Nationality: Trinidadian. Born: Taco, Trinidad, 13 July 1935. Family: Married; two sons, one daughter. Career: Proofreader, Trinidad Guardian, 1953-54; civil servant: agricultural assistant in Jamaica, 1956-66; journalist, Trinidad and Tobago Express, 1967; lecturer in English, University of the District of Columbia, 1971-73; writer-in-residence, Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York, 1986. Since 1977 teacher, University of the West Indies, Saint Augustine, Trinidad. Awards: B.P. Independence award, 1965; Pegasus Literary award, 1966; Guggenheim fellowship, 1980; National Endowment for the Humanities grant, 1986; Commonwealth Writers' prize, 1997. Address: c/o Andre Deutsch, 105 Great Russell St., London WC1B 3LJ, England.
While Gods Are Falling. London, Collins, 1965; Chicago, Regnery, 1966.
The Schoolmaster. London, Collins, and Chicago, Regnery, 1968.
The Dragon Can't Dance. London, Deutsch, 1979; Washington, D.C., Three Continents Press, 1981.
The Wine of Astonishment. London, Deutsch, 1982; New York, Vintage, 1984.
Salt. New York, Persea Books, 1997.
A Brief Conversation and Other Stories. London, Heinemann, 1988.
The New Hardware Store (produced London, 1985). Included in Jestina's Calypso and Other Plays, 1984.
Jestina's Calypso and Other Plays (includes The New Hardware Store and My Name Is Village ). London, Heinemann, 1984.
The Dragon Can't Dance, adaptation of his own novel (produced London, 1990).*
"Earl Lovelace: A Bibliography" by Chezia Thompson-Cager, in Contributions in Black Studies, 8, 1986-87.
The Lovelace Archives, Port of Spain, Trinidad.
"In Search of the West Indian Hero: A Study of Earl Lovelace's Fiction" by Marjorie Thorpe, in Critical Issues in West Indian Literature, edited by Erika Sollish Smilowitz and Roberta Quarles Knowles, Parkersburg, Iowa, Caribbean, 1984; "Salvation, Self, and Solidarity in the Work of Earl Lovelace" by Norman Reed Cary, World Literature Written in English, Spring 1988; "Earl Lovelace's Bad Johns, Street Princes and the Masters of Schools" by Chezia Thompson-Cager, in Imagination, Emblems, and Expressions, edited by Helen Ryan, Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1992.* * *
Earl Lovelace has established himself as one of Trinidad's most well known literary talents. As a writer and storyteller his novels, short stories, and plays explore the effects the significant social, economic, and political change of late twentieth-century Trinidad have had on the lives of individuals and communities. Lovelace has witnessed this change first hand: born into a large family in Toco, Trinidad, in 1935, Lovelace spent his early life in part with his grandparents in Tobago, and in different districts on the outskirts of Port of Spain. This travelling attuned Lovelace to the nuances of local dialects, whether mitigated by class, region, ethnicity, or mood. These linguistic subtleties are utilized in his exceptionally vivid writing, as dialect functions to convey the cultural particularities of his subjects, while also contributing to his distinct brand of lyrical realism. A storyteller at heart, the prevalence of dialect in Lovelace's writing, and the ease with which he uses it, foregrounds the importance of the Caribbean's oral traditions to his writing and narrative structure.
At the thematic center of Lovelace's narratives is an exploration of the ambiguous relationship between change and progress. His characters often must weigh the merits of tradition and cultural continuity against financial gain and upward mobility. In his first novel, While Gods Are Falling, Lovelace considers the dilemma of Walter, whose frustration with the urban congestion, cacophony, and confusion of Port of Spain results in a nostalgia for the imagined opportunities of the rural environment for independence and self-assertion. However, Lovelace reveals Walter's construction of the rural environment to be flawed, influenced more by his dissatisfaction with the present than any long-standing romance with the past. Nevertheless, in his measured representation of both rural and urban environments, Lovelace asserts the reality of the limited opportunities for self-realization available to those politically and economically disempowered in—and by—a colonial society. Continuing this investigation of progress and its inextricable connection to colonialism and power in his second novel, The Schoolmaster, Lovelace presents the small community of Kumaca, whose longing for economic advancement makes them vulnerable to the manipulations of others. The black teacher who arrives to educate the isolated townspeople is a product of colonial schooling, and reproduces the dynamics of domination in his relationship to the illiterate villagers. Even as the local villagers recognize the inevitable intrusion of the ever-expanding Port of Spain into their lives, and desire the skills that will permit them to access the opportunities the nation's capital will provide, they are not prepared for the ways in which the teacher will use his knowledge to exploit them. The novel ends with an uneasy resolution, suggesting that while the residents of Kumaca will adapt, this adaptation does is not a mark of superiority or triumph.
It is the changing nature of Trinidad's annual Carnival, and how these changes are indicative of larger shifts in communities and the nation at large, that is the subject of Lovelace's third novel, The Dragon Can't Dance. Here, the members of a small community define themselves through their participation in the pageantry of Carnival and the roles they assume in it. While the festival itself has remained consistent in many of its practices, the characters must confront how the meaning of enacting the Carnival has changed. For example, those participants previously valorized as warriors have no place in the contemporary city except as "Bad Johns" who cause trouble, while their stick fighting battles have been displaced in popularity and importance by competitions between calypso bands. The nature and rhythms of calypso are central to Lovelace's text. Just as calypso's consistent rhythm overlaid by improvisation results in a repetition-with-difference, new nuances and beats, the changes in Trinidadian culture have caused new forms and meanings to emerge with which its citizens must learn to live.
Music as a repository of cultural and communal practices is also thematically significant in The Wine of Astonishment. As the practice of the Spiritual Baptist religion and its raucous musical style of worship is legally outlawed in the early part of the twentieth century, one small community attempts to maintain faith. This faith, however, receives constant challenges from colonial society and its policies, including the corruption that they engender. Lovelace's ongoing fascination with the dynamics of individual communities, as well as the relationships of individuals within those communities, is at the core of The Wine of Astonishment. While the decriminalization of Spiritual Baptism comes too late for many of its practitioners, who have lost the spirit required for its form of worship, one woman who has maintained her faith recognizes its cultural continuance in the energetic music of the steel bands. Recognized as a form of cultural persistence, this continuity functions as a spiritual affirmation of the people in the face of racial discrimination, economic disadvantages, and other trials. Lovelace does not end this story on an uncritically uplifting note, however. The novel, like his others, is woven through with tragedies and disappointments. Even as characters assert "God will not put on a people more than they can bear," it is clear that what is "bearable" is not by definition necessarily desirable or sustaining.
Lovelace's collections published in the 1980s—Jestina's Calypso and Other Plays and A Brief Conversion and Other Stories —are further investigations of the thematic preoccupations established in his previous work. However, in his latest novel, Salt published in 1997, Lovelace's recurring themes—change, colonialism, community, culture, desire, materialism, belonging, self-definition, etc.—are all reworked via the historical framework provided by Guinea John, resulting in Lovelace's most pointed social critique to date. Guinea John is a mythic figure is said to have fled the death sentence imposed for his part in an unsuccessful slave rebellion by placing two corncobs under his arms and flying back to Africa. His descendents who remain behind in Trinidad alternately struggle to establish a place for themselves or to escape overseas. In this epic tale, Lovelace weaves together narrators from various centuries and the multiple ethnicities that make up Trinidad's multi-ethnic, culturally creolized society, to create a stunning literary portrait of Trinidad's history and its people. Implicit in this tale is the moral and ethical necessity for reparations to those populations displaced and dehumanized by slavery, disenfranchised by colonialism, and continually dislocated by the inheritance of both. Guinea John's rejection of slavery and its "authority" is echoed in his great-grandson's disdain for the façade of Emancipation, which provided financial compensation for those who lost their slave property, but none for those formerly enslaved who had endured generations of stolen labor and other heinous abuses. Lovelace's primary twentieth-century protagonist is the schoolteacher Alford George, whose realization that he spent nineteen years preparing his students to "escape" overseas causes him to reevaluate his relationship to Trinidad. An "Everyman," George struggles to overcome the psychological legacy of slavery in order to teach his people about the necessity of investing one's self in Trinidad. Here the acceptance characterizing the refrain of his previous book, "God will not put on a people more than they can bear," is reworked into an aggressive political manifesto, as characters prove their strength not by endurance, but by action. As always, Lovelace's characters are masterfully drawn, captivating and convincing in their struggles and the resolutions they reach. Salt marks Lovelace's move from writing of the ramifications of what Langston Hughes identifies as "the dream deferred" (by the failure of Emancipation), to asserting the necessity of facing that deferral and demanding the right to realize the dream, the first step being the right to demand reparations. Salt was awarded the 1997 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
July 13, 1935
The writer Earl Lovelace was born in Toco, Trinidad, in 1935 and grew up in Tobago. He was educated in Tobago, Trinidad, and the United States, and in 1964 he won the British Petroleum Independence Literary Award with the manuscript of While Gods Are Falling (1965). That impressive debut was followed by the publication of The Schoolmaster (1968), The Dragon Can't Dance (1979), The Wine of Astonishment (1982), Jestina's Calypso and Other Plays (1984), A Brief Conversion and Other Stories (1988), and Crawfie the Crapaud (a children's story, 1997). Salt, a novel that dazzles with its humanistic and multicultural ethos, was published in 1996 and went on to win the prestigious Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997. Growing in the Dark: Selected Essays (edited and introduced by Funso Aiyejina) was published in 2003. These essays, which span 1967 to 2002, confirm Lovelace as one of the most consistent and perceptive organic and original thinkers, writers, and aesthetes from the Caribbean region.
Lovelace has the distinction of being one of the few West Indian writers of his generation to live and write out of the region at a time when metropolitan exile was the more lucrative option. In his journey from being a new writer in 1964 to becoming a nationally and internationally celebrated writer, Lovelace has worked as a forest ranger, agricultural assistant, proofreader, journalist, resident playwright and director of grassroots theatre groups, and university lecturer. He has always been an avid reader of books and an astute student of people, and these interests have served his commitment to writing about Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean.
Lovelace's work celebrates people's desire to belong, their need to claim and understand their landscape and history, and the impulse to recognize the human dignity inherent in both, in spite of whatever human failings may exist. He has championed the language and culture of the folk, whom he envisions as the most instinctive and versatile culture bearers and culture creators in the region. His persistence in his commitment to his craft is matched by a compassion in the presentation of his characters and their struggle for self-apprehension and self-realization. Lovelace's compassion is born out of his self-identification with the people among whom he lived and worked, men and women who demonstrated their love of life and an awareness that each person must be responsible for the world he or she lives in, a philosophy that has directed his abiding desire to create fictions in which the multiplicity of voices and perspectives of a multicultural society are properly ventilated.
In recognition of his contribution to literature and culture, Lovelace has won several awards over the years, including the Pegasus Literary Award for his outstanding contribution to the Arts in Trinidad and Tobago (1966), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1980), Trinidad and Tobago's Chaconia (Gold) Medal (1988), and the University of the West Indies' Honorary Doctor of Letters (2002).
Aiyejina, Funso. "Lovelace's Prospect: Masquerade or Masquerader?" Trinidad and Tobago Review 16, nos. 7–9 (1994): 7–10.
Aiyejina, Funso. "Novelypso: Indigenous Narrative Strategies in Earl Lovelace's Fiction." Trinidad and Tobago Review 22, nos. 7–8 (2000): 15–17.
Cary, Norman Reed. "Salvation, Self, and Solidarity in the Work of Earl Lovelace." World Literature Written in English 28, no. 1 (1988): 103–114.
Down, Lorna. "In a Native Voice: The Folk as Subject in Lovelace's Fiction." Caribbean Studies 27, nos. 3/4 (1994): 377–389.
Hodge, Merle. "Dialogue and Narrative Voice in Earl Lovelace's 'The Schoolmaster'." Journal of West Indian Literature 8, no. 1 (1998): 56–72.
Meek, Sandra. "The 'Penitential Island': The Question of Liberation in Earl Lovelace's 'Salt'." Journal of Caribbean Studies 15, no. 3 (2000/2001): pp. 273–297.
Nair, Supriya. "Diasporic Roots: Imagining a Nation in Earl Lovelace's 'Salt'." South Atlantic Quarterly 100, no. 1 (2001): 259–285.
O'Callaghan, Evelyn. "The Modernization of the Trinidadian Landscape in the Novels of Earl Lovelace." Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 20, no. 1 (1989): 41–54.
Sunitha, K. T. "The Discovery of Selfhood in Earl Lovelace's Fiction." Commonwealth Novel in English 5, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 27–37.
funso aiyejina (2005)
LOVELACE, Earl. Trinidadian, b. 1935. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, Plays/Screenplays. Career: Jamaican Civil Service, agricultural assistant. Publications: While Gods Are Falling, 1965; The Schoolmaster, 1968; The Dragon Can't Dance, 1979, play, 1986; The Wine of Astonishment, 1982; A Brief Conversion and Other Stories, 1986; Salt (novel), 1997. PLAYS: The New Boss, 1962; My Name Is Village, 1976; Pierrot Ginnard, 1977; The New Hardware Store, 1980; Jestina's Calypso and Other Plays, 1984; The Wine of Astonishment, 1987. Address: c/o Andre Deutsch, Carlton Publishing Group, 20 Mortimer St, London W1T 3JW, England.