Recalling Beka Lamb with Holly Edgell

A report by Fabian Smith for Amandala.

Holly Edgell, the daughter of Belizean author Zee Edgell, revealed in a recent interview that her mother’s first novel, Beka Lamb, was originally titled “A Wake for Toycie”. Edgell said that her family would often discuss creative decisions, such as titling books, in what she coined “family brainstorm sessions”.

“Her first title was ‘A Wake for Toycie’, and we all really liked that. I recall my mother having to explain to me what a ‘wake’ was at the time. We also considered ‘Beka of Cashew Street’”, she said.

“I can’t quite remember what the reasoning about the name ‘Beka Lamb’ was except perhaps to acknowledge that this is Beka’s story; it’s not about a wake, street, or even really about Toycie. The title centers Beka in her own life,” she noted.

Edgell credits the brilliance of the title that was chosen to the “genius” of Ian Randle, her mother’s first editor.

The Edgell family’s brainstorm sessions were wide-ranging. She recalled that there would often be a gathering somewhere in the house with her father, brother, mother, and herself.

“We talked about themes, geography, characters and lines from other books or poems,” she said.

Naturally, Edgell’s connection with her mother transcended the pages of a piece of classic Caribbean literature. Nonetheless, she made it clear that her entire family were quite invested in her mother’s work, and (in some senses) the process of creating what would go on to become beloved pieces of literature throughout the region and beyond.

She said that, as a young woman, she would gradually begin to understand the impact of her mother’s work on Caribbean literature. This is something that would accompany her into adulthood, as she would witness the influence of her mother’s work on associates, and acquaintances, some of whom are now friends, scattered throughout the Caribbean.

Edgell was clear in articulating what in her opinion is the highlight of her mother’s accomplishments.

“I think back to my mother’s young life. She broke the mould. She decided to be a writer, first a journalist, about which her parents were dubious, to say the least. She saved money from her first [job] in Belize, got accepted as a trainee on the Daily Gleaner in Jamaica, and persuaded her parents to pitch in the additional funds she would need,” she said, noting that her grandparents were “no pushovers”.

Edgell has surmised that a young Zee Edgell had been consummate in laying out her plans in order to achieve her ends.

“Imagine,” she said, “an 18-year-old doing this in 1950’s British Honduras!” “To me, this adventure set the tone for my mother’s life of adventure, on her own, and with my brother, my father, and me,” she concluded.

Zee Edgell’s Beka Lamb was earlier this year added to Hodder Education’s Caribbean Contemporary Classics. To read Beka Lamb or any Caribbean classic featured in the series visit: https://www.hoddereducation.co.uk/caribbean-contemporary-classics

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