Interview with George Lamming
Goddard, Horace L., Kola
George Lamming was born in Barbados, the West Indies, in 1927. He was educated at Combermere, secondary school, under the tutelage of a great English master, Frank Collymore. Upon his graduation from high school, Lamming immigrated to Trinidad where he taught school. He later went to England where he spent a considerable part of his adult life.
Lamming has written six novels and one book of essays: In the Castle of my Skin (1953), The Emigrants (1954), Of Age and Innocence (1958), Season of Adventure (1960), The Pleasures of Exile (essays, 1960), Water with Berries (1971) and Natives of my Person (1972).
Prior to taping this interview, I spoke with Mr. Lamming about his current plans. He informed me that he lives in Barbados for six months of the year and spends the other six months lecturing in the United States of America and regionally in the Caribbean. He told me that he is presently working on some essays and fiction, a long work.
I discussed the creative activities in the region and he indicated that poetry writing is very strong, especially in St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Jamaica. He noted that most of the good poetry and a lot of the literary criticism are being done by women.
On the question of readership, he lamented that because of its small size and the fact that few publishing houses exist, works of literature are still very much dependent on foreign publication and distribution.
Goddard: I am speaking to George Lamming, one of the foremost and most outstanding writers from the Caribbean. Mr. Lamming, welcome to Montreal.
I was very impressed with your presentation to the Garvey Institute. In reading your novels, you have dwelled a lot on the advocacy of historical determinism for people. Do you find that this is being accomplished in the Caribbean?
Lamming: I think that it is literature you're thinking about, first of all. History as a force has been very, very strong in the Caribbean imagination. This is true of the prose writers as well as of the poets. I think that it has something to do with the nearness of events; that we are still very near some of the most critical events. We are still living, in many ways, the legacy of some of the most critical moments in Caribbean history, and I think that has something to do with it.
It's there in a sense, too, in the African. I think you will find that in all of the, am, am, literatures, what I would call alternative voices. That is, the voices that are making a statement that does not belong to the central, main European tradition tend to be shaped by that kind of strong sense of history.
Latin American writers are involved in a very concrete movement that you might call politics. Ah, whether it is Marques or Carpentier, that we don't deal very much in the exploration of an individual consciousness. It takes second place to the movement of a society as a totality.
This is to be found in Achebe. This is to be found in Marques, that you get a sense of Marques writing of all Columbia and all Latin America, not just about that particular general or that particular family. It is very strong in Carpentier in The Lost Steps and The Kingdom of the World.
I think it has something to do with historical predicament. Something that I've mentioned today, that the consciousness attains that sense of having been defined by others, and breaking that, breaking that historical relation to the other. This has also affected the shape of the narrative. Then, the narrative does not fit too easily into what would have been, ah, the conventional forms of the narrative in Europe or areas of North America. I think that, sometimes I think that it is possible also to see the continuing influence of, what I would call, plantation society. That there is a sense in which Marques is writing out of a sense of a kind of plantation society of Columbia.
And, I was going to say that you don't see in North America. …