Bennett, (Simone) Louise
BENNETT, (Simone) Louise
Also wrote as Louise Bennett-Coverley. Nationality: Jamaican. Born: Kingston, 7 September 1919. Education: Studied at primary and secondary schools in Jamaica; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London (British Council scholarship). Family: Married Eric Coverley in 1954; one daughter and one stepson. Career: Worked with the BBC (West Indies Section) as resident artist, 1945–46 and 1950–53, and with repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield, and Amersham. Returned to Jamaica, 1955. Drama specialist, Jamaica Social Welfare Commission, 1955–60; lecturer in drama and Jamaican folklore, Extra-Mural Department, University of West Indies, Kingston, 1959–61. Lecturer and radio and television commentator. Represented Jamaica at the Royal Commonwealth Arts Festival in Britain, 1965. Awards: Silver Musgrave Medal of the Institute of Jamaica, 1965; Norman Manley Award for Excellence in the Arts, 1972; Unity award, United Manchester Association, 1972; Gold Musgrave Medal, 1978; Institute of Jamaica Centenary Medal, 1979. D.Litt.: University of the West Indies, 1982. M.B.E. (Member, Order of the British Empire); Order of Jamaica. Address: Enfield House, P.O. Box 11, Gordon Town, St. Andrew, Jamaica.
Dialect Verses. Kingston, Gleaner, 1940.
Jamaican Dialect Verses. Kingston, Gleaner, 1942; enlarged edition, Kingston, Pioneer Press, 1951.
Jamaican Humour in Dialect. Kingston, Gleaner, 1943.
Miss Lulu Sez. Kingston, Gleaner, 1948.
Anancy Stories and Dialect Verse, with others. Kingston, Pioneer Press, 1950.
Laugh with Louise: A Potpourri of Jamaican Folklore, Stories, Songs, Verses. Kingston, Bennett City Printery, 1960.
Jamaica Labrish. Kingston, Sangster, 1966.
Anancy and Miss Lou. Kingston, Sangster, 1979.
Selected Poems, edited by Mervyn Morris. Kingston, Sangster, 1982.
Aunty Roachy Seh. Kingston, Sangster, 1993.
Recordings: Jamaican Folk Songs, Folkways, 1954; Jamaican Singing Games, Folkways, 1954; West Indies Festival of Arts, Cook, 1958; Miss Lou's Views, Federal, 1967; Listen to Louise, Federal, 1968; The Honourable Miss Lou, 1981; Miss Lou Live, 1983.*
Critical Studies: Introduction by Rex Nettlefold, to Jamaica Labrish, 1966; "Noh Lickle Twang: An Introduction to the Poetry of Louise Bennett" by Carolyn Cooper, in World Literature Written in English (Arlington, Texas), 17, 1978; "'Long Memoried Women': Caribbean Women Poets" by Bruce Woodcock, in Black Women's Writing, edited by Gina Wisker, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1993; "Riddym Ravings: Female and National Identity in Jamaican Poetry" by Elizabeth A. Wheeler, in Imagination, Emblems and Expressions: Essays on Latin American, Caribbean, and Continental Culture and Identity, edited by Helen Ryan-Ransom, Bowling Green, Ohio, Popular, 1993; "Long Memoried Women: Ooodgeroo Noonuccal and Jamaican Poet, Louise Bennett" by Angela Smith, in Australian Literary Studies (St. Lucia, Australia), 16(4), 1994.
Louise Bennett comments:
I have been described as a "poet of utterance performing multiple roles as entertainer, as a valid literary figure, and as a documenter of aspects of Jamaican life, thought, and feeling." I would not disagree with this.* * *
A political commentator, a satirist, and in many ways a social historian, the Jamaican poet and performing artist Louise Bennett serves as an articulate voice of her people. No subject is too sacred for her fancy and biting wit. Her works explore the changing face of Jamaican politics, the island nation's colonial history, its attainment of independence, middle-class attitudes, imagination, and a vast array of other topics. No poet in Jamaica has a better understanding of the island and its people.
Bennett writes in West Indian English, which is gradually being recognized by anthropologists and linguistic specialists as a language with its own grammar, syntax, and rules rather than as a mere dialect. As the Barbadian poet and novelist George Lamming once put it, "English is a West Indian language." The use of West Indian English—called "Creole" on some islands and "patois" on others, especially on those with a French colonial history)—has enabled Bennett to get many points across in pithy phrases that would have taken a whole paragraph to say in standard dictionary terms. Its racy flavor suits her style. Bennett also employs commonly used words and phrases that go back to the English of Elizabethan and Cromwellian times.
Bennett's works have rescued from oblivion—often from extinction—a number of Jamaica's folk songs, stories, and sayings, and her stage productions have put the Jamaican vernacular before large audiences.