Saturday, December 16, 2017

A place for Lovelace

‘Docu-commentary’ chronicles writer’s life


GREAT ACHIEVEMENT: Award-winning novelist Earl Lovelace, left, and Prof Funso Aiyejina at Daaga Auditorium, UWI, St Augustine. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

Mark Fraser

A documentary about the life and works of award-winning novelist Earl Lovelace was screened recently at Daaga Auditorium, UWI, St Augustine. 

Titled A Writer in His Place, the “docu-commentary” is the brainchild of Prof Funso Aiyejina, whose latest works present Lovelace as a writer who is rooted in his Caribbean space and inspired by the variety of people and cultures that have engendered the complex texture of the region. 

The documentary is a continuation of Ayiejina’s research interest in the works of Lovelace. In addition to having published several academic papers on Lovelace’s works, Aiyejina has also edited and introduced his selected essays, including “Growing in the Dark” as well as  a collection of essays including tributes to Lovelace in “A Place in the World”.

A Writer in His Place affirms Lovelace as an individual who has been as daring in his life choices as he has been in his choice of literary styles and the unique characters in his fiction and plays. A Writer in His Place presents Lovelace as a man of his people; a husband and a lover; a dreamer and a realist; and as an individual who is insatiably humorous and profoundly philosophical.

Lovelace was placed in the spotlight at the screening, which culminated Campus Literature Week, an entire week devoted to the written and spoken word. A large turnout of fans of Lovelace’s work and those in the literary landscape were present for the screening of the documentary which revealed many intimate aspects of Lovelace’s life. 

Lovelace described the documentary as a great achievement and a wonderful undertaking. “I am comfortable with what was shown, many things were properly represented in the film. I thought it was very good. Sometimes it is very difficult to talk about someone’s life but it is interesting that I was not involved with the film at all except for being the subject. I thought that the film represented aspects of my life in an enjoyable way; I enjoyed it so I think it’s a great achievement,” Lovelace said. 

Aiyejina said the aim of the “docu-commentary” is to give a balanced view of the life of one of the region’s most exciting and relevant writers.  He said the documentary was a labour of love—one major limitation was funding.  “It was a labour of love because most of us who were involved in the project practically donated our time and talent because we believed in its validity. If I had to pay everyone who worked on the project at the commercial rate, I would never have been able to find the necessary funds.

“I set out to give a balanced view of the life of one of the region’s most exciting and relevant writers. I set out to show him as an individual who has stayed rooted to the region and has celebrated all strata of the society and developed deep philosophical understanding and analyses of the Caribbean region. This documentary or docu-commentary, as I call it, is a continuation of my research interest in the works of Earl Lovelace. I am proud that in spite of the many limitations, the major one being funding, the documentary got done,” Aiyejina said. 

Aiyejina said when the film is finished it would be available to the general public but more specifically to all those who study the works of Earl Lovelace. 

Aiyejina said he will consider entering the film in various upcoming film festivals, including Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in November. The film will screen again at Bocas 2014 at the end of this month. 

The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Campus Literature Week has evolved from being an in-house project to a nationwide and regional attraction. 

Campus Literature Week is an annual event put on by the Faculty of Humanities and Education’s MFA Creative Writing programme. It usually runs for a week and coincides with the visit of the Writer-in-Residence to the campus. There are daily lunchtime readings that feature the work of writers from the St Augustine Campus community, including especially the first-year MFA students. 

Other local writers are also invited to attend. Last year Rabindranath “Robin” Maharaj was the featured guest at Campus Literature Week.

Lovelace was sent to live with his grandparents in Tobago at a very young age, but rejoined his family in Toco when he was 11 years old. His family later moved to Belmont, Port of Spain, and then Morvant. Upon leaving secondary school, he first became a proofreader for the Trinidad Guardian newspaper, and then a forest ranger stationed in the isolated village of Valencia, where he began writing. 

He then moved South as an agricultural officer to the more remote village of Rio Claro. After unsuccessfully writing poetry, he made his first impact on the literary world in 1962 when he won first prize for “While Gods Are Falling” in the Trinidad and Tobago Independence literary competition sponsored by British Petroleum (BP). 

He later became a writer and sub-editor for the Trinidad Express newspaper and then spent ten years as an English lecturer at The University of the West Indies. In the late 1990s, he was a visiting lecturer at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA, and, in 1998, joined the faculty of the English Department at Pacific Lutheran University, Washington, USA. 

Earl Lovelace is the younger brother of painter Lewis Lovelace.

Earl Lovelace, born in 1935 in Toco, has written six novels, including The Dragon Can’t Dance and Salt, for which he won the Commonwealth Writers Prize. He has written a number of short stories, plays and musicals and lectured for over a decade at UWI, where he received an honorary doctorate of letters in 2011.