Guyanese literary icon Jan Carew dies



Guyanese literary icon Jan Carew dies

Written by Denis Scott Chabrol   – Demerara Waves
Friday, 07 December 2012 23:13

                                                                                         Jan Carew

Renowned Guyana-born literary icon, Professor Jan Carew has died. He was 92 years old.

Speaking to Demerara Waves Online News ( ) from the United States, his daughter, Shantoba Carew said he died of natural causes at midnight Wednesday 5 December at his home in Louisville, Kentucky, United States of America.

Asked how she best remembered her father, Shantoba said: “He had a unique perspective on what it is to have a mission in life because every decade he seemed to have a new career but the goal is always the same to have done something in life.” The only continuous career he had, she said, was being a writer but in the latter part of his life he was regarded as an academic. 

His funeral will take place on December 29 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Carew was born in Agricola, East Bank Demerara on 24 September, 1920 and he also had very strong ties to Berbice.

“Ian was remarkable. Extremely brilliant! He was called the quiet revolutionary,” Guyanese Dr. Juliet Emmanuel told DemWaves.

He was a Professor at the University of Louisville and received became Emeritus Professor at Northwestern University, Chicago where he worked from 1973 to 1987.

He has led a rich and varied life as  writer, educator, philosopher and advisor to several nation states.  After his initial education in  British Guiana (now Guyana) in  South America, he studied at universities in  the U.S., Czechoslovakia,  and France.

In  London, he  worked as a broadcaster and writer with the BBC and lectured in race relations  at London  University’s Extra-mural  department.  He has also lived in  Spain, Ghana,  Canada and Mexico.  He has taught at many universities in  the U.S., including Princeton, Rutgers,  George Mason, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, and the  University of  Louisville.

He is perhaps  still best known for his first novel, Black Midas, and his memoir, Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in  Africa, England and the Caribbean.  Black Midas , along with his second novel, The Wild Coast, originally published in 1958 and 1960s, respectively, were recently re-issued as special 50th Caribbean Modern Classics Series by Peepal Tree Press.  Other than these two publications, his recent publications are The Guyanese Wanderer,  The  Sisters and Manco’s Stories,  and Rape of Paradise:  Columbus and the Birth of Racism in the Americas.

Despite  the implosion that collapsed the Second World  upon itself (leaving the Third World with only  one super power with which to contend), and the profound changes that an  electronic, communication and service industry has brought about, Jan Carew  remained an ardent Pan-Africanist.  His motto as a writer and artist comes from one of his poems: “Art and  Literature” he wrote, “are like lightening, for lightning illuminates, and is  never timid.”

Guyana’s Ministry of Culture earlier Friday issued the following statement in tribute to Professor Carew who last visited Guyana in the mid 1990s for an event that had been organised by the Association of Caribbean Studies (ACS).

Just a few days ago, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport was moved to remark on the fact that this leap year of 2012 has taken quite a few creative Guyanese minds from us.

From entertainment promoters to choreographers, musicians and vocalists to broadcasters and journalists, the exodus to a higher calling was evident and significant. It was therefore our pleasure and privilege to host an outstanding literacy son of the soil, the centurion-author E.R. Braithwaite, a few months ago.

Against that reflection the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport now pays tribute and bids farewell to another internationally-recognised Guyanese writer, poet and essayist, Jan Carew.

Though Mr. Carew has spent most of his adult life away from his homeland, his varied volume of work has depicted Guyana and the Caribbean, securing the region’s literary legacy amongst the international literary and academic landscape. As playwright and educator also, Jan Carew wrote landmark novels – Black Midas, Wild Coast – set – in Guyana, the Caribbean, Europe and elsewhere. He has written for children, for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and for the British and Caribbean Pan Africanist Movement.

Carew has been describe as “the Gentle Revolutionary” for his work in promoting Black activism alongside such stalwarts as W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Cheikh Anta Diop, Kwame Nkrumah and his countryman Ivan Van Sertima, to name just a few. The Guyanese intellectual from Agricola must also be regarded as a citizen of the world living and producing work from bases in some ten countries across the globe.

The Ministry also notes Carew’s earlier political and philosophical forays culminating perhaps, in his 1964 “Moscow Is Not My Mecca”. It is recorded that Carew’s numerous academic work – research papers, reviews theses and assays – reflected his determination to re-examined and present alternatives to the Westernised “traditional historiographies and prevailing historical models of the conquest of the Americans”. Carew’s works, along with Van Sertima’s, are scholarly evidence of Guyanese contributions to the Third World mental re-orientation.

The ministry therefore offers condolences to the Carew family and all his international colleagues in the literary and academic world. “The Guyanese Wanderer” (2007) must be continuing his life’s work at a Higher Level.


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