When I review these relationships they seem so odd. I have always been here on this side and the other person there on that side, and we have both tried to make the sides appear similar in the needs, desires, and ambitions. But it wasn’t true. It was never true. When I reach Trinidad where no one knows me I may be able to strike identity with the other person. But it was never possible here. I am always feeling terrified of being known; not because they really know you, but simply because their claim to knowledge is a concealed attempt to destroy you. That is what knowing means. As soon as they know you they will kill you, and thank God that’s why they can’t kill you. They can never know you. Sometimes I think the same thing will be true in Trinidad. The likenesses will meet and make merry, but they won’t know you. They won’t know the you that’s hidden somewhere in the castle of your skin.
– In the Castle of My Skin
George Lamming was born on June 8, 1927, in Barbados where he attended Combermere High School. He left for Trinidad in 1946, teaching school until 1950. He then emigrated to England where, for a short time, he worked in a factory. In 1951, he became a broadcaster for the BBC Colonial Service. He entered academia in 1967 as a writer-in-residence and lecturer in the Creative Arts Centre and Department of Education at the University of the West Indies. Since then, he has been a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Pennsylvania, and a lecturer in Denmark, Tanzania, and Australia. He was also a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Duke University, and is currently at Brown University.
Lamming’s first novel, In the Castle of My Skin, was published in 1953. Sandra Pouchet Paquet describes it as an “autobiographical novel of childhood and adolescence written against the anonymity and alienation from self and community the author experienced in London at the age of twenty-three.” His next novel, The Emigrants, deals with a group of West Indian expatriates who, like Lamming, reside in England. His more recent works depart from this semi-autobiographical format. Of Age and Innocence and Season of Adventure take place on Lamming’s fictional Caribbean island of San Cristobal and, according to Jan Carew, represent an attempt “to rediscover a history of himself by himself.” His next novel, Water with Berries, describes various flaws in West Indian society through the plot of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Natives of My Person, his final novel, is an account of the voyage of a slave-trading ship on its route from Europe to Africa and then to the North American colonies. (See Postcolonial Novel)
A highly political author, Lamming is credited, along with Vic Reid, Wilson Harris, V.S. Naipaul, Everton Weekes, Derek Walcott, Garfield Sobers, Mighty Sparrow, and others, with making the emergence of a Caribbean identity possible. Lamming sees the lack of cultural identity in this region as a direct result of the history of colonial rule. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, while reviewing Of Age and Innocence, concurs that, “The West Indian’s alienation springs . . . from his colonial relationship to England.” Lamming, who opposes colonialism as well as neo-colonialism, recognizes that language is a means of colonization and encourages resistance to cultural imperialism: “People are becoming aware that the overwhelming dominance of North American mass culture will destroy the society if there is not what one would call a force of cultural resistance to that.”
Works by George Lamming
- Lamming, George. “Birds of a Feather.” Stories from the Caribbean. ed. Andrew Salkey. London: Elek, 1965; as Island Voices, New York: Liveright, 1970.
- —. “Birthday Weather,” in Caribbean Literature, ed. G. R. Coulthard. London: University of London Press, 1966.
- —.Coming, Coming Home: Conversations II – Western Education and the Caribbean Intellectual. Philipsburg, St. Martin: House of Nehesi, 1995, 2000.
- —. “David’s Walk,” Life and Letters (London), November, 1948.
- —. The Emigrants. London: Michael Joseph, 1954. McGraw, 1955; reprinted, London: Allison& Busby, 1980.
- —. In the Castle of My Skin. Introduction by Richard Wright. McGraw, 1953; reprinted with a new introduction by the author, New York: Schoken, 1983.
- —. Natives of My Person. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.
- —. Of Age and Innocence. London: M. Joseph, 1958; reprinted, London: Allison & Busby, 1981.
- —.”Of Thorns and Thistles” and “A Wedding in Spring,” in West Indian Stories, ed. Andrew Salkey. London: Faber, 1960.
- —. The Pleasures of Exile. London: M. Joseph, 1960; reprinted, London: Allison & Busby, 1984.
- —. Season of Adventure. London: M. Joseph, 1960; reprinted, London: Allison & Busby, 1979.
- —. Sovereignty of the Imagination: Conversations III – Language and the Politics of Ethnicity. Philipsburg, St. Martin: House of Nehesi Publishers, 2009.
- —. Water with Berries. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.
Works to Consult
- Birbalsingh. Frontiers of Caribbean literature in English. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1996.
- Cumber Dance, Daryl. New World Adams: Conversations with Contemporary West Indian Writers. Leeds: Peepal Tree, 2008.
- Dalleo, Raphael. “Authority and the Occasion for Speaking in the Caribbean Literary Field: George Lamming and Martin Carter.” Small Axe 20 (June 2006): 19-39.
- Dalleo, Raphael. Caribbean Literature and the Public Sphere: From the Plantation to the Postcolonial. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.
- Forbes, Curdella. From Nation to Diaspora: Samuel Selvon, George Lamming And the Cultural Performance of Gender. Kingston: University of West Indies Press, 2005.
- Griffith, Glyne A. Caribbean Cultural Identities. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001.
- McGarrity, Maria. Washed by the Gulf Stream: The Historic and Geographic Relation of Irish and Caribbean Literature. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008.
- Nair, Supriya. Caliban’s Curse: George Lamming and the Revisioning of History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.
- Pouchet Paquet, Sandra. The Novels of George Lamming. London: Heinemann, 1983.
- Saunders, Patricia. “The Pleasures/Privileges of Exile: Re/covering Race and Sexuality.” The Pleasures of Exile and Water With Berries. Alien-Nation and Repatriation: Translating Identity in Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007.
- Schwarz, Bill. The locations of George Lamming. Oxford : Macmillan Caribbean, 2007.
- Joseph, Margaret Paul. Caliban in Exile: The Outsider in Caribbean Fiction. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.
Author: James Hare, Fall 1996
Last Updated: May 2017