Lamming laments Rodney amnesia in Guyana

(Trinidad Newsday) The Caribbean region is facing its “deepest crisis” yet, distinguished writer George Lamming said last week as he called for readers to embrace literature dealing with aspects of history that have been largely erased from society’s collective consciousness.

Lamming’s comments came as he announced the winner of the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for literature during the Bocas Lit Fest which closed on Sunday. They also came amid ongoing debate over moved to remove the criminal jurisdiction of the Privy Council.

“We are like a people who do not know the house they live in,” Lamming, the chairman of the judges, said at a ceremony at Theatre 1, NAPA. “We are familiar with the room we inhabit but we do not know how these rooms relate to each other nor do we understand how this collection of rooms defines the Caribbean, a region which is now in its deepest crisis of fragmentation.”

“Let us leave here with a conviction that the region will not be allowed to fail,” he said.

The winner of the overall prize was novelist Earl Lovelace for his novel Is Just a Movie, a novel set during the 1970 Black Power uprising which had also been crowned winner of the fiction category. The winner of the poetry category was Loretta Collins Klobah for The Twelve Foot Neon Woman, a bravura collection of poems often featuring Spanish alongside English. The non-fiction category was won by Godfrey P Smith for George Price: A Life Revealed, an immaculately paced biography.

Lamming said a key feature of all the works short-listed for the prize was their engagement with forgotten incidents in history: narratives which have, in the space of decades, been forgotten and have become alien to a new generation. He cited, as an example, a poem in Klobah’s book which deals with the Parsley Massacre: the slaughter of 30,000 Haitians under Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo who, in 1937, ordered Haitians in the country’s borderland to be killed.

“I was very struck by that,” Lamming said. “It is almost a piece of history that is erased. I do not hear anybody talk about that massacre.” (The event was a presence in the 2007 Junot Diaz novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.)

Lamming also noted a similar kind of amnesia in Guyana. “Today in Guyana there is a generation of Guyanese who do not know who Walter Rodney is and it has been a matter of only 30 years in which that amnesia has set in,” Lamming said. Rodney was a Guyanese historian and political activist who was killed when a bomb in his car exploded in 1980.

Lamming, a Barbadian writer, one of the Caribbean’s most distinguished literary figures. His novels include In the Castle of My Skin (1953), The Emigrants (1954), and The Pleasures of Exile (1960).

Lovelace, a distinguished novelist known for his beautifully crafted lines, also made a call for the development of a regional sense of self.

“It is necessary that we construct a space that contributes to self-development,” he said in an acceptance speech for the prize on Saturday. Echoing poet Derek Walcott’s ideas on slavery and Caribbean society, Lovelace added, “We have to remember that we have all been influenced in one way of another by one of the greatest catastrophes of the world. But we can also be part of the grandest resettlement in history.” Lovelace said he aimed in his work “to render our lives, our stupidity and our hopes.”

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest closed on Sunday with a reading from all of the winners as well as a full day of programmes including poetry readings by Jamaican poets Kei Miller, Mervyn Morris, Fred D’Aguiar and Shara McCallum. Over the course of four days several authors were featured including: Monique Roffey; Kendel Hippolyte; Vladimir Lucien; Rahul Bhattacharya; Joseph O’Neill; Anne Walmsley; Merle Hodge; Nicolette Bethel; Lelawatee Manoo-Rahming and new voices such as Sharon Millar, Stephen Narain and Rhoda Bharath were also featured. At a music-filled farewell ceremony on Sunday programme director Nicholas Laughlin said the festival would be back next year.


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