Renowned novelist George Lamming dies at 94

George Lamming. Photo by John Stevenson
George Lamming. Photo by John Stevenson

Renowned Barbadian novelist and poet George Lamming died on Saturday at the age of 94 in Barbados, four days short of his 95th birthday on June 8.

Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, in a release after Lamming’s death, said there would be an official funeral for the writer, who was so integral to the literature of the region.

“Our internationally recognised and respected novelist, essayist and poet, George Lamming 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. Notwithstanding the fact that he passed away today, four days shy of his 95th birthday, I still declare that he has left us all too soon.”

In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming.

She said she had been making plans to visit Lamming on Wednesday to celebrate his birthday with him.

“Unfortunately, we will now have to switch to a national celebration via an official funeral for a man who has given so much to his country, his people, his region and the world.

“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. But as Bajan as he was, he still distinguished himself as a world scholar: teaching first at a boarding school in Trinidad, before emigrating to England, where he became a broadcaster with the BBC’s Colonial Service.”

Lamming held positions that included writer-in-residence and lecturer in the Creative Arts at the UWI Mona, Jamaica campus, visiting professor at the University of Texas, the University of Pennsylvania and Brown University, and a lecturer in Denmark, Tanzania and Australia.

Mottley said Lamming epitomised Barbados and the Caribbean everywhere he went in the world.

“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, written back in 1953, but which today ought still to be required reading for every Caribbean boy and girl. Barbados will miss George Lamming — his voice, his pen and, of course, his signature hairstyle — but I pray that the consciousness of who we are that he preached in all that he wrote will never fade from our thoughts”

Mottley extended deepest sympathy to the Lamming family on behalf of the government and people of Barbados.

Professor Richard Drayton said Lamming was part of his life from the earliest childhood.

“After my parents I can’t think of anyone who made a greater impact on me. His contributions to Barbados, the Caribbean, the Caribbean diaspora in Britain, and the world are measureless. He lived and struggled with such grace and generosity. Rest in power George. The ceremony of souls is never at an end.”

Poet Eintou Pearl Springer gave a libation in celebration of his life while speaking at the Jouvayfest Caribbean Heritage Month.

“My friend has just passed. We spent many long hours together. He took me to Cuba, we were together in Grenada through the Grenada Revolution. He mentored me in so many ways. We enjoyed many a good drink together. May I have the love and generosity to mentor others as you have mentored me. I can’t say thanks for all you did for me except by mentoring those who now come to me. As you move from Elder to being an Ancestor, I pay you homage George Lamming, and I thank you.”

In a release on Saturday, journalist Rickey Singh also paid tribute to his " dear friend and brother."

"His extensive body of work reflects a deep and personal understanding of the complex historical, cultural and political landscape of the region," Singh said.

"His 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 was well known as an outstanding and a 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."

Singh was referring to a call for Caricom countries to boycott the summit to be held June 6-10 in the US where Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua may be barred, although the US said it is still working on the final list of invited nations. The Prime Minister has said he will attend.

"George was a man of tremendous courage, singular in his undaunted pursuit of truth and justice. 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," said Guyana-born Singh, who lives in Barbados.

"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 said.

"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."

The celebrated literary icon was known for works such as In the Castle of My Skin, The Emigrants, and Water with Berries. His first novel, Castle, is widely celebrated as having been the first Caribbean novel to have won worldwide acclaim.

Editor's note: The photo accompanying this story was originally used without a credit as we were unaware who the photographer was. John Stevenson has since contacted us to identify the photograph as his. Our apologies for the omission.


"Renowned novelist George Lamming dies at 94"

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