Bajan novelist and essayist George Lamming passed away yesterday at age 94, four days shy of his 95th birthday.
From 1946 to 1950, Lamming taught English at El Collegio de Venezuela, a boarding school for boys in Port-of-Spain, after which he migrated to England.
In England, he went into the field of journalism and in 1951 he became a broadcaster for the BBC Colonial Service. His writings were published in the Barbadian magazine Bim, edited by his teacher Frank Collymore, and the BBC’s Caribbean Voices radio series broadcast his poems and short prose. Lamming himself read poems on Caribbean Voices, including some by the young Derek Walcott.
Lamming is the author of six novels: In the Castle of My Skin (1953); The Emigrants (1954); Of Age and Innocence (1958); Season of Adventure (1960); Water with Berries (1971); and Natives of My Person (1972).
His works reflected his interest in the socio-economic situation Caribbean people faced not only in this region but also in the developed world.
Tributes poured in for this Caribbean literary giant.
In a statement following his death, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley paid tribute to Lamming, saying he stood for decades at the apex of the island’s pantheon of writers.
“Today, it is our internationally recognised and respected novelist, essayist and poet, George Lamming, who without doubt stood for decades at the apex of our island’s pantheon of writers. Indeed, George Lamming must be considered one of the most famous writers this region has produced. 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.”
In her tribute, Mottley also said wherever George Lamming went, he epitomised that voice and spirit that screamed Barbados and the Caribbean. While he has written several novels and received many accolades, none of his works touches the Barbadian psyche like his first—In The Castle of My Skin, which today ought still to be required reading for every Caribbean boy and girl.
“He won international awards, including his first novel, In the Castle of My Skin, winning a Somerset Maugham Award. In 2011, the Association of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) awarded him the first-ever Caribbean Hibiscus Prize.”
Guyanese journalist Rickey Singh lamented Lamming’s death and said his intellectual contribution is needed today in the Caribbean to face the current problems.
In his tribute, Singh said Lamming was a powerful Caribbean voice–one that is urgently required even now, “as CARICOM hovers over important decisions to be made on the 2022 Summit of the Americas.”
He said Lamming was well known as an outstanding and fearless voice against external pressures aimed at undermining national and regional unity and political sovereignty.
“There is no doubt that he would have advised Caribbean governments to absent themselves from this gathering. He never shied away, nor was he ever ambivalent when it came to urging the CARICOM governments never to waver when the moment arose to be firm in their solidarity on commonly held values, or their right to regional unity and relationship.”
He described Lamming, "the esteemed author and social commentator" as "a dear friend and brother."
"My family must forever be grateful to him when in 1983, he assembled and led students on a peaceful march to protest the revocation of my work permit because of my criticism of the ill-fated Grenada invasion."
"His extensive body of work reflects a deep and personal understanding of the complex historical, cultural and political landscape of the region."
Singh said, "George’s influence on academia and political thought has been profound. It was my good fortune to listen to him deliver various public lectures across the campuses of the University of the West Indies. Particularly memorable, was an event at the Cave Hill campus in 2004, where in his unique baritone, for a breathtaking two hours, he masterfully weaved together a review of four decades of his literary work.
"George commanded respect for his unflinching forthrightness whenever the occasion arose, of speaking truth to power–especially when it came to the preservation and dignity of the call to leadership of the CARICOM member states.
"There was also a gentleness and humility to George that was rarely seen save for those intimate with him. On occasion I witnessed his quiet and respectful acquiesce to his mother’s playful chiding. He loved her dearly. He was and will always be remembered by me as a journalist who had the privilege of having a close and special friendship with such a brilliant scholar, and a great man."
Local poet and cultural activist Eintou Pearl Springer in a video posted to her Facebook page called him “a giant of literary and revolutionary work” in the Caribbean region.
“My mentor, my teacher, my friend just passed away. We spent many long hours together. He took me to Cuba, we were in Grenada for the Grenada Revolution. We enjoyed many a good drink together…As you move from being an elder to being an ancestor, we pay homage to George Lamming. I love you.”