Lamming, the literary genius


REX NETTLEFORD, in his introduction to George Lamming’s book, Coming, Coming Home: Conversations II: Western Education and the Caribbean Intellectual Coming, Coming, Coming Home, asserted that the Barbadian writer was ‘one of the Caribbean’s finest intellects and foremost literary artists’.

The sustainability of Lamming’s literary output and its consequential contribution to Caribbean letters and scholarship are irrefutable. Lamming was distinguished as one whose writing, along with Samuel Selvon, VS Naipaul and Andrew Salkey, was instrumental to the formation of the Anglophone Caribbean literary canon in the 1950s. This esteemed Caribbean novelist received numerous accolades for his contribution to Caribbean letters and intellectualism.

In 1958, Lamming received the Somerset Maugham Prize for literature; in 1980 he was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Letters from The University of the West Indies; in 2011 the Association of Cuban Writers and Artists bestowed Lamming with the Caribbean Hibiscus Prize for his lifetime contribution to the arts-Lamming was the first beneficiary of this award; in 2013 he received the Clement Payne Appreciation Award; and in 2014 he was awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Book Lifetime Achievement Award for his work.

His writing has been, and continues to be, valuable to Caribbean intellectual thought, as it probes notions of Caribbean identity in the aftermath of the region’s colonial past.

Noted Lamming scholar Sandra Pouchet Paquet, in Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers, wrote of Lamming: ‘His work is seminal… In each of his novels and his collection of essays… Lamming conceptualises core facets of the Caribbean experience in language and forms that continue to exercise a shaping influence over the literature of the region.’

All of Lamming’s novels treat with integral facets of the colonial experience and situation. His first novel, In the Castle of My Skin, which is regarded by many as the quintessential Caribbean novel, was written when Lamming was just a young emigrant to England in his 20s. In the Castle of My Skin was the harbinger to literary enquiries into the psychical effects of colonialism on the colonised.

His second novel, The Emigrants (1954), considers the Caribbean New World individual in transit to England as ‘mother country’. Of Age and Innocence (1958) prophetically extrapolates a tripartite governmental system to a Caribbean New World society with momentous consequences within the Caribbean space.

Season of Adventure (1960) employs the female body as a visceral site of exploration as regards different ontological systems for Caribbean peoples in their outworking of their own identity. Water with Berries (1971) engages English playwright William Shakespeare’s 1623 work, The Tempest, to unearth extant complexities in the relationship between the British colonial mother and the ones whom she colonised.

Lamming’s 1972 novel, Natives of My Person (1972), extensively probes the lived-reality of the European coloniser, making us aware that our understanding of self is inextricably linked to our understanding of those who colonised us. Lamming was a literary genius and a profound Caribbean thinker who will be greatly missed.

Alfrena Jamie Pierre PhD candidate in literatures in English, The UWI