Wayne Vincent Brown (Wayne Brown as he was widely known) was a poet, memoirist, journalist, literary scholar and creative writing teacher. Born in Port-of-Spain on July 18, 1944, he was the author of two books of poetry, two books of short stories and remembrances, and a biography of Edna Manley. He also edited several books of poetry and was the longstanding editor of the Jamaica Observer’s Literary Arts Magazine. He died of cancer on September 15, 2009, in Kingston, Jamaica.
One of the “new wave” generation of poets succeeding Derek Walcott, which included Eddie Baugh, Mervyn Morris and Tony McNeil, Brown was credited as having a vital and authentic voice from his first collection On the Coast (André Deutsch, 1972). Poet Ted Hughes said of the book, “Wayne Brown’s poems are often startling and always the genuine thing. His West Indies is real, infinite and near. His flexible natural instinct for ranging through the different and contrary dimensions of his life seems to me new—and his life feels actual.”
An only child whose mother died shortly after childbirth, Brown grew up in Trinidad with an uncle and aunt and in his teenage years with his father, a judge who was described as “distinguished and aloof.” Justice Kenneth Vincent Brown was the first black chief justice of Trinidad, and the son of Vincent Brown, the first black attorney general of the colony.
During Brown’s early years he spent a considerable amount of time holidaying at the seaside in an uncle’s home, and this experience fed into his work and life for years to come. He would write about sailing and the sea for the rest of his life. Ken Ramchand, in a biographical sketch published in Fifty Caribbean Writers, credits horses with Brown’s start as a writer; his uncle was a racing enthusiast and exposed the young boy to the sport as well as the animals themselves and they pervaded his school essays and juvenile poetry.
As a student at St Mary’s College, Brown was an accomplished poet and a teacher there recommended Walcott to him. Walcott would become his mentor; he dedicated On the Coast to Walcott and his work can be seen to reflect Walcott’s influence to some degree. As Ramchand writes, “For the first time, a young West Indian poet was able to find a master from his region, the kind of predecessor who could be seen to be involved in the making of a distinctive West Indian tradition.” In 1981 Brown edited the Heinemann Caribbean collection Derek Walcott: Selected Poetry.
As a young person, Brown said in unpublished remarks to his daughter Mariel, he thought poetry was a matter of instinct, whereas Walcott believed poetry was a matter of intelligence. “I was hugely talented with the poetry but feckless. The poems happened to me — they were like a blow.”
Brown joined the Trinidad Guardian as a sports columnist, writing about horse racing, in 1963. He left the paper and journalism in 1964, and entered the University of the West Indies, Mona, to read for a degree in English. Walcott, with whom he had developed a relationship, read some of his poems from this time. Ramchand reports that Walcott told Brown, “Good; you have to start working hard.” Which he certainly did. His first collection of poems, On the Coast, won the Commonwealth Prize for Poetry and is thought to have been the primary motivation for Brown’s selection as Gregory Fellow in Poetry at the University of Leeds in 1974. He was the only non-British poet to hold the post. At Leeds he co-edited a book commemorating 21 years of Poetry & Audience magazine.
Nineteen-seventy-six saw the publication of Edna Manley: The Private Years (André Deutsch), Brown’s biography of the Jamaican sculptor and arts patron who was the wife of Jamaican statesman Norman Manley and mother of Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley.
Brown had a longstanding relationship with Jamaica, living there after graduation, returning periodically over the rest of his life and finally settling there in 1997. Though identified as a Trinidadian writer, through his dedication to the magnification of literature in the Jamaican press he nurtured the voices of a new generation of Caribbean poets and fiction writers. With his Creative Writing Workshop, begun in Trinidad and conducted over sixteen years in various incarnations and in different locations, he coached writers including Amanda Smyth, Andrew ‘Kei’ Miller, Gwyneth Barber Wood and Delores Guantlett.
He had a long career as a teacher; a two-year turn at Fatima College in Trinidad preceded positions lecturing in English Literature at UWI, St Augustine and Mona, among other international posts. Before his death he was a tutor in Creative Writing for the MFA programme of Lesley University, Massachussets; and also taught an online course for Stanford University, California.
Brown earned several honours during his career as a writer. In 1968 he won the Jamaican Independence Festival Poetry Prize; he taught as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Albany, Georgia; and was a fellow of Yaddo, MacDowell, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
In 1984 he returned to journalism with the column In Our Time, a wide-ranging and elegant commentary on subjects personal, political, cultural and artistic. The column, begun at the Trinidad Express, was published in the Trinidadian, Jamaican and Guyanese press over its lifespan — upwards of 3,500 editions. He came to regard In Our Time as a way that he could speak directly to his people – the people of the Caribbean. He also wrote a short-lived column called In the Obama Era for six months in 2009. It followed the weekly series The Race for the White House, which appeared between February and November 2008 in the Express, the Barbados Nation and Guyana’s Stabroek News.
Brown’s second volume of poems, Voyages (Inprint Caribbean, 1989), was followed by two collections of short stories and memoirs, Child of the Sea (Inprint Caribbean, 1990) and Landscape with Heron (Observer Literary Books, 2000). He considered the title story of the latter his finest work of fiction. On the Coast is scheduled for re-publication by Peepal Tree Press, which is also slated to publish a new collection of stories and remembrances, The Scent of the Past.
Brown married Megan Hopkyn-Rees in 1968; they divorced in 1981. He is survived by their two daughers, Mariel and Saffrey. Mariel quotes him as saying, “When you and Saffrey were born, I became a celebrant of things outside of myself. I was enamoured of the vivacity and the variety in things.”
Brown had a longstanding relationship with Donna Benny, with whom he lived for some twelve years. At the time of his death his partner was Mignon Manderson-Jones.