John Joseph Maria Figueroa (1920-1999)

JFIGUEROA

Dr. Esther Figueroa recently wrote about her father John Joseph Maria Figueroa (4 August 1920-6 March 1999) for the Caribbean Literary Heritage project. Here are excerpts; see the full text at Caribbean Literary Heritage. She writes:

After my father died, I compiled and edited a collection entitled At Home the Green Remains: Caribbean Writing in Honor of John Figueroa, which includes a selection of his poetry, short fiction and poetry by other Caribbean writers, along with interviews, remembrances and photographs. It was published as a special edition of Caribbean Quarterly in 2003. I end my editorial with this sentence: “To my father–you are not forgotten.

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The Caribbean Literary Heritage project “is concerned with the Caribbean literary past and the region’s tangible and intangible literary heritage. It is particularly interested in neglected writers and writings at risk of being lost, and in thinking about what influences such precarity.” I believe that my father is an exemplar of why the Caribbean Literary Heritage project is so important and rich in possibilities.

John Figueroa was a writer, poet, educator, anthologist, journalist, radio broadcaster, sports commentator (particularly of cricket), linguist, literary critic, promoter of literature, culture and the arts, and a friend and mentor to many of the Caribbean’s best known writers particularly Derek Walcott and George Lamming. He was integrally part of the literary generation that, beginning in the 1940s, came to define Anglophone Caribbean writing. A participant in the famous BBC Caribbean Voices radio series, as a contributor, reader and recommender of talent, he helped to bring some of these voices into print by publishing two volumes of West Indian poetry from the programme entitled Caribbean Voices (Evans, 1970).[ii] With my mother, Dorothy Alexander Figueroa, he compiled a bibliography of Anglophone Literature from the Caribbean: Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Encyclopedia (Three Continents Press, 1979). He later edited An Anthology of African and Caribbean Writing in English (Heinemann, 1987) as part of his work developing the Third World Studies program at the Open University. Across his career supporting the work of other Caribbean writers and establishing the foundations for scholarly engagement, he published four collections of his own poetry: Blue Mountain Peak (The Gleaner Company, 1945), Love Leaps Here (C. Tinling and Co Ltd, 1962), Ignoring Hurts (Three Continents Press, 1976) and The Chase (Peepal Tree Press, 1991).

John-and-Dorothy-Figueroa-768x523[Photo above: John Figueroa and Dorothy Alexander Figueroa, 1961 at Knox College, Jamaica. They were married 3rd August, 1944 until death did part in March and May of 1999.]

His life began in Kingston, Jamaica and ended in Milton Keynes, England. In between, he lived in Jamaica, North America, England, Puerto Rico, Nigeria, and travelled widely throughout the Caribbean, North America, Latin America, Africa and Europe. He called himself “un hombre del Caribe” (a man of the Caribbean) because he identified with an entire region and hated nationalism, jingoism and prejudice. In 1946, with a British Council scholarship he studied at the Institute of Education and London University and went on to lecture in English and Philosophy there. He returned to Jamaica in 1953 as Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education at the then University College of the West Indies (later the University of the West Indies), and in 1957 became the first West Indian to be appointed as chair in any discipline. Prof, as he was known, was one of the Caribbean’s most influential educators, developing educational policy and curriculum, training teachers and inspecting schools throughout the Caribbean. His influence as an educator in promoting the teaching of Caribbean Literature is immense.

My father, the eldest of the thirteen children (ten of whom survived infancy) of Blanche Maria Palomino and Rupert Aston Figueroa, was a devout Roman Catholic of Jewish-Catholic Hispanic heritage with European, African and Amerindian origins. He had a Jesuit education first at St. George’s College (Kingston, Jamaica) then Holy Cross College (Massachusetts, USA). He studied the classics and could read Greek and Latin. The thesis of his MPhil from London University was on Caritas in education – arguing that education should be built on love and caring. His poetry is filled with religious and classical references. Some reviewers dismissed his poetry as “pastoral”. His early poetry was very conventional in style but this changed in later years. It is deeply personal and, like himself, quite emotional. [. . .]

Esther Figueroa, Ph.D., is an independent filmmaker, writer, educator and linguist. Beginning in the early 1980s, she has produced television programming, documentaries, educational videos, multimedia and feature film. Her films include Jamaica for Sale (2009), the award-winning feature documentary about tourism and unsustainable development. Her latest feature documentary Fly Me to the Moon (2019) is about the role of aluminum in the making of the modern world and the centrality of the Caribbean to that modernity. Her publications include Sociolinguistic Metatheory (1994), At Home the Green Remains (2003), and her environmental novel Limbo (2013).

To read the complete post, see https://www.caribbeanliteraryheritage.com/you-are-not-forgotten-the-literary-heritage-of-john-figueroa/

[Many thanks to Senior Research Associate Marta Fernández Campa, University of East Anglia, UK, for sending this item.]

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