Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 7th 2014 Contents B3
Lydians celebrate multiple
cultures in Christmas show
"Man of letters," "outstanding
public figure," "ubiquitous
Caribbean colossus": these were a
handful of the laurels used by Pro-
fessor Emeritus of English (UWI,
St Augustine) Kenneth Ramchand,
to describe Trinidadian-Guyanese
writer Ian McDonald.
Ramchand offered these remarks
as part of his introductory presen-
tation for "West Indian by convic-
tion: Readings and conversation by
Ian McDonald," jointly hosted by the
Friends of Mr Biswas and Nalis, held
at the National Library s AV Room
on November 28.
The Friends of Mr Biswas is an
NGO dedicated to the preservation
and development of the Naipaul
House Literary Museum on Nepaul
Street, St James.
The organisation charges itself
with the establishment of the Nepaul
Street house as a functional literary
Also among their objectives is the
preservation of local literary history,
and the active, ongoing support of
T&T and West Indian literature.
Ramchand functions as the
group s chairman.
Citing McDonald s multiple areas
of expertise in writing and cultural
commentary, which include fiction,
poetry, essays and sport literature,
Ramchand glowingly described
McDonald as a "fusion man," one
whose numerous, crisscrossing
streams of work have produced
"wonderful fruit." Ramchand
emphasised that the roots of
McDonald s creative development
in Trinidad, the land of his birth,
could not be underestimated.
"It was at QRC that the reading
and writing of poetry took hold of
him," Ramchand said, painting a
portrait of McDonald s life in liter-
ature and language.
Here, Ramchand concluded, began
the author s "fascination in the
unspoken depths of the ordinary
people of his island." McDonald
began his own presentation by firmly
avowing the strength of his connec-
tion to this island.
"I have never, ever forgotten or
lost touch with Trinidad.
It has been extraordinarily kind
to me," he said, referencing his hon-
orary Doctorate of Letters from UWI,
St Augustine, conferred in 1997.
In November 2014, McDonald
contributed his literary archives to
the permanent collection of the Alma
Jordan Library at UWI, St Augus-
"I only briefly touched Vidya s
life, and he would certainly not
remember me," McDonald said,
describing the tenuous connection
between himself and VS Naipaul.
McDonald reminisced on episodes
of Naipaul s "cutting criticisms and
brilliant insights," made when the
latter was a Form Six student at
Queen s Royal College, and the for-
mer was one year beneath him.
Later on, McDonald said,
Naipaul s books would become a
fundamental part of his reading life.
He ended his thoughts on Naipaul
by calling A House for Mr Biswas
one of the greatest English-language
novels written in the 20th century.
On the subject of his own work,
McDonald discussed the writing for
which he is best known, the 1969
novel, The Humming-Bird Tree.
Since its publication by Heine-
mann, the book has never been out
of print, and has been used as a
CSEC English Literature syllabus
option for several years: McDonald
jokingly referred to it as the "bane
of many an English student." Brief
clips from the 1992 BBC-produced
film version of The Humming-Bird
Tree were shown at the event.
Despite the overwhelming success
attributed to his novel, McDonald
said that he predominantly consid-
ered himself a poet.
Between 1988 and 2009 he pub-
lished four books of his poems and
a selected collection of his poetry,
edited by Edward Baugh.
"Poetry has been my greatest
love," he told the Nalis audience,
adding that his deepest creative urge
has always been to produce poems.
Tracing the development of his
"poetry gene" from a many times-
over great grandfather, Edward
Dacres Baynes, to his great-uncle
and grandmother, McDonald decided
that he, as well, had "inherited the
gene." He described his weekly
columns for Guyana s Stabroek
News, since its inception in 1986,
as some of his most important and
These essays of some 30-odd
years, he reflected, represented a
cumulative effort that was "no less
a child of my intellect, if not as much
of my imagination." In his final
analysis, McDonald expressed the
divide that often accompanies a cre-
ative life, saying that between "the
full life, or the gift pursued to a per-
fection: you probably can t have
both." Ian McDonald was officially
inducted as a Distinguished Friend
of Mr Biswas, by Dr Rodger Samuel,
Minister of National Diversity and
This made him the second Dis-
tinguished Friend to be thusly recog-
nised by the society, the first being
Brigham Young University s Aaron
honoured by Friends of Biswas
To become a member of the
Friends of Mr Biswas, visit
their Facebook Page or their
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