Roy Heath

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Roy A. K. Heath
Born (1926-08-13)13 August 1926
Georgetown, British Guiana
Died 14 May 2008(2008-05-14) (aged 81)
London, England
Occupation Novelist
Nationality Guyanese
Alma mater University of London
Lincoln's Inn
Notable works The Murderer (1978);
"The Georgetown Trilogy": From the Heat of the Day (1979), One Generation (1980), Genetha (1981)
Notable awards Guardian Fiction Prize;
Guyana Prize for Literature
Children 2 sons, 1 daughter[1]

Roy Aubrey Kelvin Heath (13 August 1926 – 14 May 2008) was a Guyanese writer who settled in the UK, where he lived for five decades. He was most noted for his "Georgetown Trilogy" of novels (also published in an omnibus volume as The Armstrong Trilogy, 1994), consisting of From the Heat of the Day (1979), One Generation (1980), and Genetha (1981). Heath said that his writing was "intended to be a dramatic chronicle of twentieth-century Guyana". His work has been described as "marked by comprehensive social observation, penetrating psychological analysis, and vigorous, picaresque action."[2]


Roy Heath was born and grew up in Georgetown in what was then British Guiana,[3] and "had African, Indian, European and Amerindian blood running through his veins".[4] He was the second son and youngest of the four children of Melrose Arthur Heath (d. 1928), head teacher of a primary school, and his wife, Jessie de Weever (d. 1991), music teacher.[5] Educated at Central High School, Georgetown, he worked as a Treasury clerk (1944–51) before leaving for England in 1951.

He attended the University of London (1952–56), earning a B.A. Honours degree in Modern Languages. He also studied law and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1964 (and to the Guyana bar in 1973), although he never practised as a lawyer, pursuing a career since 1959 as a writer and a schoolteacher in London, where he lived until his death at the age of 81. In his later years he had suffered from Parkinson's disease.[1]

Rohan Heath, founder of the band Urban Cookie Collective, is his son.[6]


Although Heath left British Guiana in 1951, "it never left him. He only ever wrote about his mother's land, never his adopted home."[4] As Mark McWatt notes: "Guyana is always the setting for his fiction, and its capital and rural villages are evoked in the kind of powerful and minute detail that would seem to require the author's frequent visits."[7] However, "Although [Heath's] fiction has fed richly upon his obsessive and meticulous memories of Georgetown and the coastland, his novels cannot be called celebrations of the place and its people. They seem to reveal instead the failures and shameful inadequacies of individual and community."[8]

His short story "Miss Mabel's Burial" was published in 1972 in the Guyanese journal Kaie; another story, "The Wind and the Sun", appeared in the Jamaican journal Savacou two years later.[9]

His first novel, A Man Come Home, was published in London in 1974. This was followed four years later by The Murderer (1978), which won the Guardian Fiction Prize that same year and was described by the Observer as "mysteriously authentic, and unique as a work of art". The Murderer was also listed in 1999's The Modern Library: 200 Best Novels in English since 1950 by Carmen Callil and Colm Tóibín.

Heath's next three novels were From the Heat of the Day (1979), One Generation (1980) and Genetha (1981), eventually published in a single volume under the title The Armstrong Trilogy. His other published novels are Kwaku; or, The Man Who Could Not Keep His Mouth Shut (1982), Orealla (1984), The Shadow Bride (1988) and The Ministry of Hope (1997). His novels "capture the anxieties of modernity in the face of crippling economic forces and explore the burdens of the past defined by slavery, indentured labor, and Amerindian disenfranchisement."[3]

He also wrote non-fiction, including Shadows Round the Moon: Caribbean Memoirs (1990), and plays - his Inez Combray was produced in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1972, in which year he won the Guyana Theatre Guild Award.[3]

In 1983, during a vacation to Guyana,[7] Heath delivered the Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lecture, entitled "Art and Experience",[10] in Georgetown. In the lecture Heath stated: "The price the artist pays for his egotism is a high one. On one level egotism obliges him to create, while the same egotism threatens to destroy him. Success not only goes to his head, it remains there, creating demands he cannot hope to satisfy. I am acutely aware of all of this and therefore try to shun gratuitous publicity."[11]

In 1989 he was awarded the Guyana Prize for Literature for his novel The Shadow Bride,[10] which was also shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize,[12] and about which Publishers Weekly said: "Heath's modest, unpretentious style undergirds a powerful realism as his subtle analysis of family conflicts builds to a tragic and moving climax."[13]


Heath's writings have been widely acclaimed and he has been called "truly one of the most brilliant story tellers ever",[14] with reviewers at different times comparing his work to that of such great writers as D. H. Lawrence, R. K. Narayan, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, V. S. Naipaul and others.[1][15]

The Murderer[edit]

"What is impressive about The Murderer is the execution of a style that truncates emotion..." (Wilson Harris, World Literature Written in English)[16]

The Armstong Trilogy[edit]

"A spare, bleak saga of two generations in the life of a Guyanese family struggling for respectability but unable to snatch any but the most fleeting moments of happiness. ... Like the early D.H. Lawrence, Heath endows the familiar trials of this family with an elemental power, as if each were happening for the first time. The result is harrowing in its simplicity and cumulative force." (Kirkus Reviews)[17]


"Heath is a master of droll, understated comedy; his affectionate empathy with his characters is never for a moment compromised by condescension. He's a somewhat flintier R.K. Narayan, and there's more than whiff of Kipling in his avuncular fascination with scramblers and hustlers. A wonderful novel, which stands impressively both on its own and in tandem with its equally irresistible sequel. There's no longer any doubt that Heath is one of the world's best writers." (Kirkus Reviews)[18]

"Kwaku comes from a long line of literary buffoons who manage to triumph over the intelligent people around them. The language Mr. Heath employs to describe this process is luxurious and densely baroque in places, sweetly comic in others. The hero's clowning conceals an essential wisdom and goodness. In the end, he is unable to become as hardened and corrupt as the people he tries so desperately to emulate, and in this lies his greatest success." (Mark Childress, The New York Times)[19]


"...this novel perhaps owes as much to Wilson Harris as to Mittelholzer, contrasting as it does the communal, spiritual and moral values of traditional Amerindian life" (Stewart Brown, Kyk-over-Al)[20]

"Heath's novels are so imbued with local sights, sounds, smells, speech and unique features of the landscape that they offer rare and penetrating insight into the history and culture of twentieth century Guyana." (Frank Birbalsingh, Indo-Caribbean World)[21]

The Shadow Bride[edit]

"The Guyanese-born Heath (the superb Armstrong Trilogy, 1994, etc.) surpasses himself with this ambitious, vividly written, psychologically rich chronicle--set in his own colorfully multiracial native country--of compromised ambition and family conflict. ...And in the harrowing progression from mother's love through sexual enslavement to climactic violence and madness of Betta's larger-than-life mother, the author has achieved a masterly feat of characterization: This is a woman whom no reader will easily forget. Heath's brilliant novel--also distinguished for its flexible and lyrical prose, expert handling of its several native populations, varieties of pidgin English, and memorable use of figurative language--was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It's hard to believe it didn't win." (Kirkus Reviews)[22]

"Heath's modest, unpretentious style undergirds a powerful realism as his subtle analysis of family conflicts builds to a tragic and moving climax." (Publishers Weekly)[13]

The Ministry of Hope[edit]

"A wonderful comic novel.... A dramatic display of character in action that has seldom been matched by any contemporary novelist. On all counts, a triumph." (Kirkus Reviews)[23]

"With a fine ear for comic dialogue and an eye for the ironies of clashing personalities ... Heath ably steers his charming ship of fools and knaves through a sea of picaresque corruption to a generous-hearted conclusion." (Publishers Weekly)[24]

Shadows Round the Moon[edit]

"In his memoir-novel Shadows Round the Moon Heath offers reminiscences of colonial life and Caribbean culture. His reproductions of Guyanese dialect, as well as his descriptions of the Creole (black), Hindu, and Muslim communities are noteworthy." (Raymond Williams)[25]



  • A Man Come Home (London: Longman, 1974).
  • The Murderer (London: Allison & Busby, 1978; Guardian Fiction Prize).
  • From the Heat of the Day (London: Allison & Busby, 1979).
  • One Generation (London: Allison & Busby, 1980).
  • Genetha (London: Allison & Busby, 1981).
  • Kwaku; or, the Man Who Could Not Keep His Mouth Shut (London: Allison & Busby, 1982).
  • Orealla (London: Allison & Busby, 1984).
  • The Shadow Bride (London: Collins, 1988; New York: Persea Books, 1995).
  • The Armstrong Trilogy (New York: Persea, 1994).
  • The Ministry of Hope (London: Marion Boyars, 1997).


  • Shadows Round the Moon: Caribbean Memoirs (London: Collins, 1990).

Short stories


  • Art and Experience - Eighth series, Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures (Georgetown, Guyana, Department of Culture, Ministry of Education, Social Development and Culture, 1983; 31 pp).



  1. ^ a b c Margaret Busby, "Roy AK Heath" (obituary), The Guardian, 20 May 2008.
  2. ^ Roy Heath Biography, JRank.
  3. ^ a b c "Heath, Roy (1926-)", in Carole Boyce Davies, Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture, ABC-CLIO, 2008, p. 522.
  4. ^ a b "Roy A. K. Heath", The West Indian Encyclopedia.
  5. ^ Louis James, "Heath, Roy Aubrey Kelvin (1926–2008)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2012; accessed 2 March 2015.
  6. ^ "Urban Cookie Collective", The Audio DB.
  7. ^ a b Mark A. McWatt, "Roy A. K. Heath", in Daryl Cumber Dance, Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographic-Critical Sourcebook, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 207-16.
  8. ^ Mark McWatt, Routledge Encyclopaedia of Literatures in English, 1996.
  9. ^ David Katz, "Roy Heath: A Man Goes Home", Caribbean Beat, Issue 93, September/October 2008.
  10. ^ a b "UK-based novelist Roy Heath dies at 82", Kaieteur News obituary, 16 May 2008.
  11. ^ Art and Experience, p. 28, quoted in McWatt (1986), p. 208.
  12. ^ Linda Parent Lesher, "Heath, Roy (Guyana/UK)", The Best Novels of the Nineties: A Reader's Guide, McFarland, 2000, pp. 167–168.
  13. ^ a b "The Shadow Bride: A Novel by Roy Heath" (review), Publishers Weekly, 30 October 1995.
  14. ^ Arnon Adams, "Remembering Roy Heath", Stabroek News, 28 May 2008.
  15. ^ Al Creighton, "Roy Heath: 'A writer of prodigious talent'", Stabroek News, 22 June 2008.
  16. ^ Wilson Harris, "Roy Heath. The Murderer. London: Allison and Busby, 1978" (review), World Literature Written in English, Volume 17, 1978 - Issue 2, pp. 656-658.
  17. ^ "The Armstrong Trilogy", Kirkus Reviews, 1 March 1994.
  18. ^ "KWAKU or The Man Who Could Not Keep His Mouth Shut", Kirkus Reviews, 15 February 1997.
  19. ^ Mark Childress, "No Ordinary Idiot", The New York Times, 11 May 1997.
  20. ^ [[Stewart Brown, "Taster: Recent Guyanese Writing from the UK", Kyk-over-Al, No. 31, June 1985, p. 57.
  21. ^ Frank Birbalsingh, "'Orealla' a feat of historical reconstruction", Indo-Caribbean World, 1 August 2012.
  22. ^ "The Shadow Bride", Kirkus Reviews, 1 October 1995.
  23. ^ "The Ministry of Hope", Kirkus Reviews, 1 December 1996.
  24. ^ "The Ministry of Hope", Publishers Weekly, 3 July 2000.
  25. ^ Raymond Williams, "Heath, Roy", The Columbia Guide to the Latin American Novel Since 1945, Columbia University Press, 2012, p. 245.

Further reading[edit]

  • McWatt, M., "Wives and Other Victims in the Novels of Roy A. K. Heath", in Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literatures, Trenton. NJ: Africa World Press, 1990.
  • McWatt, Mark A., "Roy A. K. Heath", in Daryl Cumber Dance, Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographic-Critical Sourcebook, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 207–16.
  • McWatt, Mark, "Tragic Irony, the Hero as Victim: Three Novels of Roy A. K. Heath", in Erika Smilowits and Roberta Knowles (eds), Critical Issues in West Indian Literature, Parkersburg, Ia.: Caribbean Books, 1984, pp. 54–64.
  • Chiji Akọma, "Roy A. K. Heath and Guyanese Anxiety Lore" (Chapter Two), in Folklore in New World Black Fiction: Writing and the Oral Traditional Aesthetics, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007.
  • Saakana, Amon Saba, Colonization and the Destruction of the Mind: Psychosocial Issues of Race, Class, Religion and Sexuality in the Novels of Roy Heath, London: Karnak House, 1996.

External links[edit]