Wilson Harris was born in 1921 in New Amsterdam, in what was then British Guiana, on 24 March, 1921, and died March 8, 2018. He is considered one of the most original writers of the twentieth century, for his fiction, essays, and poems that explore human history, metaphysics, and the natural world. According to the obituary in The London Guardian "his was an inimitable style, dense with metaphor, symbolism, and mythological reference". He received a Knighthood in June 2017 from the Queen for his services to literature.
The Genesis of a Magical Writer
After Harris' marriage to Cecily Carew in 1945 ended in divorce, he emigrated to England in 1959, met and married Scottish writer Margaret Burns who died in 2010. He became a full-time writer, involved in lecturing and teaching creative writing classes at various universities in the United States and other countries. The Ramson Center in Texas which houses the vast collection of works has this to say: “Harris’s personal experiences with the complex Guyanese landscape and multi-racial culture influenced his writing. His novels, known for their abstract and experimental nature, are full of metaphors and complex symbolism, with an intermingling of time, reality, imagination, memory, and dreams; they have been called “psychical expeditions”.
Culling from a series of articles on this renowned writer, it is important to note the extent to which his earlier profession as a land surveyor before leaving Guyana for England influenced his thinking and writing. His exploration of the dense forests, rivers and vast savannahs of the Guyanese hinterland for example, features prominently in the settings of his fiction. According to a recent article by Faber and Faber, the English publishers of many of his works, "Harris' novels are complex, alluding to diverse mythologies from different cultures, and eschew conventional narration in favour of shifting interwoven voices".
Establishing a Class by Himself
Among the wide range of his works is the novel, Palace of the Peacock (1960), the first of The Guyana Quartet, which includes The Far Journey of Oudin (1961), The Whole Armour (1962) and The Secret Ladder (1963). They formed the basis of a magnificent series of lectures he gave to overflowing audiences at the Sir Phillip Sherlock Cultural Center, UWI Mona in 1984. But many others followed: including, The Carnival Trilogy (Carnival (1985), The Infinite Rehearsal (1987) and The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990), Jonestown (1996), which tells of the mass-suicide of a thousand followers of cult leader Jim Jones, The Dark Jester (2001), a semi-autobiographical novel, The Mask of the Beggar (2003), and one of his most accessible novels (for me easier to read and amusing), The Ghost of Memory (2006). But there were many more of which the best resources on his life and work from across the web can be found on: https://www.bocaslitfest.com/wilson-harris-at-100/
Wilson Harris also wrote non-fiction and critical essays and has been awarded honorary doctorates by several universities, including the University of the West Indies (1984) and the University of Liège (2001). He has twice been winner of the Guyana Prize for Literature. Harris won the Guyana National Prize for Literature in 1987 and 2002. On his 95th birthday, a year before he died he gave an interview to the BBC, erudite and incisive which truly establishes his pedigree with the description, “writer as magician”.
Keeping his Pedigree Alive
Moray House Trust with support from the NGC Bocas Lit Fest will premiere “The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination”. It is an excerpt from a dramatic work in progress that compares two approaches to social change in the Caribbean: Wilson Harris’s dreamworld of the creative imagination and Walter Rodney’s more grounded approach on Saturday March 27, 2021 at 6.00 p.m. Guyana time. This excerpt explores the radical imagining championed by Wilson Harris. See video production at youtube.com/bocaslitfest, facebook.com/bocaslitfest, or here on our Wilson Harris at 100 webpage, They aptlyexplore "the groundbreaking, mind-expanding work of Harris through videos, texts, images, and sound recordings, including an excerpt from his novel, Heartland, courtesy Peepal Tree Press".
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.