George Laming, the famous Caribbean writer, has died at the age of 94

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George Laming, a Barbadian-based author who put the legacy of colonialism at the heart of his lyrical novels and essays, earning a reputation as one of the best Caribbean writers of his generation, died on June 4th at a retirement center in Bridgetown, the country’s capital. He was 94 years old.

His death was announced by Mia Motley, the Prime Minister of Barbados. “Wherever George Laming goes,” she said in a statement, “he embodies that voice and spirit that screamed Barbados and the Caribbean.” Mr. Laming’s daughter, Natasha Laming-Lee, said he was ill, but did not say why.

Along with novelists and poets such as Kamau Bratwaite, Wilson Harris, Edgar Mittelholzer, VS NaipolAndrew Salki and Derek Walcott, Mr. Laming helped define new West Indian literature in the mid-decades of the 20th century, exploring issues of history, politics, language, and freedom at a time when colonial rule was giving way to independence.

Growing up in a former sugar plantation outside Bridgetown, he writes books highlighting the experiences of people who have been marginalized because of their race, language, gender or income, and spreads a message of liberation and inclusion in his essays and speeches. “I’m a preacher,” he said in an interview with Small Ax magazine in 2002. “I’m a person who carries a message.”

Like Naipaul and many other Caribbean writers of their generation, Mr. Laming began his literary career in London, where he wrote his semi-autobiographical first novel, In the Castle of My Skin (1953), at the age of 23. He later reviewed the experience of migration in The Emigrants (1954), a grim, fragmented novel about West Indian immigrants in England, and in his collection of essays The Pleasures of Exile (1960), which a New York Times reviewer described as “A neo-Gothic work with ideas twisting like flying props”.

“My subject,” Mr. Laming writes in the latter, “is the migration of the West Indian writer, as colonial and exile, from his native kingdom, once inhabited by Caliban, to the stormy island of Prospero and his language.”

Mr. Laming returned to the Caribbean for novels such as Aging and Innocence (1958) and Season of Adventure (1960), set on the fictional island of San Cristobal, where African, Indian and Chinese ethnic groups struggle to overcome mutual suspicions. while uniting against the white establishment.

It was difficult, he noted, to create a new identity after years of colonialism. “I have always lived in the shadow of the meaning that others have given to my presence in the world,” said the independence leader in Age and Innocence, “and I have played no part in creating that meaning as a chair at the mercy of the idea that guides the hand of the person who builds it. ”

Mr. Laming has delved into issues of race and ethnicity since the publication of his first and most famous novel. Named after Walcott’s poems, “In the Castle of My Skin” switches between third and first person as it chronicles the upbringing of a young man named G who joins his fishing friends by diving for coins tossed by tourists on the beach. and I wonder how the king’s face twists into pennies.

He also witnessed a workers’ revolt, developed a growing awareness of racial inequality (“No black boy wanted to be white, but it was also true that no black boy liked the idea of ​​being black”) and traveled to Trinidad. to work as a school teacher, just like Mr. Laming did it after high school.

“I tried to reconstruct the world of my childhood and early adolescence,” he said. Laming wrote in the introduction to the 1983 edition of the novel. “It was the world of Caribbean society.

The book won the Somerset Maugham Prize for Young Writers in Britain and was praised by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Kenyan author Ngugi wa Tiongo and American writer Richard Wright, who wrote the introduction to the American edition.

Critics were also impressed: “Mr. Laming is a poet by instinct, not a novelist, a man with an individual and almost personal approach to the English language, writes Orville Prescott of The Times. “His prose is poetic, sensual, imaginative, adorned with fantastic figures of speech and surprising twists of language.”

Partly Mr. Laming’s style of prose was shaped by his belief in the acquisition of “spiritual possession of the landscape in which you live.” For him, this meant developing an understanding of “the rhythm of the wind, the smell of the sea, the texture of stone and rock.”

“These are not objects outside of you,” Caribbean Beat Magazine quotes him in his own words. “They are part of your consciousness.”

It was George William Laming born in Carrington Village on June 8, 1927. His parents are unmarried and he hardly knew his father. His mother was a housewife who later married a police officer.

Mr. Laming grew up during a period of social upheaval, heralding Barbados’ independence from Britain in 1966, and said he and his peers had experienced a form of colonial cruelty that was psychological rather than physical. “It was a horror of the mind; a daily exercise in self-defense, “he wrote essay from 2002. “Black against black in the battle for cultivation.”

After winning a scholarship to the prestigious Combermere High School, he studied with literary editor Frank Colimore, who welcomed him to his home library and encouraged Mr. Laming’s interest in writing poetry and prose, publishing some of his early works in the Caribbean magazine BIM.

Mr. Laming later worked at a boarding school in Port of Spain, Trinidad, teaching English to Spanish-speaking students before moving to England in 1950, sailing on the same ship as Trinidadian writer Samuel Selvon. “If I hadn’t gone to England,” he said told The Washington Post in 1999“I was going to write, but you wouldn’t hear about me.”

After working in a factory in London, Mr. Laming got a job at the BBC’s colonial service, where he was the host of shows, including Caribbean Voices, an influential platform for West Indian writers. He also became active in the local literary community, meeting Dylan Thomas and other poets at the Mandrake Club in Soho.

His conversations with English writers were more about business than literature or politics, he recalls: “A very good writer of short stories, forever in purple velvet, advised me never to visit the publishing house’s office to talk about business. without a small weapon in his pocket. He gave examples of his success in such meetings. “

Mr. Laming soon traveled abroad, visiting the United States with the help of the Guggenheim, and speaking at the 1956 Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris, where he impressed an audience that included James Baldwin and Franz Fanon.

“Laming is tall, with rough bones, untidy and intense,” Baldwin wrote in an essay on the event, “and one of his real achievements is his refusal to be intimidated by the fact that he is a real writer.”

With his booming, gravelly voice and crown of gray hair, Mr. Laming has gained a wide range of fans, including Canadian and short story writer Margaret Lawrence. They had a brief affair, according to her biographer James King, and she moved to London with her children in an unsuccessful attempt to settle with Mr. Laming. (His only marriage, to artist Nina Gent, had previously ended in divorce.)

Until 1967, Mr. Laming began his academic career lecturing and working as a writer in schools including Brown, Duke, Penn, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He returned to Barbados in 1980 and lived for many years at the Atlantis Hotel, near the fishing village of Bathsheba, where he said his writing was encouraged by daily swimming in the ocean.

Mr. Laming received the Order of the Caribbean Community in 2008 and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the 2014 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.

In addition to his daughter Laming-Lee of Silver Spring, Maryland, Survivors includes his longtime companion Esther Phillips; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. His son Gordon died last year.

Mr. Laming’s most recent novels include Water with Fruit (1971), a political allegory focused on a West Indian revolutionary living in London, and International Residents of My Personality (1972), for 16th-century researchers and the origins of colonialism. Towards the end of his life, he worked on a book about Christopher Columbus, imagining that the researcher had been arrested and tried by a local community in the West Indies.

He spent years working on the project, but in an interview with the Caribbean Beat in 2002, he declined to say when it could be published: “The point is these things, you never finish.”

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