991) explored the history of the Caribbean and the African Diaspora in the period of slavery and ‘Inkle and Yarico’ 1996. Gilroy is better known for her novel, ‘Black Teacher’.
In part two, we would take a look at the works of contemporary Guyanese writers of African ancestry who are still at work.
Responses to this author please telephone 226-0065 of email: [email protected]

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