Guyana is home to some of the last great wilderness. It is rich in wildlife and geographical diversity. Over the centuries, the country has inspired some of the world’s most famous authors, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used it as the backdrop to his epic, The Lost World. In this article, we look at the lives and works of four of Guyana’s greatest authors.
Born on March 24, 1921, in New Amsterdam, Guyana, Theodore Wilson Harris was a critically acclaimed Guyanese poet, writer, and essayist. Adopting an abstract and densely metaphorical style, Harris wrote on a wide range of subjects. He is considered one of the English language’s most innovative and original post-war writers.
After Harris graduated from Queen’s College in Georgetown, he became a government surveyor. The in-depth knowledge of Guyana’s rainforests and savannas that he acquired during this period would prove very valuable later on and serve as a backdrop for many of his books.
Harris contributed essays and poems to Kyk-over-AI magazine. Alongside Ivan Van Sertima and Martin Carter, he was a member of a group of Guyanese intellectuals. In 1959, Wilson Harris visited England and published his first novel, Palace of the Peacock, in 1960. This was quickly followed by The Guyana Quartet; The Whole Armour; The Secret Ladder;the Carnival trilogy; The Infinite Rehearsal; The Four Banks of the River Space; The Dark Jester; The Mask of the Beggar;and The Ghost of Memory.
Wilson Harris died in Chelmsford, England in 2018 at the age of 96. During his lifetime, he was the recipient of numerous accolades, including the Guyana Prize for Literature (Special Award) and Premio Mondello dei Cinque Continenti.
Born in Guyana in 1948, Pauline Melville is a professional actor turned writer. Her mother was English, while her Guyanese father was of Amerindian, Scottish, and African heritage.
Melville pursued a successful acting career before turning to writing and starring in movies such as The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa. She also starred in several British television series, including the sitcoms Girls on Top and The Young Ones.
Pauline Melville published her first novel in 1990. Shape-Shifter, a collection of short stories, was well-received and earned her a number of awards, including The Guardian Fiction Prize, the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.
Beryl Agatha Gilroy was teacher, poet, ethno-psychotherapist, and novelist. To this day, she is regarded as one of the UK’s most important post-war Caribbean migrants. After arriving in Great Britain in the 1950s, she became among the first black head teachers in London.
Born in Berbice in 1924, Gilroy grew up in a large family headed by her grandmother, Sally Louisa James. James, an herbalist who managed a small-holding. A keen reader, she relayed many tales to her granddaughter, passing on a treasury of Guyanese proverbs.
Although Beryl Gilroy did not attend school full-time until she reached the age of 12, she found inspiration in her grandmother’s stories. After attending a teacher training college in Georgetown, Gilroy lectured for UNICEF before leaving for the UK, where she attended the University of London and obtained a Diploma in Child Development.
As a respected and qualified teacher, Gilroy did not anticipate having any difficulty in securing employment, but racism was endemic in 1950s London. She took time out to raise her family and returned to teaching in 1968, eventually becoming the first black headteacher in London.
Gilroy drew on her experiences for her novel, Black Teacher. Other works by Beryl Gilroy include In Praise of Love and Children; the Nippers series; Frangipani House; Boy Sandwich; and Echoes and Voices. Gilroy’s last work, The Green Grass Tango, was published following her death in 2001.
Born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1997, Martin Wylde Carter is most famous as a Guyanese political activist and poet. He is widely regarded as the country’s greatest poet, as well as one of the Caribbean region’s most important laureates.
Martin Carter is famous for his poems of resistance, revolution, and protest. He played an active role in politics, particularly in the leadup to independence. Following his release from prison by the British government for “spreading dissension,” Carter’s best-known collection of poetry, Poems of Resistance from British Guiana, was published. He went on to complete several other important collections, including Poems of Shape and Motion; Jail Me Quickly; Poems of Succession; Poems of Affinity; and University of Hunger: Collected Poems and Selected Prose.
Over the course of his career, Martin Carter received numerous coveted awards, including the Gabriela Mistral Inter-American Prize for Culture, the Guyana Prize for Literature, and the Order of Roraima. He died in 1997 at the age of 70 in Georgetown, Guyana.
GBTI, Guyana’s oldest bank, supports the nation’s arts industry
GBTI is a leading financial institution that supports a variety of arts initiatives throughout Guyana and encourages young people to become involved and express themselves creatively.