Modern Caribbean writing legend George Laming dies

NEW YORK (AP) — George Laming, a giant of colonial literature whose novels, essays and speeches influenced readers and peers in his native Barbados and around the world, has died at the age of 94.

His death was confirmed this month by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Motley, who said, “Wherever George Laming went, he embodied the voice and spirit that cried out to Barbados and the Caribbean.” No cause of death was given.

Nobel laureate VS. Along with contemporaries such as Naipaul, Kamau Brathwaite and John Hearn, Laming was among a generation of West Indian post-World War II writers who came of age as British rule in their region was being challenged. and was being spent at least. In his 20s in England. But unlike Naipaul, who settled in London and sometimes wrote contemptuously about his origins, Laming returned home and became a moral, political and intellectual force for a newly independent country, trying to tell his story. Had been.

He once wrote, “There is a form of English, which is used in official situations, in the context of the civil service, in the context of Parliament, in the context of the school, and so on.” “But always, in any field, there was another type of English, the English of popular speech, the language used by the masses of the population.”

Laming had a broad, cohesive vision that he would say was inspired by Trinidadian historian-activist CLR James. Their call was to address the transgressions of history, to explore and preserve their native culture, and to create a “collective sense” of the future.

In novels such as “In the Castle of My Skin” and “Season of Adventure” and the nonfiction “The Pleasure of Exile”, Laming explores the complex heritage of the Caribbean – a destination for abducted slaves and deported from Africa. In form, as a colonial proving ground for England and an uneasy neighbor of the United States, practitioners of the “illusory magic of the milk and honey dream”.

Laming received his greatest praise for “In the Castle of My Skin”, the title being taken from an early poem by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. Published in 1953, the novel is a semi-autobiographical narrative set in a Caribbean village torn apart by colonialism and profit-taking.

“In the Castle of My Skin” was structured as a coming-of-age story about a boy who begins to drift away from his peers when admitted to a more elite high school. But it is also a praise – villagers left homeless, trees cut down, land sold and buildings demolished, way of life demolished.

“The Village, you might say, is the central character,” Laming wrote in the introduction to the 1983 reissue of the novel. “The village sings, the village dances, and since words are their only defense, all the resources of an important oral folk tradition are called upon to testify to the essential humanity that rebukes the plight of their plight.”

Laming’s novels “The Immigrants” and “Season of Adventure” drew on his years in England, and his disillusionment with the British culture he was conditioned to emulate. He lived in London for over a decade, but thought of it as a cold and isolated place where no one asked about each other and could feel completely alone while being close to hundreds of other people. was.

“I became a West Indian in England,” he said during a 2013 interview for the National Cultural Foundation of Barbados.

Lamming revisited and rediscovered not only his personal history, but also the distant past, which he saw as the battle for colonialism of the mind. “Natives of My Person” was a fictionalized voyage on a slave ship whose captain no longer believes in his mission. In a novel he was working on late in his life, he imagined Christopher Columbus being arrested by natives in the West Indies, “stripped naked” and his arms and legs chained. Columbus’ plea: “My mistakes are not made with the intention of making ill.”

He was also heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and the slave Caliban, whom Lamming saw as a symbol of the colonial voice waiting to be heard. His novel “Water with Berries” is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s play and “The Pleasures of Exile” explores Prospero’s authority over the Caliban in depth.

“The old blackmail of language won’t work anymore,” he wrote. “There is no longer Prospero’s special terminology for the language of modern politics. It is also of Caliban; and since there is no absolute from which a moral prescription can come, Caliban is free to choose the meaning of the moment.”

Laming’s fans ranged from Richard Wright, who wrote the introduction to the American version of “In the Castle of My Skin”, to Jean-Paul Sartre, to Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiongo.

Laming spent most of his life in Barbados, but also taught at Brown University, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2008, he was presented the Order of the Caribbean Community for his “intellectual energy, constancy of vision, and an unshakable dedication to the ideals of independence and sovereignty”. Six years later, Laming received the Ennisfield-Wulf Lifetime Achievement Award for his “deep political books that critique colonialism and neo-colonialism”.

Laming was born near the capitol city of Bridgetown, which he called the “Bad Village”, where Black identified with “the cheapness of labor” and White symbolized power. At school, he was afraid to be asked where he lived, and when walking home with more affluent classmates he would sometimes look at his mother and worry whether she should accept her.

“When I heard people discussing it in class, I didn’t get into Marx. I lived it from the age of 10,” he later wrote.

Like the protagonist of “In the Castle of My Skin”, he is accepted into an elite high school and encouraged by a teacher to write poetry. Laming found a job teaching at a boys’ school in Trinidad, on the same boat across the sea as Trinidadian writer Sam Selvone, before following a similar path to many contemporaries and emigrating to England in 1950. While traveling In London, he wrote poetry and stories and worked in programming for the BBC.

Meanwhile, Barbados was breaking up with the British as soon as Lamming began “Castle of My Skin”. Demands for democratization had been increasing since the 1930s, and by the time Laming moved abroad, the right to vote had extended beyond wealthy men to include women and the lower classes. A regional federation in the 1950s paved the way for independence for Barbados, Trinidad and other Caribbean nations in subsequent decades.

Laming later wrote, “The numerical superiority of the Black Mass may create a political right of its own making, and provide an alternative direction for society.” “In the desolate, frozen heart of London, at age 23, I tried to recreate the world of my childhood and early adolescence. It was also the world of the whole Caribbean reality.”

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