Carew, Jan

views updated

Carew, Jan

December 24, 1920

Jan Rynveld Carew personifies Berbice, the Guyanese county of his birth. One might also trace his eclectic career to educational opportunities that mirrored what Eusi Kwayana described as Carew's "ideological self reliance." Perhaps these influences explain his oeuvre's continuing relevance.

Born in Agricola-Rome, Berbice County, when Guyana was still British Guiana, Carew benefited from the region's fertile climate. He has said that Berbice, known as "the ancient county," was underdeveloped but "had a remarkable texture, ambience, and quality for the arts" (Dance, 1992, p. 33). There is more to this statement than the pride of a native son, for along with Carew, Berbice fashioned Martin Carter, Edgar Mittelholzer, and Wilson Harris. Apparently channeling this rich atmosphere, Carew began to paint and write poetry. His brother-inlaw, Wilson Harris, added another geographical aspect to Carew's intellectual development by making it "possible for [him] to enter into [Guyana's] rain forest" and bask in "the stimulating business" of being around Harris (Dance, 1992, p. 37). These particular consequences of Guyanese geographies shaped the author's educational career.

Though a serious childhood illness affected Carew's early academic success, it proved fortuitous because it enabled him to attend Berbice High School. Considered a distant second to the country's renowned Queen's College, the high school had an environment that suited the intellectually curious and creatively imaginative. Featuring what some might call lax attendance and curriculum policies, the high school attracted a progressive teaching staff. As a student who could "simply gallop along and do whatever one wanted to do," Carew studied "Latin, French, math, geography, literature, art, and general science" (Dance, 1992, p. 33). High school master J. A. Rodway punctuated the perspicacious student's loosely guided romp through the classics by nurturing his creative writing (Ramchand, 2002, p. 60). Universities in countries as diverse as the United States (Howard and Western Reserve Universities), Czechoslovakia (Charles University), and France (the Sorbonne) allowed Carew to pursue the kind of "unstructured" learning he had begun in Guyana.

The socio-political climates of these countries also contributed to Carew's political consciousness and extended his personal experiences. The racism he faced in Washington, D.C., and being part of a vibrant, poor African-American community in Chicago solidified his "instinctive" connection to the United States' black community (Dance, 1992, pp. 3435). Finally, his mother's response to U.S. racism (see Cooke) as well as both grandfathers' desire that their children learned trades (Dance, 1992, p. 34) confirmed what would come to be the activist's defining interests.

Jan Carew is respected for his contributions to the "freedom for the oppressed and downtroddenteaching, writing, broadcasting, [and] engaging" all manner of people, including Claudia Jones, Cheddi Jagan, and Kwame Nkrumah (Sivanandan, 2002, p. 1). In fact, he parlayed his work with Nkrumah into a commitment to Pan-African Studies as a discipline (Brutus, 2002, p. 72). His lasting influence might be due to his investment in shaping "the cultural revolution against colonialism and racism [through] poetry, painting, polemic, and play" (Sivanandan, 2002, p. 1). In fact, Carew's work is counted among Caribbean fiction "that informed the intellectual and cultural self-confidence of a generation" (Ramchand, 2002, p. 57).

Carew has written in several genres: adult and children's short and long prose, poetry, drama, and history/criticism. Suitably, each piece in his body of work reflects a holistic approach to intellectual/political explorations. One can find this mix in his most influential works: Black Midas (1958), in which the author uses an acquaintance's life to explore relationships between Indian and African Guyanese peoples; The Wild Coast (1958), in which Carew's study of New World African religions reflects semi-autobiographical experiences; Moscow is Not My Mecca (1964), which offers a critique of race and communism via the fictionalized experiences of Carew's distant cousin; The Third Gift (1975), a children's book using Amerindian myths; and the oft cited Ghosts in Our Blood (1994), in which the author explores the experiences of blacks in the diaspora through conversations with Malcolm X.

Despite advancing age, Jan Carew continues to be a voice for progressive change, not only through his commitment to oppressed peoples but also through his willingness to break genre and intellectual boundaries.

See also Literature of Guyane


"Bibliography of Publications by Jan Carew." Race and Class 43, no. 3 (2002): 8591.

Brutus, Dennis. "Jan CarewComrade in Struggle." Race and Class 43, no. 3 (2002): 7273.

Carew, Joy Gleason. "Explorations into the 'Feminism' of Jan Carew." Race and Class 43, no. 3 (2002): 2738.

Cooke, Mel. "Jan Carew Reads His Early Years." Available from <>.

Dance, Daryl Cumber. "Jan Carew." New World Adams: Conversations with Contemporary West Indian Writers. Leeds, UK: Peepal Tree Press, 1992.

"Jan Carew: A Biographical Odyssey." Race and Class 43, no. 3 (2002): 8184.

Kwayana, Eusi. "Jan Carew: Mission within the Mission." ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary and Artistic African-American Themes. Available from <>.

Ramchand, Ken. "Accessing the Light of Prophecy." Race and Class 43, no. 3 (2002): 5763.

Rashidi, Runoko. "Tribute to a Great Man: Dr. Jan Rynveld Carew." Global African Presence: The Global African Community, History Notes. Available from <>.

Singham, Nancy. "Jan Carewthe Chicago Years." Race and Class 43, no. 3 (2002): 5256.

Sivanandan, A. "Jan Carew, Renaissance Man." Race and Class 43, no. 3 (2002): 12.

University of Louisville, Liberal Studies Five-Year Project. "Scholar-in-Residence (2000): Jan R. Carew, Emeritus Professor, Northwestern University." Available from <>.


Black Midas. New York: Periodicals Service Co., 1958; published in the United States as A Touch of Midas, New York: Coward-McCann, 1958.

The Wild Coast. London: Secker and Warburg, 1958.

The Last Barbarian. London: Secker and Warburg, 1961.

Children ' s books

The Third Gift. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974.

Children of the Sun. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980.


Streets of Eternity. 1952.

Sea Drums in My Blood. Trinidad: New Voices, 1981.

Histories, essay collections, memoirs

Rape of Paradise. New York: A&B Books, 1984.

Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again. Prague: International Organization of Journalists Press, 1985.

Fulcrums of Change: The Origins of Racism in the Americas and Other Essays. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1988.

Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England and the Caribbean. New York: Lawrence Hill, 1994.

Moscow Is Not My Mecca, London: Secker and Warburg, 1964; published in the United States as Green Winter, New York: Stein and Day, 1965.

rhonda frederick (2005)