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    Tribute to Guyanese-born Author, Sir Wilson Harris

     

     

    The Government and people of Guyana have learnt with sadness of the passing of Sir Theodore Wilson Harris, the Philosopher, Poet, Novelist, and Essayist.

    The Government and people of Guyana, therefore, wish to tender condolences to his children and other members of his immediate family.

    Mr Harris was one of the many Guyanese artists who were trailblazers in the creation of West Indian and Global Literature and who in the process brought recognition and renown not only to themselves but also to the country of their birth. So, although the nation is saddened by the passing of one of its illustrious sons, it finds solace in the fact that he left a body of work which will always be a monument to his existence. Wilson Harris was widely known and respected for his humanitarian vision of the future of mankind, his sense of justice and his dream for a world in which there is a cross-fertilization of cultures.

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    It would be meet and right to pass in review the major milestones of his life. Wilson Harris was born in New Amsterdam of African, European and Amerindian ancestry when Guyana was still a colony. He was at Queens College for five years from 1934 and then proceeded to study surveying – an area in which he qualified in 1945. His personal growth coincided with the stirrings of the West Indian and Guyanese Communities as they searched for a literary identity. Not surprisingly, Harris was a regular contributor to Kyk-over-Al –  the only magazine in Guyana dedicated to ensuring an avenue for expression by writers, poets and artists and which was edited by the Guyanese poet and intellectual, Arthur Seymour. From his pen flowed poems, short stories and essays. At the same time, he engaged in far-reaching discussions with the likes of Martin Carter, Keith Carter, Eusi Kwayana, Ivan Van Sertima and Sydney Singh, to whom he was very close, and with whom he exchanged correspondence quite late in his life. Based on a belief in the clarifying power of conversation,  they discussed everything under the sun, including the role of the Artist in a colonial society and the future of the then British Guiana. Even at this point in his life, Wilson Harris was concerned about the lack of racial unity in his country.

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    Wilson Harris, despite producing books of poetry, recognized that there were limits to the work of the Artist in Colonial society. Like so many other West Indian writers and artists, such as Edgar Mittleholzer and CLR James, Harris sought refuge in Britain to escape the narrowing confines of colonial society. Harris emigrated to Britain in 1959. Exile can be difficult, but it can also be a source of creativity. He was to publish some 23 novels, beginning with the Palace of the Peacock in 1960 and ending with The Ghost of Memory in 2006.

    Various points of view have been expressed about the quality of Wilson Harris as a writer and novelist. But what cannot be denied is the unique conception he brought to the art of writing the novel and the singular landscape he created based on his experience in the wide expanse of Guyana’s interior. It is said that it was this experience that was to influence his development as an artist and imbued his imagination with the myths and mystery of existence which found their way into his novels as clear as daylight.

    Andrew Lindsay, in a book entitled Beacons of Excellence, describes the impact of the Guyana interior on the work of Wilson Harris in these terms:

    “His experience of life in Guyana’s interior; the nature of its ever-changing landscapes and their relationship to the human psyche led him to reject realism, and his work is characterized by allegory, dense metaphor and non-linear narrative structure, together with a fusion of past and present, and the creation of a world of many dimensions in which the power of the imagination becomes an interactive influence in the author’s portrayal of a “reality” where existence and non-existence often coexist.”

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    But in the midst of a busy literary career, Wilson Harris still found the time to return to Guyana to deliver the Mittelholzer Lectures in 1970. The lectures were revealing, informative and represented a window into Harris’ thinking about myth and culture in the fractured societies in the Caribbean and Latin America. Later he won the Guyana Prize.

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    Harris was not only known for his novel writing but also for his many critical works such as The Writer and Society and Explorations, among others; and he delivered lectures in many parts of the world.  He was also richly rewarded for his literary output and as a man of intellectual stature. Universities rewarded him, including the University of the West Indies. And in 2010 he was knighted by the Queen.

    Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Guyana

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