Nancy Morejón: On George Lamming

Here is a translation of a beautiful obituary essay by Cuban poet Nancy Morejón, A PROPÓSITO DE GEORGE LAMMING. [Many thanks to Richard Price for sharing the original essay.]

The great writer, doyen of English-speaking Caribbean storytellers and thinkers, George Lamming (1927-2022) just died this Saturday, June 4, on the island of Barbados, his homeland. It seems that the torrential waters of the beginning of June wanted to put an end to his long and immense life experience and, also, to his exceptional literary production that began with indisputable resonance precisely in 1953 when his classic novel In the Castle of My Skin appeared. This work, translated by María Teresa Ortega, with a prologue by Emilio Jorge Rodríguez [1], splendidly became part of the publishing catalog of Casa de las Américas (1979) and its prestigious collection dedicated to Latin American literature, which included titles by authors such as the Brazilian Guimaraes Rosa, Jamaican Roger Mais, and the Paraguayan Augusto Roa Bastos.

In the years when he took on the role of advisor to Casa’s Center for Caribbean Studies [Centro de Estudios del Caribe], I learned from his erudition and his conscientiousness, which went hand in hand. His sense of regional integration went beyond vested, economic, or even personal interests. He was a great conversationalist, a spontaneous communicator. I once heard him say: “In the Caribbean, there is always a ship that arrives or leaves.” And also: “The best economists in our archipelagos are housewives… that is, humble women; I admire those who work miracles for their families every day, I love them because they put their ancient magic into practice.”

Lamming belonged to a type of intellectual with a keen sense of the function of literature and the arts as vehicles of communication and recognition of the plural identity that defines the multicultural character of the region. Not by chance, he was part of the New World group, which defended the right to avant-garde art, although never separated from a morality at the service of a more advanced, more independent, and better world. With enormous rigor and a proverbial literary excellence, his stories, his novels, all exude the desire for freedom and regional integration in an open struggle against colonial oppression which, in his pages, also acquires a continental vocation that, still today, we need to understand.

He wrote books that we will never be able to do without and, although fiction is the key to his literary experience, the truth is that he reflected and compiled a sum of allegories, reasonings, and debates on exile that nowadays constitute a school, a method, and thus, a call to the indomitable being of Caribbean people throughout all the archipelagos. London and Georgetown were set in their right place. That is the grace and the intellectual restlessness that reigns in The Pleasures of Exile (1960) whose lesson Roberto Fernández Retamar revered in his also classic essay Calibán (1979).

George Lamming is and will continue to be—like Wilson Harris, Vic Reid, Derek Walcott, among others, including the extraordinary musician popularly known as Mighty Sparrow—a sacred patriarch of our culture, especially when popular culture inhabits, in its own right, this unconquerable place where the most legitimate flags of independence wave forever.

Nancy Morejón, El Cerro, June 5, 2022

[1] See Emilio Jorge Rodríguez: “George Lamming en su retorno al Caribe natal.” In El Caribe literario; trazados de convivencia, Havana: Ediciones Arte y Literatura, 2011, p. 167-74.

Translation by Ivette Romero. For original article, see https://www.granma.cu/cultura/2022-06-08/a-proposito-de-george-lamming-08-06-2022-23-06-36

[Photo by Sally Price. George Lamming during a visit to Rich and Sally Prices’ home in Martinique, 2003.]

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