It is Time that we as Guyanese give Mittelholzer his Due

Edgar Mittelholzer, Front, 1952

This letter to the Editor of the Stabroek News by Samuel Braithwaite, Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies, Mona caught the attention of our research assistant, Maria Cali, and mine, as I share the author’s deep admiration for Mittelholzer and wanted to echo his proposal. 

Marlon James appeared on my radar around the time his book, “A Brief History of Seven Killings,” was placed on the long list for the coveted Man Booker Prize. The book’s Amazon page was littered with praise. The Kindle sample did not disappoint. I decided that a book of this magnitude needed to be kept as a hard copy, so I ignored getting the Kindle version. What’s more, there was no urgency to read it. The book is lengthy. One week after the bookstore brought my copy, Marlon James won the Man Booker Prize. I was happy for James, even more so given that the last Caribbean person to have won the prize was V.S. Naipaul in 1971.

As the magnitude of James’ victory seeped in, my thoughts turned to our own Edgar Mittelholzer. The Caribbean Beat (Issue 100, Nov/Dec 2009) describes Mittelholzer “as the earliest recorded author from the region to make a living – and a very precarious one it would turn out to be – from his pen”. Yes, before James, and before Naipaul, there was Mittelholzer. It is time that we as Guyanese give him his due. The 50th Anniversary of our nation’s birth provides an excellent opportunity to recognize Mittelholzer.

Mittelholzer grew up in what is now LFS Burnham St. I grew up two streets away, and even before reading his work, Mittelholzer’s childhood home was pointed out to me. It would have been fitting to name the street after him, but it is too late for that. I do not know what became of the Mittelholzer property, but with the blessings of the current owner a small plaque should be erected to his memory. Of course a plaque is just the start. It is important to note that Mittelholzer’s grandfather (Rev. John Robert Mittelholzer) was the first Guyanese to become a Lutheran Priest. He served at Guyana’s first Lutheran Church, Ebenezer Lutheran, New Amsterdam. Its expansive lawns were my stomping grounds as a child. I bring up the Lutheran connection as I think it strengthens the case for New Amsterdam to be the “epicentre” for any 50th Independence celebrations surrounding Edgar Mittelholzer.

New Amsterdam aside, there needs to be greater national recognition of Mittelholzer. I recognize that there are lectures in his honour and the Caribbean Press, controversy notwithstanding, has been reprinting his works. I hope “A Swarthy Boy” is on the list. I read Mittelholzer in high school, but had no clue he wrote a book about his early years in New Amsterdam. “A Swarthy Boy”, his autobiography, is a delightful read, especially for New Amsterdamers. Books and lectures aside, maybe an institute at the University of Guyana, or an independent institution for the literary arts, could be created in his honour. Better yet, maybe it is time to rename Guyana’s top literary prize in his honour.

For the original report go to http://www.stabroeknews.com/2015/opinion/letters/10/21/it-is-time-that-we-as-guyanese-give-mittelholzer-his-due/

See also Al Creighton’s article about “Mittelholzer: The Standard-Bearer for Guyanese and West Indian Literature” [http://www.stabroeknews.com/2014/features/12/14/mittelholzer-standard-bearer-guyanese-west-indian-literature/]

2 thoughts on “It is Time that we as Guyanese give Mittelholzer his Due

  1. Over a span of just over a decade I have produced three series of paintings given the title SHADOWS MOVE AMONG THEM , rafter his novel, as paying respect to Mittleholzer’s pioneering work in Caribbean literature. I am pleased to say that in most novels he always has an artist. In the novel mentioned the artist was indigenous, predating the presence of such artists today in Guyana.
    I was in London when he set himself alight in the manner of Buddhist priests protesting the Vietnam war. He need to be remembered.

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