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, who lived at various times in The Netherlands, Mexico, England, France, Spain, Ghana, Jamaica, Canada and the United States. 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 (both published in 1958 by Secker & Warburg in London), were significant landmarks of the West Indian literature then attempting to cope with its colonial past and assert its wish for autonomy. He worked with the late President Cheddi Jagan in the fight for Guianese independence.[2] Carew also played an important part in the Black movement gaining strength in England and North America, publishing reviews and newspapers, producing programmes 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.


Childhood in British Guiana[edit]

Jan Rynveld Carew was born on 24 September 1920 at Agricola, a coastal village also called Rome, in British Guiana (present-day Guyana), the South American colony of the British Empire that would become Guyana. He was the middle child and only son of Ethel Robertson and Alan Carew.[3] 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.[4] Carew's father lived on several occasions in the United States and Canada, working for a while with the Canadian Pacific Railway, and thus crossing the American continent from Halifax to Vancouver. His memories would fuel the imagination of the young Carew.[5] 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.[4] He passed his Senior Cambridge Examination in 1938.

In 1939, he became a part-time teacher at Berbice High School for Girls,[4] 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.[4] 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."[6] 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."[7]

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 (1944–48), the predecessor of Case Western Reserve University. He also went to Charles University in Prague (1948–50) and the Sorbonne in Paris.[8]

Exile and later years[edit]

In what he described as his "endless journeyings",[9] 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[10] and edited the Kensington Post.[11] He also worked as a broadcaster and writer with the BBC and lectured in race relations at London University.[12] He was the first editor of the black-oriented publication Magnet News, launched in London in February 1965.[10]

He always maintained his Caribbean links, and in 1962 served as director of culture in British Guiana under the Jagan administration.[10] According to York University Professor Emeritus Dr. Frank Birbalsingh, "'He was a strong supporter of the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan and the People's Progressive Party. He was quite fearless when it came to politics.'"[13]

Between 1962 and 1966 Carew lived in Jamaica with his then wife Sylvia Wynter, and then moved to Canada for some years before settling in the USA.[9]

He taught at Princeton, Rutgers, Illinois Wesleyan, Hampshire College, Northwestern and Lincoln Universities. He was Emeritus Professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University.[14]

Jan Carew died at his home in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, at the age of 92,[14] survived by his widow Dr Joy Gleason,[15] his daughters Lisa St Aubin de Terán[16] and Shantoba Eliza Carew, and his son, David Christopher Carew.[3][14]

His memoir Potaro Dreams: My Youth in Guyana was posthumously published in 2014. Envisaged as a first volume, covering the period from birth in 1920 to 1939 when Carew was drawn into the Second World War, the book was described by the author as "the prism" through which he would approach life.[17]

Literary works[edit]

Carew wrote novels, short stories, plays, memoirs and other non-fiction, as well as children's stories and books,[18] but 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 (1988), Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England and the Caribbean (1994), 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).[19]

The scholar[edit]

Academic career[edit]

His essays include "The Caribbean writer in exile", "Columbus and the origin of racism in the Americas: part one" (Race & Class, April 1988, 29: 1–19), "The fusion of African and Amerindian folk myths" (Bim 16. 64, 1978: 241–57), "United We Stand! Joint Struggles of Native Americans and African Americans in the Columbian Era" (Monthly Review, Vol. 44, No. 3: July–August 1992), "Culture and Rebellion" (Race & Class: Special issue – Black America: the street and the campus, Vol. 35, No. 1, July – September 1993), "Jonestown revisited" (Eusi Kwayana, A New Look At Jonestown: Dimensions from a Guyanese Perspective, Carib House, 2016),[20] "The Ivory trade: The cruelest trade of all, white gold", "The Synergen project", "The Amaranth project", "Estevanico: The African Explorer" (Journal of African Civilizations, 3 (1) April 1981, pp. 86–99) and "Moorish Culture-Bringers: Bearers of Englightenment" (in Ivan Van Sertima, ed., Golden Age of the Moor, New Brunswick: Transaction Press, 1992: 248–77).


The black movement and the problem of culture[edit]

Carew was a pioneer in the field of Pan-African Studies.[15] 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."[15]

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."[15]


The many awards that Carew received include a London Daily Mirror Award for Best Play in 1964, the Casa de las Américas Prize for poetry,[13] the Walter Rodney Memorial Award from the Association of Caribbean Studies, in 1985; the London Hansib Publication Award, 1990; the Paul Robeson Award for "living a life of art and politics", 1998; the Clark-Atlanta University Nkyinkyim Award in 2002; and in 2003 the Caribbean-Canadian Lifetime Creative Award from the Caribbean Canadian Literary Exposition, 2003.[8][21]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Streets of Eternity – poetry (1952)
  • Black Midas - novel, in US A Touch of Midas (London: Secker & Warburg, 1958; Peepal Tree Press, 2009)
  • The Wild Coast - novel (London: Secker & Warburg, 1958; Peepal Tree Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1845231101)
  • The Last Barbarian - novel (Secker & Warburg, 1960)[22]
  • Moscow Is Not My Mecca (1964); Green Winter (Stein & Day, 1965)
  • Cry Black Power (1970)
  • Sons of the Flying Wing – for children (1970)
  • The Third Gift - for children (Little Brown & Co., 1974, ISBN 978-0316128476)
  • Twins of Dlora – for children (1975)
  • Sea Drums in My Blood – poetry (1980)
  • Children of the Sun – for children, illus. Leo and Diane Dillon (Little Brown & Co., 1980)
  • Computer Killer – for children (Nelson Thornes, 1985)
  • Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again (1985)
  • 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: Columbus and the Birth of Racism in the Americas (Brooklyn, N.Y.: A & B Publishers, 1994; Seaburn Publishing, 2006, ISBN 978-1592320936)
  • The Sisters and Manco's Stories (Oxford: Macmillan Caribbean Writers, 2002)
  • The Guyanese Wanderer: Stories (Sarabande Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1932511505)
  • Potaro Dreams: My Youth in Guyana (Hansib Publications, 2014, ISBN 978-1906190644)
  • Episodes in My Life: The Autobiography of Jan Carew — edited by Joy Gleason Carew (Peepal Tree Books, 2015, 978-1845232450)

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, January 2002.


  1. ^ "Renowned Guyanese novelist, Jan Carew, dead at 92", Kaieteur News, 8 December 2012.
  2. ^ "Guyanese writer Jan Carew dies", The Daily Herald, 9 December 2012.
  3. ^ a b Obituary: Jan R. Carew, The Courier-Journal, 9 December 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d Carew, Joy Gleason, and Hazel Waters (eds), The Gentle Revolutionary: Essays in Honour of Jan Carew. Race & Class, vol. 43, n° 3, 2001, p. 81.
  5. ^ Birbalsingh, Frank, "Jan Carew Interview", Journal of Caribbean Studies, 1988.
  6. ^ Carew, Jan, The Caribbean Writer and Exile, p. 2.
  7. ^ Carew, Jan, The Caribbean Writer and Exile, p. 1.
  8. ^ a b Hilary Hurd Anyaso, "Jan Carew, Leader in Black Studies, Dies at 92", Northwestern University, 10 January 2013.
  9. ^ a b Author page at Peepal Tree Press. Archived 16 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b c Margaret Busby, "Jan Carew obituary", The Guardian, 21 December 2012.
  11. ^ "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."
  12. ^ Denis Scott Chabrol, "Guyanese literary icon Jan Carew dies" Archived 10 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Demerara Waves, 7 December 2012.
  13. ^ a b "Jan Carew ‘had a remarkable facility for narrating stories’" Archived 2015-01-10 at the Wayback Machine, Share, 12 December 2012.
  14. ^ a b c "Renown Guyanese author Jan Carew dies", Guyana Chronicle Online, 8 December 2012.
  15. ^ a b c d Eusi Kwayana, "Jan Carew - Mission Within the Mission", ChickenBones: A Journal.
  16. ^ Lisa St Aubin de Terán, Memory Maps, 2002.
  17. ^ "Preserving Our Literary Heritage: ‘Potaro Dreams, My Youth in Guyana’ by Jan Carew", Guyana Chronicle Online, 27 June 2014.
  18. ^ Cynthia James (2009), "The Amerindian Presence in a Selection of Children's Literature from Jamaica, Dominica, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago in the Anglophone Caribbean 1". KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology.
  19. ^ Drama '61: The Big Pride (28 May 1961), IMDb.
  20. ^ Jan Carew, "Jonestown Revisited". Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple.
  21. ^ Lauren Caruba, "Northwestern African American studies professor, noted novelist dies at 92", The Daily Northwestern, 10 January 2013.
  22. ^ "Carew says: 'It’s a New York saga with much heat in it'". Guiana Graphic, 4 July 1960. Reprinted in Guyana Chronicle Online.

External links[edit]