David Dabydeen

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David Dabydeen (born 9 December 1955) is a Guyanese-born critic, writer, novelist and academic. Since 2010 he has been Guyana's ambassador to China.

Early life and education[edit]

Dabydeen was born in Berbice, Guyana,[1] his birth registered at New Amsterdam Registrar of Births as David Horace Clarence Harilal Sookram. His parents divorced while he was young and he grew up with his mother, Veronica Dabydeen, and his maternal grandparents.[2] At the age of 10 he won a scholarship to Queen's College in Georgetown.[3] When he was 13 years old, he moved to London, England, to rejoin his father, attorney David Harilal Sookram, who had migrated to Britain.[2]

At the age of 18 he took up a place at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, to read English, and he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with honours. He then gained a PhD in 18th-century literature and art at University College London in 1982, and was awarded a research fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford.[2]


Between 1982 and 1984 Dabydeen worked as a community education officer in Wolverhampton. He subsequently went to the Centre for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick in Coventry, where he progressed over the years from lecturer to director. He was president of the Association for the Teaching of Caribbean, African, and Asian Literature between 1985 and 1987.[4]

In 1993 he was made Guyana's ambassador at UNESCO and is a member of their Executive Board.[5]

In 2010 Dabydeen was appointed as Guyana's Ambassador to China.[6]

He is currently a Professor at the Centre for British Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Warwick.[7]


Dabydeen is the author of novels, collections of poetry and works of non-fiction and criticism, as editor as well as writer. His first book, Slave Song (1984), a collection of poetry, won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and the Quiller-Couch Prize. A further collection, Turner: New and Selected Poems, was published in 1994, and reissued in 2002; the title-poem, Turner is an extended sequence or verse novel responding to a painting by J. M. W. Turner, "Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon coming on" (1840).[8]

His first novel, The Intended (1991), the story of a young Asian student abandoned in London by his father, won the Guyana Prize for Literature. Disappearance (1993) tells the story of a young Guyanese engineer working on the south coast of England who lodges with an elderly woman. The Counting House (1996) is set at the end of the 19th century and narrates the experiences of an Indian couple whose hopes of a new life in colonial Guyana end in tragedy. The story explores historical tensions between indentured Indian workers and Guyanese of African descent. His 1999 novel, A Harlot's Progress, is based on a series of pictures painted in 1732 by William Hogarth (who was the subject of Dabydeen's PhD)[5] and develops the story of Hogarth's black slave boy. Through the character of Mungo, Dabydeen challenges traditional cultural representations of the slave. His novel Our Lady of Demerara was published in 2004 and also won the Guyana Prize.[9]

In 2000 Dabydeen was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.[10] He is the second West Indian writer (V. S. Naipaul was the first) and the only Guyanese writer to be awarded the title.

In 2001 Dabydeen wrote and presented The Forgotten Colony, a BBC Radio 4 programme exploring the history of Guyana. His one-hour documentary Painting the People was broadcast by BBC television in 2004.

The Oxford Companion to Black British History, co-edited by Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones, appeared in 2007.

In 2007, Dabydeen was awarded the Hind Rattan (Jewel of India) Award for his outstanding contribution to literature and the intellectual life of the Indian diaspora.[1]


  • Slave Song (poetry), Dangaroo, 1984; Peepal Tree Press, 2005
  • Caribbean Literature: A Teacher's Handbook, Heinemann Educational Books, 1985
  • The Black Presence in English Literature (editor), Manchester University Press, 1985
  • A Reader's Guide to West Indian and Black British Literature (with Nana Wilson-Tagoe), Hansib/University of Warwick Centre for Caribbean Studies, 1987
  • Hogarth's Blacks: Images of Blacks in 18th-Century English Art (art history), Manchester University Press, 1987
  • Hogarth, Walpole and Commercial Britain (art history), Hansib, 1987
  • India in the Caribbean (editor with Brinsley Samaroo), Hansib, 1987
  • Coolie Odyssey (poetry), Hansib, 1988
  • Handbook for Teaching Caribbean Literature, Heinemann, 1988
  • Black Writers in Britain 1760–1890 (editor with Paul Edwards), Edinburgh University Press, 1991
  • The Intended (novel), Secker & Warburg, 1991; Peepal Tree Press, 2005
  • Disappearance (novel), Secker & Warburg, 1993; Peepal Tree Press, 2005
  • Turner: New and Selected Poems (poetry), Jonathan Cape, 1994; Peepal Tree Press, 2002
  • Across the Dark Waters: Ethnicity and Indian Identity in the Caribbean, Macmillan, 1996
  • The Counting House (novel), 1996; Peepal Tree Press, 2005
  • A Harlot's Progress (novel), Jonathan Cape, 1999
  • No Island is an Island: Selected Speeches of Sir Shridath Ramphal (editor with John Gilmore, Warwick University Caribbean Studies), Macmillan, 2000
  • Turner: New and Selected Poems (poetry), Jonathan Cape, 1994; Peepal Tree Press, 2002
  • Our Lady of Demerera (novel), Dido Press, 2004
  • The Oxford Companion to Black British History (co-editor, with John Gilmore and Cecily Jones), Oxford University Press, 2007
  • Selected Poems of Egbert Martin (editor), Heaventree Press, 2007
  • Broadcast 2: Picture Thinking and Other Stories (co-editor with Jane Commane), Heaventree Press, 2007
  • Molly and the Muslim Stick, Macmillan Caribbean Writers, 2008
  • The First Crossing: Being the Diary of Theophilus Richmond, Ship's Surgeon Aboard The Hesperus, 1837-8 (co-editor), Heaventree Press, 2008

Prizes and awards[edit]

  • 1984 Commonwealth Poetry Prize – Slave Song
  • 1984 Quiller-Couch Prize (Cambridge) – Slave Song
  • 1991 Guyana Prize for Literature – The Intended
  • 1999 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction), shortlist – A Harlot's Progress
  • 2004 Raja Rao Award for Literature (India)
  • 2007 Hind Rattan (Jewel of India) Award

Further reading[edit]

  • Kevin Grant (ed.), The Art of David Dabydeen, Peepal Tree Press, 1997
  • Tobias Döring, "Turning the Colonial Gaze: Re-Visions of Terror in Dabydeen's Turner", in Third Text 38, 3–14.


External links[edit]