How can one begin to compose a tribute to the life, work, and impact of this most extraordinary woman of Guyana and the Caribbean?
I’m pretty sure that one of the most consistent themes that will emerge in tributes to Andaiye in days to come will be the fact of her dry deadpan humour – that organic, spontaneous ability with which she both educates and disarms friend, foe, and everyone in between.
For me, her long interview “Counting Women’s Caring Work” (and most certainly the best interview I have ever read) in the Caribbean journal Small Axe in 2003, is the finest exposition of Andaiye’s innermost thoughts on her personal life, and views on everything ranging from her work with and for women, to politics, culture, and the world. We get glimpses of her deep thinking on every issue.
We have to see her life’s work and engagement in thousands of pieces to fully begin to understand the transformative power this woman held on everyone who interacted with her.
Her admiration and deep respect for elder Eusi Kwayana, her devotion to the written word, her love for humanity and to global justice and peace and revolution, has left its mark, not in books but in thousands of everyday encounters with friends, family, and women of all races and social class. And these friendships were sustained the Andaiye way, with bluntness, empathy, and with the goal of common humanity against oppression everywhere.
Although she ceased being a formal member of the WPA sometime after the early 2000s, in one form or other, she always remained “WPA” in spirit and conscience, and could always be called upon for advice. Sometimes, impatient with the politics and the lapses in this society, she forced herself to emerge from “political retirement” to advise and admonish. In the interview I alluded to earlier, she expressed her lifelong struggle for racial unity. There is “no more urgent work in Guyana than crossing the divisions of race,” she said.
But fighting for women and children’s rights was her real passion outside the narrow confines of party politics. In every encounter, that desire for justice for women and children was always at the forefront. And her fight for equality and human rights was not narrowly confined to Guyana and her work with Red Thread and other women’s organisations. Her passion extended to the struggle for women’s unpaid labour, and general solidarity with the poor and oppressed in Africa, South and North America, Asia and everywhere else.
Andaiye was a crossword puzzle devotee and it was one of the greatest privileges and pleasures of my life to mail her the New York Times magazine crossword almost every week for the time I lived out of Guyana. In the last email communication I had with this courageous woman, amid the uncertainty of her condition, I enquired how she was doing and wished her well. She wrote back, “Thanks. Love back. Need crosswords!” I will always cherish this last email and its brevity and trademark understatement writ large.
And speaking of her love of the word and language, Andaiye was certainly the best editor, academic or otherwise, I ever met. She was an absolute believer in the clarity of expression. No fluff required. All drafts faced her withering scrutiny for clarity and composition. She asked questions, cutting out unnecessary words and phrases, and insisting on looking at penultimate drafts, no matter the project or topic.
In her many tributes to the life and work of her compatriot Walter Rodney, she observed his ability to write everywhere, whether at the stelling, car, desk, or plane. Andaiye was no different. And because of her almost obsessive need for perfection, she had many drafts of her own work. I understand she had pages and pages of notes for intended novels and other writing in her study. Some were burnt and lost in a fire that consumed her home some years ago.
I can tell now she is already impatient with this letter and would want to cut out and pare it down with her withering, critical eye and accompanying wit: “Hear to me (her common expression)…this is too long, too long and wordy.” I hear you, Andaiye.
To her brother Abbyssinian, remaining relatives and all the many close friends who were with her in the end, Halycon my spouse and I extend our deepest sympathy and solidarity while we join in the celebration of her life.
Her name “Andaiye” I understand, means “daughter comes home”. Wherever you are Andaiye, you are home, but we will miss you terribly.