George Lamming’s Last Hurrah !

So George Lamming, the Caribbean literary giant who has walked a similar journey with titans like  Vidya Naipaul, Sam Selvon, Michael Anthony, Edgar Mittleholzer and Earl Lovelace, took his last step out of this earthly realm into the upper world about a day ago.

There will never be enough tributes to satisfy the voracious appetite of this ever-hungry son who, as Brutus said of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s play by the same name:

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world

Like a Colossus

And we petty men do walk around his feet

And peep about to find ourselves

Dishonourable graves

The fault, dear Brutus

Is not in our stars, but in ourselves

That that we are underlings

The novelist, essayist and poet who  would have turned 95 years old on Wednesday June 4,  was scheduled to speak at the 11h annual George Lamming Distinguished Lecture, titled “Lamming Online: A Premier”, on that same day.

The man who gave Caribbean people, among other books,  the unforgettable the novel named “In the Castle of my Skin”, spent more than 50 years as a writer and intellectual at several universities and institutions across the world, including frequent stints in North America, Africa, Australia and India.

The silver-haired literary icon was an honorary professor at the Errol Barrow Centre for the Creative Imagination (EBCCI) at the Cave Hill campus of The UWI in Barbados.

Lamming’s critically acclaimed novels and essays have concentrated on themes of history and identity, especially racial identity.

Evidence of the high esteem in which he was held, resonated in a message issued by Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley who said:

“Only this morning I discussed with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Senator Dr Shantal Monro-Knight, my desire to have arrangements made to visit him on Wednesday to celebrate his birthday with him.

“Unfortunately, we will now have to switch to a national celebration via an official funeral for a man who has given so much to his country, his people, his region and the world.

“George Lamming was the quintessential Bajan, born in as traditional a district as you can get—Carrington Village, on the outskirts of Bridgetown. And his education was as authentically Bajan as one could possibly acquire—Roebuck Boys’ School and Combermere.

“Perhaps even more critical to the literary giant he grew into, was the fortune he had of being schooled at the feet of yet another Barbadian great, Frank Collymore.

“Sadly, it seems now that almost weekly, we are forced to say goodbye to one of our national icons,” Mottley said.

As recently as June 12, Dara E Healy – a renowned performance artist and founder of the Indigenous Creative Arts had this to say about the literary icon in Newsday:

“AT 94, George Lamming is still incredibly alert, moving from regional issues to pandemic politics and local gossip with typical dry wit and perceptiveness”.

While details of his passing are not yet known, an official from The UWI said he had been ailing for a while. His granddaughter, Natalie Savannah Lamming-Alexander, posted a tribute on Facebook, quoting Lamming’s 1953 acclaimed novel, In the Castle of My Skin: 

“Sleep in eternal peace gran George. Will always be an honour to carry my Lamming name. I will forever live through your words in The Castle of My Skin. Embracing the castle of my skin.”

Caribbean journalist Wesley Gibbings put it succinctly when he stated:

“A Caribbean giant has left us only physically. George Lamming will always be a part of usAt a Memorial Lecture for VS Naipaul at the University of the West Indies on September 8, 2022, the highly acclaimed Kenyan writer James Ngugi  recalled that Lamming’s In the castle of my Skin was “particularly influential” on him.

“I felt Lamming’s narrative power speak to me and my Kenya situation so directly, that, as I have acknowledged in my memoir, Birth of a DreamWeaver, it influenced the theme and the writing of my second novel,

Weep Not Child, he said.

According to Ngugi,  his contact with the Barbadian writer would eventually lead him to “struggle to move the centre” (a concept of breaking the stranglehold of Western culture as well as oppressive norms within indigenous cultures).

“I would pay the price of prison and exile for that very struggle. But it is a price I am proud to have paid,” Ngũgĩ said, describing his time of imprisonment by the Kenyan government for the uncensored and highly progressive works produced by the Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre. 

After his release in 1978 he was forced into exile for over two decades.
Interestingly, Ngugi’s behaviour seems to be very aligned with that of David Birzan , a former Trinidad and Tobago political detainee held for his role in the 1970 Black Power  uprising here.

In this connection, David says his current work is about “The creation and utilization of rugged and responsible (R2) individualism to generate empowering transformational (GET) action for unconditional personal power (UPP) and PRESS ON with a meaningful life, within a context of reinvented social imperatives and social responsibility”
It’s against this exciting background, therefore, that Caribbean people can move confidently forward, well-nourished by the precious gifts offered by writers like George Lamming whose legacy will serve as  a foundation  stone while we cut our path of glory in this very challenging world.

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