Diaspora tribute to Wilson Harris

Dear Editor,

A packed house gathered at the Guyana High Commission in London on Tuesday 10th April to salute one of Guyana’s greatest writers, Sir Wilson Harris who died in March and will be cremated next Monday in Chelmsford, Essex.

Leading the proceedings was his son Professor Nigel Harris, currently Chancellor of the University of Guyana and formerly Vice Chancellor of UWI. He fondly remembered visiting his father in England after the divorce of his parents and discussing a wide range of topics. He did, though, admit to not reading Wilson’s entire oeuvre but only a selection.

Dr Michael Mitchell has read all the books. He did his doctorate on Wilson. He flew in specially from Germany for the event and painted a very moving picture of the writer’s latter years. Great Guyanese writer Pauline Melville also came close to him in his autumn. She recalled their last meeting in December 2017, one on which she, unusually, kept notes which she read out. David Dabydeen, another Guyana Prize Winner, paid tribute too, reading a touching poem written on Harris’s death by Paloma Mohamed of UG.

Dr Mike Niblett from the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick, who co-sponsored the event with the High Commissioner, revealed that buying a Harris book whilst in a dead end job had transformed his life.

There were interesting contributions from the floor too, among others from Jan Shinebourne, another Guyana Prize Winner and Dr Tim Cribb of Cambridge University who had researched Wilson’s history as a surveyor in the Guyanese interior. All of them plus a short extract from the Channel Four film of Wilson’s novel Da Silva, Da Silva made for a very dignified evening of tribute.

As one participant later wrote to me as producer, “I felt Wilson was in the room.”

Enough said.
Yours faithfully,
John ‘Bill Cotton/Reform’ Mair

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