Jan Carew

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Jan Rynveld Carew (24 September 1920 – 6 December 2012)[1] was a Guyana-born novelist, playwright, poet and educator. His works, diverse in form and multifaceted, make Jan Carew an important intellectual of the Caribbean world. His poetry and his first two novels, Black Midas and The Wild Coast, were significant landmarks of the West Indian literature then attempting to cope with its colonial past and assert its wish for autonomy. Carew also played an important part in the Black movement gaining strength in England and North America, publishing reviews and newspapers, producing programs and plays for the radio and the television. His scholarly research drove him to question traditional historiographies and the prevailing historical models of the conquest of America. The way he reframed Christopher Columbus as an historical character outside his mythical hagiography became a necessary path in his mind to build anew the Caribbean world on sounder foundations.

Biography[edit]

Childhood in British Guiana[edit]

Jan Rynveld Carew was born on 24 September 1920 at Agricola, a coastal village in Guyana also called Rome. Guyana was then a South American colony of the British Empire. Carew was the middle child and only son of Ethel Robertson and Alan Carew.[2] From 1924 to 1926, the Carews lived in the United States but Jan Carew and his elder sister had to come back to Guyana after the kidnapping of his younger sister in New York in 1926. The child would be recovered and sent back to her family in 1927.[3] Carew's father lived on several occasions in the United States and Canada, working a while the Canadian company, The Canadian Pacific Railway, and thus crossing the American continent from Halifax to Vancouver. His memories would fuel the imagination of the young Carew.[4] From 1926 to 1938, he was educated in Guyana, first attending the Agricola Wesleyan School, then the Catholic elementary school and then Berbice High School, a Canadian Scottish Presbyterian School, in New Amsterdam.[3] He got his Senior Cambridge Exam in 1938.

In 1939, he became a part-time teacher at the Berbice High School for Girls,[3] and then was called up to the British Army as the Second World War broke out in Europe. He served in the Coast Artillery Regiment until 1943. From 1943 to 1944, he was a customs officer in Georgetown. At the time, he published his first text in the Christmas Annual and was working a lot on his painting and drawing.[3] From 1944 to 1945, he worked at the Price Controls Office in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Carew felt himself to be part of the Caribbean world that for him included "the island archipelago, the countries of the Caribbean littoral and Guyana, Surinam, and Cayenne."[5] He found the paradoxical unity of the Caribbean way of life in the "successive waves of cultural alienation" that shaped the Caribbean frame of mind from "a mosaic of cultural fragments - Amerindian, African, European, Asian."[6]

The university years[edit]

At the age of 17, he left Guyana for the United States, where he studied at Howard University and Western Reserve University (1944-8), the predecessor of Case Western Reserve University. He also went to Charles University in Prague (1948–50) and the Sorbonne in Paris.

Exile and later years[edit]

In what he described as his "endless journeyings",[7] he lived at different times in the Netherlands, Mexico, England, France, Spain, Ghana, Canada and the United States. In England, he acted with Laurence Olivier[8] and edited the Kensington Post.[9] He also worked as a broadcaster and writer with the BBC and lectured in race relations at London University.[10]

Between 1962 and 1966 he lived in Jamaica with his then wife Sylvia Wynter, and then moved to Canada for some years before settling in the USA.[7]

He taught at Princeton, Rutgers, Illinois Wesleyan, Hampshire College, Northwestern and Lincoln Universities. He was Emeritus Professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University.[11]

Jan Carew died at his home in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, at the age of 92,[11] survived by his widow Dr Joy Gleason,[12] his daughters Lisa St Aubin de Terán[13] and Shantoba Eliza Carew, and his son, David Christopher Carew.[2][11]

Literary works[edit]

Carew wrote novels, short stories, plays, and non-fiction, as well as children's books, though he remains best known for his first novel, Black Midas (1958). His many other works include The Wild Coast, The Last Barbarian, Moscow Is Not My Mecca (US edition, Green Winter, 1965), Fulcrums of Change, Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England and the Caribbean, and The Guyanese Wanderer (Sarabande Books, 2007).

He wrote (together with Sylvia Wynter) the screenplay of a television drama, The Big Pride (ITV/Associated Television, 1961).[14]

The scholar[edit]

Academic career[edit]

His essays include "The Caribbean writer in exile", "Columbus and the origin of racism in the Americas", "The fusion of African and Amerindian folk myths", "United we stand","Culture and Rebellion","Black America: the street and the campus", "Jonestown revisited", "The Ivory trade: The cruelest trade of all, white gold", "The Synergen project", "The Amarnth project", "Estevanico: The African Explorer," "Rape of Paradise: Columbus and the Origin of Racism in the Americas," and "Moorish Culture-Bringers: Bearers of Englightment".

Amerindian cultures and the revision of the figure of Columbus[edit]

Activism[edit]

The black movement and the problem of culture[edit]

Carew was a pioneer in the field of Pan-African Studies.[12] Some of the noted figures to whom Carew has been connected are W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, Shirley Graham Du Bois, Maurice Bishop, Cheikh Anta Diop, Edward Scobie, John Henrik Clarke, Tsegaye Medhin Gabre, Sterling D. Plumpp and Ivan Van Sertima.

The invasion of Grenada and the redefinition of colonial history[edit]

In his book Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again (1985), published two years after the American invasion of Grenada, "Carew unearthed and revealed sources of independence in the country itself. [The book] went back to and beyond the struggles of the rebellious African captives, but to the epic resistance of the island's indigenous population."[12]

The environmental issue[edit]

As noted by Eusi Kwayana, Carew "was an environmentalist long before it become fashionable" and made a recommendation to the government of Guyana for an international involvement for a million acres of forestland in Guyana, which inspired an Act on the Guyanese statute book to provide for approximately 360,000 hectares of tropical rainforest for the purposes of research "to make available to Guyana and the International Community systems, methods, and techniques for the sustainable management and utilisation of the multiple resources of the Tropical forest and the conservation of biological diversity and for matters incidental thereto."[12]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Black Midas - novel (1958; Peepal Tree Press, 2009)
  • The Wild Coast - novel (1958; Peepal Tree Press, 2009)
  • The Last Barbarian - novel (Secker & Warburg, 1960)[15]
  • Moscow Is Not My Mecca (1964); Green Winter (Stein & Day, 1965)
  • Cry Black Power (1970)
  • The Third Gift - for children (Little Brown & Co, 1974)
  • The Children of the Sun (1980)
  • Fulcrums of Change (Africa World Press, 1988)
  • Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England and the Caribbean (Lawrence Hill Books, 1994)
  • Rape of Paradise (Seaburn, 2006)
  • The Guyanese Wanderer (Sarabande Books, 2007)

Further reading[edit]

  • Carew, Joy Gleason and Hazel Waters (ed.), The Gentle Revolutionary: Essays in Honour of Jan Carew, Race & Class, vol. 43, n° 3, 2001.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Renowned Guyanese novelist, Jan Carew, dead at 92", Kaieteur News, 8 December 2012.
  2. ^ a b Obituary: Jan R. Carew, The Courier-Journal, 9 December 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d Carew, Joy Gleason and Hazel Waters (ed.), The Gentle Revolutionary: Essays in Honour of Jan Carew, Race & Class, vol. 43, n° 3, 2001, p. 81.
  4. ^ Birbalsingh, Frank, Jan Carew Interview, Journal of Caribbean Studies, 1988.
  5. ^ Carew, Jan, The Caribbean Writer and Exile, p. 2.
  6. ^ Carew, Jan, The Caribbean Writer and Exile, p. 1.
  7. ^ a b Author page at Peepal Tree Press.
  8. ^ Margaret Busby, "Jan Carew obituary", The Guardian, 21 December 2012.
  9. ^ "Negro Named Assistant Editor of London Weekly", Jet, 21 July 1955, p. 29: "In London, 33-year-old British Guiana-born Jan Carew was hired as assistant editor on the Kensington Post, a London weekly. The first and only Negro on the staff of an English newspaper, Carew, who attends royal functions in Kensington, borough of the British elite, holds a degree in political economy. During his spare time, he lectures on race relations at London University and reads poetry and short stories on BBC."
  10. ^ Denis Scott Chabrol, "Guyanese literary icon Jan Carew dies", Demerara Waves, 7 December 2012.
  11. ^ a b c "Renown Guyanese author Jan Carew dies", Guyana Chronicle Online, 8 December 2012.
  12. ^ a b c d Eusi Kwayana, "Jan Carew - Mission Within the Mission", ChickenBones: A Journal.
  13. ^ Lisa St Aubin de Terán, Memory Maps, 2002.
  14. ^ Drama '61: The Big Pride (28 May 1961), IMDb.
  15. ^ "Carew says: 'It’s a New York saga with much heat in it.'" Guiana Graphic: July 4, 1960. Reprinted in Guyana Chronicle Online.

External links[edit]