Lamming, George 1927–
George Lamming 1927–
Among the most prominent writers of the modern Caribbean, George Lamming produced a body of fiction that was deeply rooted in his own experiences, yet also probed the deeper historical forces at work in modern Caribbean life. A native of Barbados, Lamming joined the post-World War II migration of Caribbean young people to Great Britain—a migration fueled by the search for new opportunities and parallel in many respects to the Great Migration of African Americans in the early twentieth century. Lamming found recognition as a writer in England and around the world. His fiction remained focused on the Caribbean, however, and in later life he returned to the region in which his fictional creations were rooted.
Lamming was born in Carrington’s Village, Barbados, on June 8, 1927. Later immortalized as Creighton’s Village in Lamming’s debut novel The Castle of My Skin, Carrington’s Village was near the Barbadian capital of Bridgetown but was semi-rural in character; under the old British plantation system it had been part of a large sugar farm. Lamming’s childhood was shaped by his unmarried mother, who, despite difficult financial circumstances, instilled a sense of ambition in her only child. He also observed firsthand the economic upheavals that shook Barbados along with other Caribbean countries in the 1930s, as rural black farm workers began to move to the colonial-dominated cities to try to escape their grinding poverty. Lamming won a scholarship to attend Barbados’s Combermere High School, a top institution where he was taken under the wing of a faculty member, Frank Colly more, and encouraged to write poetry.
With Collymore’s help, Lamming landed a teaching position in Trinidad, at a boys’ school called El Colegio de Venezuela in the capital city of Port of Spain. There Lamming encountered other aspiring Caribbean writers, but at the time the Caribbean islands were isolated places with few opportunities for blacks of any profession. Lamming resolved to leave for England, and in 1950 he relocated there on the same boat as another famous Caribbean novelist-to-be, the Trinidadian writer Sam Selvon. For a short time he worked in a factory, but he soon landed a job with the arm of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) directed toward providing programming for Britain’s fast-shrinking empire.
Ambitious and productive, Lamming gained recognition in Britain for his poetry and short fiction, and in 1953 he published his weighty debut novel, The Castle of My Skin. That book won Lamming wide acclaim in Britain and was also published in the United States with an introduction by the groundbreaking novelist Richard Wright. Semi-autobiographical in nature, The Castle of My Skin traces the experiences of a boy identified as G. who, like Lamming, grows to maturity in a rapidly changing Barbadian village and leaves for Trinidad at age 18. G.’s experiences are intercut with observations of Barbadian life, narrated from the perspective of a detached observer.
That novel inaugurated for Lamming a series of novels that realistically portrayed the experiences of Caribbean expatriates like the novelist himself, yet were also
At a Glance…
Born on June 8, 1927, in Carrington’s Village, Barbados.
Career: Taught at El colegio de Venezuela, Port of Spain, Trinidad, 1946-50; worked in factory in England, 1950; journalist and broadcaster, British Broadcasting Corporation Colonial Service, early 1950s; published short stories and poetry in England, early 1950s; published debut novel, In the Castle of My Skin, 1953; published three more novels in seven years and became established as major novelist; numerous visiting professorships and writer-in-residence posts in North America, the Caribbean, and other regions.
Addresses: Home —14-A Highbury Place, London N5, England. Publisher —Allison & Busby, 26 Grand Union Centre, Portobello Rd., London W10 5AH, England.
undergirded by intellectual devices rivaling those employed by the most Anglicized of Caribbean novelists, the Indo-Trinidadian Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul. Lamming could describe the psychic scars of racism in direct and powerful terms. In The Castle of My Skin he wrote, “No black boy wanted to be white, but it was also true that no black boy liked the idea of being black. Brown skin was a satisfactory compromise, and brown skin meant a mixture of white and black. There was a famous family on the island which could boast of the prettiest daughters. Their father was an old Scotch planer who had lived from time to time with some of the labourers on the sugar estate. The daughters were ravishing, and one was known throughout the island as the crystal sugar cake.”
In tandem with descriptions of this type, however, Lamming also offered a variety of subtle literary devices intended to make specific historical or philosophical points. Some of his later novels were set in a fictional Caribbean country called San Cristobal, through which Lamming explored the new Caribbean or West Indian identity that united the peoples of the various Caribbean islands—and which Lamming found himself taking on as he continued to live in England and to travel widely around the English-speaking world in the 1950s. Lamming’s novel Water with Berries (1971) is an elaborate recasting of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, employing the island worlds of that work as symbols for aspects of Caribbean experience but also commenting upon its role as a text that had contributed to Britain’s imperialist mindset.
Some critics found that Lamming’s novels subordinated character development to devices like these, but many others praised his seamless integration of the personal and the historical. Lamming rapidly produced a series of major novels in the 1950s, and many observers noted that they seemed to be part of a sequence that drew on the stages of his own life and career for inspiration. His second novel, The Emigrants (1954), depicted the experiences of a group of West Indians in Britain; it accurately forecast the many social problems Britain’s black residents would experience in the years to come. By the time he wrote Of Age and Innocence (1958) and Season of Adventure (1960), Lamming was recognized as a major writer. Season of Adventure inaugurated two new themes in Lamming’s writing: the experiences of women in Caribbean cultures and the importance of Africa in Caribbean identity. Lamming himself had used the proceeds of a 1955 Guggenheim fellowship to live in West Africa for a time.
In the 1960s, although he produced no new novels, Lamming experimented with other kinds of writing. He published a collection of essays, The Pleasures of Exile, that innovatively mixed autobiography and criticism, and thanks to a series of academic fellowships he was able to travel widely in the Caribbean and North America. Lamming became involved in the U.S. civil rights struggles of the 1960s and wrote the script for a television documentary about Alabama’s Freedom Riders. A series of essays Lamming published in the late 1960s reaffirmed his commitment to the Caribbean world and to the building of new societies in the region’s newly independent countries.
In 1972 Lamming published a complex historical novel of colonialism and slavery, Natives of My Person; though he was reported to be at work on other novels, Natives of My Person remains his most recent as of this writing. Lamming returned to Barbados in the late 1970s, though he continued to spend time in London and to take on university posts in places as far-flung as Denmark, Australia, and Tanzania. He has remained active as an essayist, teacher, and editor; in 2001 he published the second volume of an essay series, entitled Coming, Coming Home, that dealt with Western education and Caribbean thought. Among his many honors was the 1998 Langston Hughes Award from the City University of New York, where he served as visiting professor of creative writing. Both one of the Caribbean’s great storytellers and one of the region’s true intellectuals, Lamming by the century’s end was the focus of a large and growing body of critical literature.
In the Castle of My Skin, McGraw (U.S. ed.), 1953; reprint with new introduction by the author, Schocken, 1983.
The Emigrants, McGraw (U.S. ed.), 1954.
Of Age and Innocence, M. Joseph (London, England), 1958.
A Season of Adventure, M. Joseph (U.S. ed. University of Michigan Press, 1998), 1960.
Water with Berries, Holt, 1971.
Natives of My Person, Holt, 1972.
The Pleasures of Exile, M. Joseph (U.S. ed. University of Michigan Press, 1992), 1960.
Western Education and the Caribbean Intellectual: Coming, Coming Home, House of Nesehi (St.Martin), 1995.
Coming, Coming Home: Conversations II, House of Nesehi (St. Martin), 2001.
Contemporary Novelists, St. James, 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 125, Gale, 1993.
Gilkes, Michael, The West Indian Novel, Twayne, 1981.
Herdeck, Donald, ed., Caribbean Writers, Three Continents Press, 1979.
Murphy, Bruce, ed., Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, 3rd ed., HarperCollins, 1991.
Daily News (New York), May 28, 2000, p. 24.
The Independent (London, England), October 14, 2001, p. Features-24.
Jet, January 11, 1999, p. 14.
World Literature Today, Summer-Autumn 2001, p. 15.
Contemporary Authors Online, reproduced in Biography Resource Center, http:/www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC">http:/www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC
—James M. Manheim
Lamming, George (Eric)
LAMMING, George (Eric)
Nationality: Barbadian. Born: Carrington Village, 8 June 1927. Education: Roebuck Boys' School; Combermere School. Career: Teacher in Trinidad, 1946-50; moved to England, 1950; host of book review programme, BBC West Indian Service, London, 1951. Writer-in-residence, University of the West Indies, Kingston, 1967-68. Coeditor of Barbados and Guyana independence issues of New World Quarterly, Kingston, 1965 and 1967. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1954; Kenyon Review fellowship, 1954; Maugham award, 1957; Canada Council fellowship, 1962. D. Litt.: University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados, 1980. Address: 14-A Highbury Place, London N.5., England.
In the Castle of My Skin. London, Joseph, and New York, McGraw Hill, 1953.
The Emigrants. London, Joseph, 1954: New York, McGraw Hill, 1955.
Of Age and Innocence. London, Joseph, 1958; New York, Schocken, 1981.
Water with Berries. London, Longman, 1971; New York, Holt Rinehart, 1972.
Natives of My Person. London, Longman, and New York, Holt Rinehart, 1972.
Uncollected Short Stories
"David's Walk," in Life and Letters (London), November 1948.
"Of Thorns and Thistles" and "A Wedding in Spring," in West Indian Stories, edited by Andrew Salkey. London, Faber, 1960.
"Birds of a Feather," in Stories from the Caribbean, edited by Andrew Salkey. London, Elek, 1965; as Island Voices, New York, Liveright, 1970.
"Birthday Weather," in Caribbean Literature, edited by G.R. Coulthard. London, University of London Press, 1966.
The Most Important People, with Kathleen Drayton. Bridgetown, Barbados, Drayton, 1981.
Western Education and the Caribbean Intellectual: Coming, Coming, Coming Home. New York, House of Nehesi, 1995.
Coming, Coming Home: Conversations II: Monographs. Philipsburg, St. Martin, House of Nehesi, 1995.
Editor, Cannon Shot and Glass Beads: Modern Black Writing. London, Pan, 1974.
George Lamming: A Select Bibliography, Cave Hill, Barbados, University of the West Indies Main Library, 1980.
The Novels of George Lamming by Sandra Pouchet Paquet, London, Heinemann, 1982; Anancy in the Great House: Ways of Reading West Indian Fiction by Joyce Jonas, New York and London, Greenwood Press, 1990; Caliban in Exile: The Outsider in Caribbean Fiction by Margaret Paul Joseph, New York and London, Greenwood Press, 1992; Caliban's Curse: George Lamming and the Revisioning of History by Supriya Nair. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1996.
Director: Play —Meet Me at Golden Hill, Barbados, 1974.* * *
The critical reception of George Lamming's first four novels fell short of their real merits and originality. It is often said that Lamming demands too much of the reader; it might be truer to say that the reader demands too little of Lamming. West Indian fiction has often been distinguished by a certain energy and rhetorical glow but not, except in the work of Lamming and Wilson Harris, by much complexity of form or texture. Right from his first book, In the Castle of My Skin, Lamming made it clear that the real complexity of West Indian experience demanded some adequate response of its writers. He has since elaborated this view in an important essay called "The Negro Writer and His World," where he wrote: "To speak of his [the Negro Writer's] situation is to speak of a general need to find a center as well as a circumference which embraces some reality whose meaning satisfies his intellect and may prove pleasing to his senses. But a man's life assumes meaning first in relation to other men …" In the Castle of My Skin may at first appear to be an autobiography of childhood, but it soon becomes apparent that the book is also the collective autobiography of a Barbadian village moving through the break-up of the old plantation system dominated by the Great House and into the new age of nationalism, industrial unrest and colonial repression. The four boys who stand at the center of the book are given a more or less equal importance though it is "George" who ultimately registers the meaning of their disparate experiences as they are driven asunder by education, travel, and emerging social distinctions.
The collective quality already evident in this, the most personal of all Lamming's books, is more strongly present in The Emigrants. Here the portrait is of one boatload of the black emigrants (the title is significant, for it stresses what they leave as well as what they find) who flocked from the Caribbean to Britain between 1950 and 1962. On the boat the emigrants discover a new identity as "West Indians," only to lose it again as they fly centrifugally apart under the stresses of life in an alien culture.
The Emigrants is the saddest of all Lamming's books, because there is almost no focus of hope amid so much disillusionment and despair. By contrast both Of Age and Innocence and Season of Adventure are powerfully positive books in which what is shed is a set of values adhering to the older generation, those who are unable to match the pace and tendency of the times. Of Age and Innocence is set in San Cristobal, a fictional Caribbean island colony rapidly approaching independence. The dominant generation of islanders is unable to break away from its class and racial identities to work together for a new society which will redeem the past of slavery and colonialism, but it is throughout juxtaposed to the generation of its children, who struggle towards that meaning which the nationalist leader Shepherd has glimpsed and then lost again.
I had always lived in the shadow of a meaning which others had placed on my presence in the world, and I had played no part at all in making that meaning, like a chair which is wholly at the mercy of the idea guiding the hand of the man who builds it…. But like the chair, I have played no part at all in making that meaning which others use to define me completely.
Shepherd is destroyed by the forces of the past, but the children look out through the flames of destruction which end the novel towards a future they have already presaged in their games. At the center of Season of Adventure stands another unawakened character, the "big-shot coloured" girl Fola, whose father is a West Indian police officer imbued with all the old ideas of order, dominance, and segregation. A visit to a Voduñ ceremony awakens her to the real capacity of her nature for self-discovery and self-renewal. This awakening by ancestral drums is in itself a cliché of Caribbean literature, but here it escapes banality by the intensity of Lamming's lyrical style and the bizarre violence of much of the action. Season of Adventure is in some ways the finest of his novels, just as The Emigrants is certainly the weakest. Yet the hesitancy which overtakes the drums at the end of the novel, in the very moment of their triumph as the expression of popular values, is analogous to the problem of language Lamming faces in projecting a West Indian culture which will be truly united, consistent and free: "But remember the order of the drums … for it is the language which every nation needs if its promises and its myths are to become a fact."
After a silence of more than ten years, Lamming published two new novels within a year. These were powerfully contrasted in style and theme. Water with Berries is superficially a naturalistic novel about three West Indian artists living difficult and ever more lonely lives in modern London. Gradually, however (and the quotation of Caliban in the title gives a clue), the reader becomes aware that this is a study of what happens when Caliban comes to Prospero's original home. The revenges of history work themselves out through characters who are helpless to prevent completing the bizarre and violent patterns of the past. Each of the friends is an aspect of Caliban and each passes through an extreme personal crisis at the novel's end. But Derek, erect upon the stage before a howling audience, having completed the rape of Miranda at last, or Teeton, erect upon a northern island after destroying his last links with the racial past, have at least sketched the possibilities of freedom from these tyrannies of history.
Natives of My Person is more of an extended reverie upon certain dominant themes in Atlantic mythology—the demonic captain, the slave-ship, the imprisoned Amerindian prince, the crew variously haunted by tragedy and terror—which are treated like themes in music. The style is deliberately wrought from the timbers of seventeenth-century maritime prose, in which this mythology finds its roots. Hence the novel voyages freely in the dimension of space-time, deriving its structure simply from the musical resolution of its dominant themes. This is a work of great beauty, originality, and difficulty, which may finally prove to be Lamming's most important achievement.
June 8, 1927
A prominent figure in Caribbean literary history, George Lamming was born in Carrington Village, Barbados. Although overwhelmingly populated by descendants of African slaves brought to the island for plantation labor, Barbados was at the time so self-identified as an anglicized British colony that it was called "Little England." Lamming migrated to London in the great wave of Caribbean migration in the 1950s, but his experiences there as a black man challenged his initial belief that there was limited potential in the Anglophone Caribbean and that a West Indian writer had no choice but to leave for the mother country, England. He returned to Barbados several decades later, where he continues to write, lecture, and travel to various countries. He has published no major fiction after his allegorical novel Natives of My Person (1972) but has worked on a dramatic piece on reimagining history in the Americas. Although he began as a short story writer and a poet, Lamming's most important works remain his novels, including In the Castle of My Skin (1953), The Emigrants (1954), Of Age and Innocence (1958), Season of Adventure (1960), and Water with Berries (1971).
Lamming's entire corpus focuses on various phases of Caribbean colonial history and its aftermath, including what he perceived as the failure of independence movements on the islands. The author himself notes internal connections in theme and substance in his novels, characterizing each of his fictional works as part of a corpus that could be read as one book, although not in chronological order. In the Castle of My Skin, published shortly after he migrated to London, is the first in a series that explores the psychological, historical, and political impact of European colonization in the Americas. It became an instant classic and is still the most frequently cited of his novels. It examines the material effects of landlessness and poverty on black villagers in Barbados and the ideological consequences of English colonial education. His second novel, The Emigrants, can be read as a sequel to his first, which ends with the betrayal of the labor riots of the 1930s and the departure of the protagonist. The Emigrants deals with the mass migration to England and the shocking alienation of the various Caribbean islanders who thought of themselves as British subjects, only to experience racism and hostility from those who saw them as threatening outsiders. Of Age and Innocence, Season of Adventure, and Water with Berries depict a return to the Caribbean and stress a postcolonial engagement with universal suffrage, independence struggles, and interethnic tensions. The last novel, Natives of My Person, moves back in historical time to early European slaving and settlement enterprises on the islands while at the same time suggesting a continued link from that period in history to the later phases of postindependence.
Apart from his fictional work, Lamming is also known for his collection of essays, The Pleasures of Exile (1960), which discusses many of the ideas also raised in his novels, including the reinterpretation of Caliban, Shakespeare's monstrous character in The Tempest, as a revolutionary slave and tragic hero. One of the earliest challenges to the English canon, Lamming's provocative reading of Caliban went on to become a representative symbol of anticolonial resistance in African, Caribbean, and Latin American literatures, indeed for postcolonial theory in general. While much of his work engages in the task of retrieving and reimagining distorted or obscured history in the Americas in order to seek resolutions and chart a new future, its bleak and weighty conclusions do not lend themselves to naively celebratory readings of the end of slavery in the Caribbean.
Major Works by Lamming
Of Age and Innocence. 1958. Reprint, London: Allison and Busby 1981.
Season of Adventure. 1960. Reprint, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.
The Pleasures of Exile. 1960. Reprint, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
Water with Berries. 1971. Reprint, London: Longman Caribbean, 1973.
Natives of My Person. 1972. Reprint, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
Conversations: George Lamming Essays, Addresses and Interviews, 1953–1990, edited by Richard Drayton and Andaiye. London: Karia Press, 1992.
Coming, Coming, Home: Conversations II. Philipsburg, St. Martin: House of Nehesi, 1995.
The Sovereignty of the Imagination. Kingston, Jamaica: Arawak Publications, 2004.
Nair, Supriya. Caliban's Curse: George Lamming and the Revisioning of History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.
Paquet, Sandra Pouchet. The Novels of George Lamming. London: Heinemann, 1982.
Scott, David. "The Sovereignty of the Imagination: An Interview with George Lamming." Small Axe 12 (2002): 72–200.
Silva, A. J. Simoes Da. The Luxury of Nationalist Despair: George Lamming's Fiction as Decolonizing Project. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000.
supriya nair (2005)
Lamming, George (Eric)
LAMMING, George (Eric)
LAMMING, George (Eric). Barbadian, b. 1927. Genres: Novels. Publications: In the Castle of My Skin, 1953; The Emigrants, 1954; Of Age and Innocence, 1958; Season of Adventure, 1960; The Pleasures of Exile, 1960; Natives of My Person, 1971; Water with Berries, 1972; New World Quarterly, 1990; Coming, Coming Home, 1995; Conversations: Essays, Addresses and Interviews 1953-1990, 1996; Coming Home II, 2000. EDITOR: Cannon Shot and Glass Beads: Modern Black Writing, 1974; On the Canvas of the World, 1999; Enterprise of the Indies, 1999. Address: c/o Author Mail, House of Nehesi Publishers, PO Box 460, Philipsburg, St. Martin, Netherlands Antilles.