Manley, Rachel 1947–
Rachel Manley 1947–
Rachel Manley is known not only for her poetry, but for her non-fiction trilogy about one of Jamaica’s most influential families—her own. Manley was born in Cornwall, England, on July 3, 1947. She was the first child of Michael Manley and Jacqueline Kamelard Gill. Michael Manley was a charismatic man who served as Jamaica’s prime minister between 1972 and 1980, and then again between 1987 and 1992. Her parents divorced when Manley was two, and she was sent to Jamaica to live with her grandparents at Drumblair, the family estate. Michael Manley was married five times, providing Manley with several step-mothers and siblings. Her grandparents, who were prominent citizens and led extremely active public lives, managed to provided Manley with the only family stability she had while she was growing up. As she told Maclean’s, “They were all mine.” Forced to share her father with several different families and his demanding political career, Manley often felt very distant from him.
Manley’s grandfather, Norman Washington Manley, was the founder of the People’s National Party, and one of the key figures in the Jamaican struggle for independence. An athlete and a Rhodes Scholar, Norman was also a World War I hero. After the war, he returned to Jamaica to practice law. Rising to the post of Jamaica’s chief minister in 1955, he became prime minister when Jamaica gained full independence in 1962. Manley’s grandmother, Edna Swithbank, a well-known sculptor, was also a prominent figure in Jamaica’s cultural life. Edna and Norman were first cousins, and this fact caused much public discussion. To make things even more complicated, Norman was from the “brown” side of the family, while Edna was from the “white” side of the family, thus producing a mixed marriage. Adding to family turmoil was the fact that Norman’s cousin, Alexander Bustamante, led a rival political group, the Jamaican Labor Party.
Manley, who attended boarding schools, had a solitary but relatively pleasant childhood in Jamaica. The household was particularly lively before elections, which sharpened the conflict between Norman and Edna, a situation that the Jamaican public found highly entertaining. For Manley, it was not easy to be part of a family that was under so much public scrutiny. Nevertheless, most house visitors were Norman’s supporters, friends of the family, or Edna’s fellow-artists. In 1969, when Manley was 22, Norman Manley died. Three years later, in 1972, Michael Manley was elected prime minister of Jamaica, a position that he held three times over the following twenty years. In 1975 Manley moved to Barbados, and eventually settled in Canada.
Although Manley always perceived her father as a distant, elusive figure, in the 1990s she moved back to Jamaica to be at his side after he became terminally ill with cancer. She wrote in Slipstream, according to The Antigonish Review, ” After a lifetime of chasing my father’s attention like a fleeting phantasm, I needed to be with him now.” When her father died in 1997, Manley was devastated.
Published in 1996, her first memoir, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, won the Canadian Governor General’s Prize for non-fiction. In Drumblair, Manley focuses on the lives of her grand-
Born July 3, 1947, in Cornwall, England; married Israel Cinman; children: Drum Drummond, Luke Ennevor. Education: University of West Indies, BA, 1969.
Career: Teacher, Kingston College, Jamaica; Advertising and Public Relations Officer, LAI Corp., 1969-71; Research Officer, Sugar Cane Consultants, Barbados, 1979-80; Director of Advertising, Caribbean Broadcasting Corp., 1980-82; freelance editor, Heineman Publishing (Caribbean); author.
Awards: Canada’s Governor General’s Award for Literature, 1997; Jamaica Centennial Medal for Poetry, 1979; Jamaica Centennial Award for Poetry, 1979.
parents, Norman and Edna Manley. The second in the trilogy, Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers, is devoted to the political and private lives of her father. Manley told Barbara Ellington, a reporter for the Jamaica Gleaner, that she chose that title for the book about her father because, “a slipstream is the strong current left in the wake of two giant propellers … my father’s parents were the propellers and he came in their wake; by extension we (his children), are caught in his wake and so I thought the title appropriate.” For Manley, writing about her father was definitely cathartic. According to the Jamaica Gleaner, Professor Rex Nettleford, who was a guest speaker at a gathering to honor Manley’s book, described her writing as “straightforward and elegant, never dense or unfathomable; the prose is beautifully poised, deceptively easy on the senses, eye, ear, and sensibility. It is joyously disturbing and disturbingly joyous.”
By 2002 the third book in the trilogy had not yet been written. Manley, who in 1989 had edited Edna’s diaries and published them as Edna Manley: The Diaries, planned for the final book in her trilogy to focus solely on Edna Swithbank Manley. In the final volume of her trilogy, Manley, who is intent on coming to terms with her illustrious family, will present another intimate, yet historical, view of Jamaica. In the prologue to the first of the trilogy, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, Manley declared, “This is not history—this is memory.” Manley’s memory is rich in detail and of great interest to her readers, who are certainly awaiting the last installment of her Jamaican trilogy.
Jamaica Gleaner, October 8, 2000.
Maclean’s, October 21, 1996, p 84; October 23, 2000.
—Christine Miner Minderovic
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