Black History Month Series: Guyanese Writers of African Ancestry, part two

(Part one featured Ivan Van Sertima, N. E. Cameron, Jan Carew, O. R. Dathorne and Beryl Gilroy. Part two features another five names.)

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 in no way a comprehensive) list of Guyanese works and their authors which could be used to commemorate the above.

Egbert Martin
Egbert Martin was a remarkable writer on many fronts. His was a short life of less than thirty years, most of it lived from a sick bed, but he managed to write and publish a significant amount of poetry, songs and some short stories.
His first poems were published when he was only nineteen. His first collection of poems, Leo’s Poetical Works, was published in 1883, when he was only twenty two.
His second collection of poems, Leo’s Local Lyrics, was published in 1886, laying claim to the honour as the first collection of poems to be published locally by a Guyanese writer. Another first for Martin was that he was the first Guyanese to publish a collection of short stories. That collection, Scriptology, was published in 1885. That collection was lost but recently recovered, credit going to Manu Chander who is in Guyana at the moment and David Dabydeen.

Walter MacArthur Lawrence
He gave us ‘Oh, Beautiful Guyana’, and ‘My Guyana, El Dorado’ among other significant patriotic songs. In 1920, the Daily Chronicle published his first poem, commemorating the arrival in the colony of H. R. H. the Prince of Wales.
In 1929, he published ‘Meditations’ with a subtitle ‘Thoughts in the Silence’, solidifying his position on the landscape of Guyanese literature.
Two years later, in 1931, Lawrence produced ‘Threnody’, a song of lamentation for his dead son, exploring trauma as part of his heritage – a healing poem. The following year, 1932, his ‘delightfully nostalgic’ poem ‘Unreclaimed’ was published in the Chronicle Christmas Annual.
The 1930s was definitely the most notable of Lawrence’s short life. During this period, his poetic output was remarkable – long sentences and very long poems in Greek and Latin traditions, examples in titles of poems like ‘Threnody’, and ‘Meromi’. In ‘Meromi’, Lawrence displayed an uncommon gift of telling a story in verse, matching Keats’ ‘Isabella’, Tennyson’s ‘Princess’ and Egbert Martin’s ‘Ruth’. Also in ‘Meromi’, he employed a technique that has become quite useful in Caribbean poetry – borrowing and modifying; he transposed a local heroine into the Garden of Eden.


Eric Walrond

Eric Walrond
Eric Walrond was expected to write the Great Negro Book – a grave responsibility. How come a black person in the early 20th century from a little known country was strapped with such a responsibility? Walrond’s life was one of paradoxes engendered by his writings. He gravitated to the editorship of ‘New World’ after he won a fiction contest sponsored by Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (U. N. I. A.) for his piece, ‘A Senator’s Memoirs’. Later he fell from grace when he penned, ‘Imperator Africanus, Marcus Garvey: Menace or Promise?’
But it was the publication in 1926 of his short story collection, ‘Tropic Death’, which brought him to prominence. ‘Tropic Death’ was valued alongside ‘The Quest of the Silver Fleece’ by W. E. B. Du Bois, ‘The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man’ by James W. Johnson and ‘Harlem Shadow’ by Claude McKay. The other notable writers at that time supporting the Harlem Resistance included Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois.


E. R. Braithwaite
As it was in the novel, ‘To Sir With Love’ (1959), so it was in the novels, ‘Paid Servant’ (1962), ‘A Kind of Homecoming’ (1962), ‘A Choice of Straws’ (1965), ‘Reluctant Neighbours’ (1972), and ‘Honorary White’ (1975) – E. R. Braithwaite’s poignant exploration of all forms of discrimination especially social conditions of and racial discrimination against Black people. Braithwaite’s frank and crisp use of language endeared the reader to the issues, catapulting many persons to action, improving their condition, righting wrongs. Some responses to his writing were, however, distasteful especially the ban of his books in apartheid South Africa.


Dennis Williams

Denis Williams
Artist, art historian, archaeologist, anthropologist, biographer and novelist, Denis Williams was born in 1923 in the capital city of Guyana. He lived on three continents at crucial times – times of intellectual upsurge, times of political ferment and times of creativity in arts. Williams was caught up in the action wherever he went, sharpening his perception of the living and the past as reflected in the innovations found in his art, craft and writing – ‘Other Leopards’ and ‘The Third temptation’. Responses to this author please telephone 226-0065 of email: [email protected]  (to be continued)

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