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Week 7 - The Anglophone Caribbean

This week features two authors from the anglophone Caribbean, Una Marson (Jamaica) and Merle Collins (Grenada).  These authors are from two different time periods; Marson wrote in colonial Jamaica, and her work coincides with the birth of Jamaican nationalism, in which her work plays an important role. Collins wrote forty years later, after the Federation of the West Indies collapsed and nominal independence in Grenada.  Her work is deeply impacted by her experience in the Grenadian Revolution and is among the best literary sources for the revolution along with the work of Dionne Brand.

Una Marson was born in Jamaica in 1905. Marson was a journalist, radio programmer, activist, poet, and playwright. Her work explored the complexities of religion, identity, race, gender, and class. She wrote about and advocated for women and working-class women in her activism and creative works. Between 1932 and 1936 she worked as the secretary for the League of Colored Peoples (LCP) and served as a secretary to Hallie Selassie after Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and Selassie’s exile in Geneva as he pleaded Ethiopia’s cause before the United Nations in 1936. Marson worked as editor of The Keys, the publication of the LCP. The paper gave a voice to Anticolonial and Pan-Africanist movements (a pan-Africanist editorial is included in the further reading section). Marson also became the producer of the BBC programme Caribbean Voices in 1942, which was a hugely important programme for broadcasting Caribbean creative writing.  Marson was an active member of the Women’s International League for Peace and the International Alliance of Women, a liberal global feminist organization. She was invited to speak at the International Alliance of Women Conference on East/West Cooperation in Istanbul in 1938, where “she spoke on the conditions of black women in England and the racism they experienced in relation to housing.” (Ford Smith 1988). 

We will read Marson’s 1938 play Pocomania which is considered one of the important early plays of Jamaican nationalist theatre. The play was, writes Alison Donnell, “both in its aesthetics and its subject, clearly seeking to dramatize human conflicts that could make the ideological class-based tensions within Jamaican Nationalism intelligible.” (Donnell 2016).  It is focused on the gendered dynamics within Jamaican colonial society and the internal psychological conflict of a black middle-class woman, Stella Manners, as she is drawn to Pocomania and Revivalism and struggles to break out of inherited colonial mentalities. 


Next is the novel Angel (1987) by Merle Collins, a Grenadian prose writer and poet. Collins was born in 1950. Collins was deeply involved in the revolution and served in Maurice Bishop’s Marxist-Leninist People’s Revolutionary Government in Grenada from 1979 to 1983, after which she left Grenada. She served as Coordinator for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean.  The New Jewel Movement’s armed overthrow of the government of Eric Gairy, led by Bishop, was widely popular and celebrated by the population. The excitement of the revolution was widely felt by anti-imperialists and socialists in the Caribbean and in the diaspora. The revolution focused on diversifying the economy, industrialization, reducing unemployment, and creating public works and social welfare programs. Education was overhauled and illiteracy nearly eliminated. It also focused on the empowerment of women, and women played an important role in the revolution and the revolutionary government.

Angel tells a multigenerational story of the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary experience in Grenada. It begins with the general strikes and revolt of 1951 up to the overthrow of the revolutionary government after the US invasion of Grenada and Bishop’s assassination in 1983, followed by nationwide feelings of fear and confusion. Laurie R. Lambert writes that “Collins refuses to narrate revolution as romance, tragedy, or epic—all genres relying on tropes of masculine heroics that her work rejects. Instead, her writing is a disarticulation of these genres as she imagines revolution as a complex series of multigenerational experiences among women, the working class, and the peasantry.” (Lambert 2020). Collins foregrounds the role of women in radical politics in her creative work. 

Primary texts

Una Marson, Pocomania (1938)

Merle Collins, Angel (1987)

Secondary texst
Ford-Smith, Honor. “Una Marson: Black Nationalist and Feminist Writer.” Caribbean Quarterly 34, no. 3-4 (1988): 22–37.

Lambert, Laurie R. “Generational Ties, Revolutionary Binds: Family as Archive in the Writing of Merle Collins.” In Comrade Sister: Caribbean Feminist Revisions of the Grenada Revolution, 37–76. University of Virginia Press, 2020.

Further Reading
Una Marson, “Editorial,” The Keys vol 2.3 (Jan-March 1935): 45 

Hodge, Merle., and Chris. Searle. “Is Freedom We Making” : the New Democracy in Grenada. St. George’s, Grenada: Government Information Service.

Week 7 - The Anglophone Caribbean