Icon George Lamming celebrates his 94th birthday
Barbados’ most accomplished and acclaimed author, Professor George Lamming, celebrates his 94th birthday today, June 8.
Poet, novelist, essayist, orator, lecturer, teacher, editor and tireless activist for a new world order, Lamming seemed to have entered the world of Caribbean letters as an elderly statesman. Born June 8, 1927 in Carrington Village, St Michael, he attended Roebuck’s Boys’ School where he obtained a scholarship for Combermere.
There, encouraged by his teacher Frank Collymore, editor of the literary review BIM, which enabled Lamming to use his private library, Lamming developed a passion for reading and began his literary career as a poet.
Recommended by Collymore, Lamming at the age of 19 secured a teaching position at El Collegio de Venezuela, a boys’ boarding school in Port-of-Spain Trinidad, where between 1946 and 1950, Lamming taught English at young Hispanic students before migrating to England. in 1950.
Lamming met England as an already mature and deeply organic intellectual, whose vivid childhood memory was that of the workers’ riots of March 1937 in Barbados, and whose experience of Trinidad had exposed him to the poets of this country – Cecil Herbert and Eric Roach – and to young nationalist intellectuals, in these early days of universal adult suffrage, savage politics, emerging unionism and agitation for social and political reform.
The depths of Lamming’s understanding of social, political, and historical issues were quickly revealed in his first four novels: In the castle of my skin, (1953), The emigres, (1954) Of age and innocence (1958) and Adventure season, (1960).
In the castle of my skin he presented the plantation as an economic, social and psychic structure, situating the Barbadian village in its erased history of feudal serfdom, and recognizing the ambiguity of colonial education as an agent of both social emancipation and mental re-enslavement. Lamming’s novels and essays three decades later would ruthlessly scrutinize the new class of intellectual owners and overseers produced by this education.
While the idea of a West Indian federation was taking shape in the mid-1950s, Lamming imagined in 1955 the concept of the “New Caribbean World”.
Along with Martin Carter, Wilson Harris, Arthur Seymour and other writers, he celebrated this concept of a new world in four epic radio shows of readings, in which the Caribbean journeys of discovery, migration, arrival, return and rebuilding were recognized as part of the same process of becoming.
He then imbued his next two novels with this spirit of regionalism, creating in his imaginary nation of San Cristobal, a composite Caribbean state. In Season of Adventure, San Cristobal combines the cultural characteristics of Trinidad, Haiti, and Jamaica, while in Of Age and Innocence, San Cristobal draws inspiration from the history and racial politics of Guyana and Trinidad. , with their large African and Asian populations. .
Through these two novels, Lamming offered the Caribbean alternative possibilities of redemption and catastrophe, cultural fusion and ethnic fission.
Lamming guessed that true political liberation in fragmented and multi-ethnic settlements must be based on open dialogue, shared experience and communion both between and within ethnic groups; a communion itself which demanded absolute trust, frankness and honesty between rulers and the people on the one hand, and between competing communities in an ethnically diverse society.
Both a realist and a dreamer, Lamming recognized that these qualities of openness, trust and frankness had never been allowed in a colonial situation, and showed how secrecy and mistrust can generate social and political catastrophe. Lamming has since remained a steadfast, eloquent and possibly sad prophet against racism in Caribbean politics; a warner, even in the face of past catastrophes and present disintegration.
Lamming always wrote and spoke with a sense of mission. Speaking in 1970 on The social role of writers he declared that: “The writer or the artist is, in fact, a citizen and a worker; and its social role should be contained in the process of this work.
“The novelist or the poet in such a society would play a social role of the utmost importance in writing the novels and poems that he considers he should write and which bear witness to the experiences of this society at all or part of its levels.
“A social function is truly fulfilled if such work contributes to creating a consciousness of society which did not exist before; or to inform and enrich an awareness that was not yet deeply felt.
Speaking of his own sense of mission, Lamming defined himself in the same terms he once used to define CLR James, as “a kind of evangelist.” I’m kind of a preacher. I am a man with a message. . . I don’t know what you would do with it. The novel, the essay, the interview, the conversation, the conference, the great prayer, these are simply the different structures through which Lamming passed his messages, whether they be affirmations or exhortations. .
He delivered his messages all over the world: Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Texas universities in Austin, Pennsylvania, Miami where he taught creative writing or attended lectures. ; in Australia, in Denmark, in Tanzania, in the United Kingdom, in Canada, where he made speaking tours; in Cuba, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti.
He has traveled to all parts of the world, this young veteran expressing his messages with the same sense of mission he saw in CLR James; displaying “this intellectual energy… this enthusiasm… this extraordinary optimism about what you have here and what we could do with it”.
Editor’s Note: This is a revised version of an Order of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) citation awarded to the Leading Literary in 2008.