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Andrew Salkey
Born
Felix Andrew Alexander Salkey

(1928-01-30)30 January 1928
Died 28 April 1995(1995-04-28) (aged 67)
Nationality Jamaican
Occupation Novelist, poet and journalist

Andrew Salkey (30 January 1928 – 28 April 1995) was a novelist, poet, children's books writer and journalist of Jamaican and Panamanian origin. He was born in Panama but raised in Jamaica, moving to Britain in the 1950s to pursue university education. A prolific writer and editor, he was the author of more than 30 books in the course of his career, including novels for adults and for children, poetry collections, anthologies, travelogues and essays. He died in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he had been teaching since the 1970s, holding a lifetime position as Writer-In-Residence at Hampshire College.

Career

He was born as Felix Andrew Alexander Salkey in Colón, Panama, to Jamaican parents, Andrew Alexander Salkey, a businessman, and Linda Marshall Salkey. When two years old, Salkey was sent to Jamaica, where he was raised by his grandmother and his mother, who worked there as a teacher, while his father continued to work in Panama.

Salkey was educated at St George's College, in Kingston, and at Munro College, in St. Elizabeth, before going to England in the early 1950s to attend the College of St Mark and St John. According to Stuart Hall, Salkey "quickly took his place at the centre of a small but outstanding circle of Caribbean writers and intellectuals. For a critical period he was the key figure, the main presenter and writer-in-residence in the Caribbean section of the BBC World Service at Bush House, London, and his programmes became a glittering showcase for a generation of writers, including Sam Selvon and George Lamming, who had made London their second home. Established and aspiring authors were chivvied, cajoled, gently chastised, inspired and schooled to produce new work for radio on the Caribbean Voices programme over which Andrew Salkey often presided." After reading V. S. Naipaul's first story Salkey encouraged him to continue writing.

At the BBC, he also helped write the production My People and Your People with D. G. Bridson, a radio play about a love affair between a West Indian migrant and a Scottish skiffle player.

Salkey was a part of the West Indian Students Union (WISU), which provided an effective forum for Caribbean students to express their ideas and provided voluntary support to the "harassed" working-class Caribbean immigrant community, during the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The association also included Gerry Burton, Arif Ali, Chris LeMaitre, John La Rose and Horace Lashley.

In the mid-1950s Salkey taught English at Walworth Secondary School (also known as Mina Road school), an early comprehensive just off the Old Kent Road in South-east London. His first novel, A Quality of Violence – set around 1900 and narrated in a Jamaican patois – was published in 1959, and his second, Escape to An Autumn Pavement, in 1960. That same year Salkey edited one of the first anthologies of Caribbean short stories, West Indian Stories, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in the field of folklore and popular culture. His novels that followed were The Late Emancipation of Jerry Stover(1968), The Adventures of Catullus Kelly (1969), and Come Home, Malcolm Heartland (1976). After its publication, Salkey concentrated on writing poetry and reworking tales of Caribbean folklore.

In 1966 he co-founded with John La Rose and Kamau Brathwaite the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM), as a platform for Caribbean artists, writers, actors and musicians. Salkey gave an address at CAM's third and final conference, held at the West Indian Students' Centre, in which he talked about the importance of "Black awareness", and stated: "Our own Caribbean communities must become the new centres of which we first seek approval of the fruits of our imagination. Only then may we move from within our society outward with assurance."

In the latter part of his life he was a professor of creative writing at Hampshire College in Amherst, where he went in 1976.

Salkey was good friends with Austin Clarke, and the two had a long correspondence, a great deal of which is available in Clarke's files at the McMaster University Archives in Hamilton, Ontario.

"I was headed nowhere like a hundred million others: I had escaped a malformed Jamaican middle class; I had attained my autumn pavement; I had done more than my fair share of hurting, rejecting, and condemning; and I had created another kind of failure, and this time, in another country." (From Escape To An Autumn Pavement)

Literary work

The settings of Andrew Salkey's novels show a constant back and forth between his country of origin and the countries he lived in. His first novel, A Quality of Violence (1959), is set in a remote area of Jamaica ; the second novel, Escape to An Autumn Pavement (1960), is set in London, and it is a novel of exile ; his 1968 novel, The Late Emancipation of Jerry Stover, is a return to Jamaica and a "damning indictment of the nihilism of middle class Caribbean life". Then, The Adventures of Catullus Kelly (1969), is again set in London, and his last major novel, Come Home, Malcolm Heartland (1976), "has as its theme the revolutionary activity and posturing of black secret agents and exiles in London".

As a Caribbean writer living in Britain, Salkey had this "insider-outsider" point of view, an expression often used when referring to the main character of his second novel, Escape to an Autumn Pavement. But he did not only write about the conflicting identity of Caribbean people living in Britain, he also evokes queer themes, such as homosexuality, again in Escape to an Autumn Pavement. "Salkey’s novel can itself be seen as a 'meeting point', a literary exploration of queer and migrant lives conducted in the intimate space of the British home."

"Salkey's Score"

Salkey was a director and constant supporter of the London-based publishing company Bogle-L'Ouverture founded by Guyanese-born Jessica Huntley, who (together with a committee comprising Louis James, John La Rose, Marc Matthews, Mervyn Morris, Jason Salkey, Anne Walmsley, Eliot Salkey and Ronald Warwick) organised a two-day symposium and celebration called "Salkey's Score". Held on 19–20 June 1992 at the Commonwealth Institute, the event paid tribute to Salkey in respect of his work in London in the 1960s and 1970s with the Caribbean Artists Movement; his journalism on the BBC radio programme Caribbean Voices; his contributions to developing the teaching of Caribbean writing in schools; the importance he gave to the relationship of Africa to personal and communal Caribbean identity; his work in Cuba; and his prolific output of novels, poetry and other writings.

Legacy

The Andrew Salkey Memorial Scholarship has been established at Hampshire College, as an "award for students who show exceptional writing promise".

On 29 March 2013, Paul Gilroy was meant to attend the Andrew Salkey Memorial Reading, at the Hampshire College Cultural Center, but could not due to adverse weather conditions.

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