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Stanley Greaves: The Guyanist
by Vibert C. Cambridge, Ph.D. January 4th 2004

But there is more to Greaves; there is Greaves the man of music

I come from the nigger yard of yesterday
Leaping I come, who cannot see will hear.
Martin Carter. "I come from the Nigger Yard."

Stanley Greaves has been recognized and celebrated as an outstanding Guyanese and Caribbean artist.

His paintings and sculptures have been exhibited in prestigious exhibitions in Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and London. His paintings are in private collections in Guyana, Venezuela, Barbados, Cuba, Jamaica, the United States, and the United Kingdom. His 1993 painting, "The Annunciation" has been used as the cover for Veerle Poupeye's important book Caribbean Art.

Greaves has received high awards from the people of Guyana and Barbados for his excellence as a painter, sculptor, and teacher. During 2003, the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, recognized him as an Honorary Distinguished Fellow of the Faculty of Humanities and Education.

But there is more to Greaves; there is Greaves the man of music. This feature explores music in the life of Stanley Greaves.

Greaves was born and raised in a "tenement yard" in Carmichael Street just over 70 years ago. He leapt from that confining space and became one of Guyana's creative geniuses. It was in this yard that Greaves experienced the generosity of the human spirit- a theme that informs his creativity.

He is very proud of the social cohesiveness of the yard.

Said Greaves, "People looked after one another you could not abuse children. The children belonged to the yard."

Reflecting on the tenement yards that dominated the life of urban working class people during the first half of the 20th century, he noted, "In each yard there was a matriarch or a patriarch. In our yard it was Miss Alder- a tall red woman with a panama hat and white head tie. When Miss Alder walked through the yard, it was like Queen Victoria."

According to Greaves, Alder used her social status to ensure that there was no cussing in front of children and that girls and young women were accorded dignity and respect.

Today, the tenement yard no longer exists. In its place is the Dr. Ptolemy Reid Rehabilitation Centre.

For Greaves, the tenement yard was alive with creativity. His father, "Sweetie" Greaves, and his uncles on his father's side were musicians. Their friends were musicians. His mother was a Portuguese from Madeira, and through her, he was exposed to the music of the Roman Catholic Church and instruments such as the mandolin. He also learned about the place of music in building and nurturing community.

The yard that Greaves grew up in was also within earshot of St. George's Cathedral.

Said Greaves, "St. George's was high Anglican and had a well trained choir, with Bowen as the conductor." Greaves recalled that the church would be lit up on special nights. On those nights, he would sit with his father on the grass in front of the cathedral and listen to the "heavenly choir."

The people who played music with his father are celebrated in his painting "Old Time String Band." It immortalizes Joe Rowe, Taylor, "Sweetie" Greaves, Glen, and Campbell. Joe Rowe was the true professional in the group. His life was totally dedicated to music. Taylor was a cabinetmaker, a sawmill worker, and rabbit keeper. "Sweetie" Greaves was the leader of the band, a rope worker - maker of cargo slings and nets, builder of furniture, painter of sign boards, and a tree cutter. Glenn was also a cabinet maker who "lived in Tiger Bay in the yard with the Blacksmith shop." Campbell, the flautist was the first member of the band to die. These men were all artisans. They made musical instruments - guitars, mandolins, and drums.

The band was popular in the pre-jukebox, pre-electronic era. Its repertoire included popular English songs such as "Down by the Old Church Door" and medleys of waltzes, calypsos, and folk songs.

The band also played for the dinner parties of Guyana's social elites. The demand for their music also came from other sectors of the society. In some cases the hirers wanted the entire band or just select members. For serenading, the guitarist and the mandolinist would be the only members hired. Serenading was very popular with Portuguese families, who would hire musicians and place them in a carriage that would follow the family in another carriage. The family would pay visits to relatives and friends and treat them to music.

When the friendly societies held funerals for their members, "Sweetie" Greaves and Joe Rowe would be hired to play the snare drum and the bass drum to accompany the deceased to the final resting place.

"Sweetie" Greaves and Joe Rowe were also in demand as drummers for masquerade bands. According to Greaves, his father and members of the band were closely associated with a masquerade band from the Cummingsburg area. His father also made masquerade costumes - the triangular hats, the breast pieces, and aprons.

Masquerade bands have a special place in Greaves' aesthetic consciousness. Greaves' painting "Masquerade" was celebrated in The Chronicle Christmas Annual in 1960.

Greaves also recalled being exposed to music at Sacred Heart R. C. Primary School on Main Street. He remembers singing patriotic and international songs. He recalls thinking about what the Governor might have been thinking when he heard Guyanese school children sing "There'll Always be an England," especially the closing verse: "There'll always be an England/And England shall be free/If England means as much to you/As England means to me."

Greaves' musical journey continued at St. Stanislaus College and would later include the guitar, singing and steel band. Among his contemporaries at St. Stanislaus College were Bing Serrao and George Simmons, founders of The Ramblers and The Rhythmaires, respectively.

He credits a number of factors for his lasting love for the classical guitar. His parents introduced him to the guitar and the mandolin. Andre Segovia's performance of "Recuerdos del Ambra," which he heard on a Radio Demerara programme hosted by Rafiq Khan was another inspiration. He was so moved that he committed himself to playing that composition in concert. It took him 30 years to satisfy that ambition.

His journey as a classical guitarist was helped by a number of people, including his cousin Shirley Thomas (nee Jones), who was a music teacher. She loaned him a book about playing the Spanish guitar. Peter Anderson helped him through the Karasi method. In 1984 and 1985 he was trained in Guyana by Franciso Rodrigues, a Cuban professional who was on a cultural exchange programme. In 1987 and 1988, in Barbados, he studied under an American guitarist who was also on a cultural ex-change programme. Between 1989 and 1995 he studied with Pam Flaut in Barbados.

After leaving St. Stanislaus, Greaves would enter the Teachers Training College. His singing career continued with the Teachers Training College Choir under the direction of Hilton Lewis. One of his colleagues in the choir was Matthew Allen. This era in his musical journey, which included participation in music festivals, brought him into closer contact with the other musicians such as Hugh Sam and Moses Telford.

He was particularly impressed with the work of Hugh Sam, who was at that time experimenting with tone poems and other impressionist styles of compositions. There was resonance between those developments in music and what was happening with Greaves' paintings.

He worked with Sam and Helen Taitt on the seminal Guyanese musical Amalivaca. He painted the backdrop that created the visual context when the overture was played. He described his painting as "a modernistic, geometric, stylization of the Roraima Plateau."

After graduating from Teachers Training College, Greaves became a teacher and was therefore eligible to join "Pluto" Martindale and the PELCANS Steel band. His colleagues in this band of public servants included Arnold Adonis, Eddie Greene, and Michael Leila.

Throughout his life Greaves has balanced his love for music and painting. He participated in music festivals, enjoyed the friendly [rivalry] between the Maranatha and the Police Male Voice Choirs. He enjoyed attending the Thursday afternoon Band Concerts in the Botanical Gardens, listening to recorded music, and going to concerts.

Greaves' paintings and sculptures are now being documented. The Symposium on Stanley Greaves organized by Castellani House in May 1997 permitted some of Guyana's important cultural critics – Eddie Rodney, Errol Brewster, and Rupert Roopnarine - an opportunity to reflect on his body of work.

Greaves has been intimately associated with the major moments in Guyanese art and has worked closely with some of the most important artists in 20th century Guyana - E. R. Burrowes, Mrs. Fulton, Denis Williams, and Donald Locke.

Greaves has always marched to his muse. He has not cowered to the political alter or become faddish. Greaves has used his art to celebrate Guyana - with all its warts included.

He is concerned that significant work has not yet been done on the history of art in Guyana. He considers this work necessary to connect the society with the visions of the artist and the deep roots of Guyana's artisan heritage.

Greaves' life and work demonstrates tenacity, the importance of supportive and nurturing communities, and the ability of Guyanese to leap from the "nigger yards" of misfortune onto the main stages of the world. Greaves' music and paintings help us to see the higher beauty that is still possible in our Dear Land. Stanley Greaves is a Guyanese cultural hero. He is the archtype of the Guyanist.

The Guyana Folk Festival Committee is proud to have awarded Stanley Greaves a Mac Andrew Award in 2002.


Al Creighton. "Stanley Greaves-artist, poet, Hono-rary Fellow." Arts on Sunday in Sunday Stabroek, June 29, 2003.

Interview Vibert Cambridge/Stanley Greaves, Barbados, June 19, 2003

Islington Arts Factory. There is a Meeting here Tonight: A series of paintings by Stanley Greaves. Caribbean Connection 3. Catalogue. Islington Arts Factory, 2003.

South London Gallery. The Elders--Brother Everald Brown and Stanley Greaves. Catalogue. South London Gallery, 1999.

Veerle Poupeye. Carib-bean Art. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998

Castellani House. Over-coming the Void. Discussion Series No. 1: Stanley Greaves: A Symposium, May 1997. Georgetown, Guyana: Casetllani House, May 1997.

Rupert Roopnarine. "Stanley Greaves of Guyana - A Caribbean Master." El Dorado, April 1995.

Aubrey Williams 1926 - 1990

An exhibition that celebrates the work of Guyanese-born artist Aubrey Williams, whose influences include Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Mayan culture and the music of Shostakovich.

Aubrey Williams was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1926, and began painting and drawing from the age of five. He joined the Working People’s Art Class whilst still at school, studying under E. R. Burrowes, a man he credited as ‘opening the Guyanese eyes to art’. A trained agronomist, his work took him to the north-west rainforest of Guyana, where he lived for two years amongst the indigenous Warrau people, a period which proved one of the most formative of his life and where, he said, “I started to understand what art really is”.
By 1952, when he returned to Georgetown at the age of twenty-six, Guyana was nearing the end of its time as a British colony and Williams sailed to London, initially on six months paid leave, to become a painter and began life drawing at St Martins School of Art. As a painter with detailed knowledge of flora and fauna, with personal experience of momentous political change, and with a growing interest in pre-Columbian cultures, he arrived in London with a unique visual and intellectual vocabulary. Over the following years he took the opportunity to travel extensively around Europe, returning to London and to opportunities to exhibit his work. He was also part of the spectacular explosion of creativity, optimism and productivity generated by the influx of Caribbean writers, artists and intellectuals to London at the time. This cultural foment was exemplified in the Caribbean Artists Movement, founded in 1966 by Kamau Brathwaite, poet and historian, John La Rose, poet and activist, and Andrew Salkey, novelist and journalist. Aubrey Williams was a founder member and participated fully in CAM’s activities, as did Ronald Moody, sculptor. Within this mutually supportive network, Williams found, and contributed to, an enriching framework of ideas and discussion, including debates on visual sources, strategies for change, and the stifling effects of being categorised as either a quintessentially Caribbean or British artist.
From the early 1960s, Williams exhibited widely, winning awards and garnering high acclaim from a London art circuit enchanted by what Guy Brett calls “the heady interface between artistic innovation and trans-nationalism” . When he had arrived, London was a city with few apparent signs of black presence, and as such, the visibility of Williams’ work represented one of the first challenges to the white dominance in the British art establishment. Over the years that followed however, Williams found himself increasingly confronted by ‘institutional indifference’, his work framed and discussed solely in terms of ‘otherness’.

Williams’ paintings have always resisted classification, evolving through many distinct phases over the course of his career. From immaculately accomplished depictions of birds, to figurations, to explosive, vibrant abstracts, Williams drew influence from abstract expressionism, from Olmec, Maya, and Warrau imagery, from science fiction, from the symphonies and quartets of Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich, and from artists such as Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Diego Rivera, Yves Klein and Rufino Tamayo.


I think instead of Stanley becoming The Guyanist ... he should have become The Guyartist.


Nov. 26, 1931- Oct. 10, 2003

Viola Victorine Burnham, widow of President Forbes Burnham and a former Vice-President and Deputy Prime Minister, died on 10 October, aged 72.

As with the Commonwealth’s most famous female Prime Ministers - India’s Indira Gandhi, Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto and Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike - who succeeded to high office only by chance as a result of the deaths of their male relatives, it was expected, even if only briefly, that Viola Burnham would follow suit. Her husband, President Forbes Burnham, died suddenly on 6 August 1985. What would she do?


Although Viola Burnham was not then in the People’s National Congress Administration, she was already famous. She was a leading light in the women’s movement in her own right. Her name, Burnham, was a household word. She held the chair of the Women’s Revolutionary Socialist Movement (WRSM) and was a member of the Central Committee of the People’s National Congress (PNC). Both the party’s congress and the national elections later in 1985 provided opportunities for an ambitious woman to exploit the sympathy of supporters to ride into office.
Party members were suspicious about Desmond Hoyte’s ideas and friends who occupied what could be called the ‘right wing’. Veteran Burnhamites belonged to the ‘left wing’ and were desperately seeking a successor in the image and likeness of their departed leader. The hopeful Hamilton Green hovered among the rank and file with his eyes on the founder-leader’s fallen mantle.

The adulation once reserved for Forbes Burnham was transferred to his widow who, as the closest being to his reincarnation, was expected somehow to carry on the tradition of leadership. There is little doubt in those days that, had Viola chosen to play the Burnham card, Hoyte would have been trumped.

She didn’t.


By choosing to join President Desmond Hoyte’s Cabinet, Viola Burnham signalled that there would be no revolt, at least from her side. The succession crisis was over. Her integrity, like that of Caesar’s wife, was beyond reproach. She was given the high rank of Vice-President and Deputy Prime Minister and a soft portfolio with responsibility for Education and Social Development, including Culture. She was elected to the National Assembly in December, 1985.

But these were hard times for Guyana and Desmond Hoyte had to make hard decisions. Many of the policies and projects that Viola Burnham had espoused prior to 1985 had to be thrown out of the window. Cooperative socialism was a ‘closed chapter’ of Guyana’s history. State enterprises were to be privatized and the economy liberalised. The Administration was being systematically ‘de-Burnhamised’ and less and less reference was made to the founder-leader’s legacy.

In 1989, Viola Burnham was appointed Vice-President, Ministry of Culture and Social Development, with responsibility for Women, Children and Young Persons and for the administration of the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP) component of Guyana’s Economic Recovery Programme.

Like everyone else, she could not fail to see that the tide had turned. She may have perceived, too, that her personal position had become peripheral; her role was restricted; her stature, diminished. In July 1991, fifteen months before the PNC was to lose the October 1992 elections, she resigned. Thereafter, she withdrew from the political centre stage into the seclusion of her homestead and the privacy of her pet projects.
In truth, she had always appeared to be ill at ease with internal party politics and her acceptance of office was a difficult duty done to demonstrate that the Burnhamites, of whom she was the natural leader, supported Hoyte, and that the unity of the party that her late husband had founded had been preserved.

An indication of her attitude to party politics was evident in her response to a reporter a few months after her marriage. She said that she preferred to stay in the background. “ I don’t think that I am temperamentally suited to active politicking and there are so many other things to be done - important but necessary - that I can do...In any case, one politician in a husband-and-wife relationship is enough, especially if one of them is a Prime Minister”, she said.


For years, Viola Burnham had been well known, mainly as the wife of Guyana’s maximum leader Forbes Burnham. Whatever she did, she seemed always to be in her husband’s shadow; faithful and above reproach, rather than a firebrand. She was an educated woman of culture.

She eschewed the great ideological debates over socialism that rent the PNC in the 1970s. Viola Burnham’s driving passion seemed to be less in power-seeking than in empowerment and, with that in mind, she surfed the waves in the rising tide of the women’s movement. She defined her approach in simple terms: “What our women seem to need is education in a general sense: they need organisation and the ability to organise others; they need to know where they are going, why they are going there and how to get there; and, most important, they need to know, as the men do, too, that in a country like ours, a tremendous amount of hard work and selflessness is essential for progress”.

In 1967, the year of her marriage, she was elected first Vice-Chairman of the WRSM, the PNC’s women’s arm, but was not to reach the Chairmanship for nine years. During the 1970s, she was to play a most important role in advancing women’s rights in Guyana. This was a time of worldwide agitation for ‘women’s liberation’ and Viola Burnham was at the hub of the movement in Guyana.

She was a founder-member and first Vice-President of the Caribbean Women’s Association (CARIWA) and led Guyana’s delegations to congresses in St. Kitts-Nevis (1972); Grenada (1974); and Trinidad and Tobago (1976), presenting papers on ‘The Role of Women in Politics’ and, ‘Women on the Move’. She also led Guyana’s delegations to the World Conferences of the United Nations Decade for Women in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985).

Her efforts in the women’s movement bore fruit in the presentation of the State Paper on Equality for Women in the National Assembly (1976). The signing and ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the enshrinement of the principle of equality for women under Article 29 of the 1980 Constitution are also the results, in part, of Viola Burnham’s tireless exertions.
Less prominent, though no less pertinent, was Viola Burnham’s contribution to the protection of children. She was appointed to the chair of the Guyana National Commission of the International Year of the Child in 1979 and, the following year, became patron of the Guyana Commission for Children’s Welfare.

Even prior to accepting these honorific appointments, however, she had been an active member of Georgetown’s Children’s Welfare and Maternity Committee and a Member of the Hospital Administration Committee. In 1976, she participated in the planning implementation of an education programme for parents and young children which would complement the formal education system.


Under Viola Burnham’s unhurried hand, the Women’s Revolutionary Socialist Movement seemed to grow more evolutionary than revolutionary, and more gradualist than socialist. Viola Burnham changed the image and modified the mission of the WRSM by small, incremental steps, rather than by attempting the huge leaps favoured by her husband in the political and economic field. As a result, she was able to transform her party’s doughty but undistinguished women’s auxiliary into a vibrant social organisation.

No Winnie Mandela, she never tried to build the WRSM into a political power-base to support her elevation to high office. But she was no slouch either. She did work hard to mould the Movement into an economic powerhouse, enabling it to embark on a variety of urban and rural women’s micro-projects. Many of these were well-meaning: they sought to employ as many women as possible in labour-intensive jobs such as garment manufacture; to introduce simple and appropriate technology such as the ‘grate-o-mate’ hand machine, or to use local products such as rice and plantain flour. The response, however, was underwhelming and none really stood the test of time.

There is little doubt that Forbes Burnham’s leadership of the Government had much to do with Viola Burnham’s easy access to resources. International organisations such as the Inter-American Development Bank and UNICEF and national institutions such as the state-owned Guyana Co-operative Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank provided financial support to these WRSM projects and, by 1984, twenty such projects were in operation. This effort culminated in the ambitious, and ultimately unsuccessful, Vanceram Tableware Factory Ltd., a commercial attempt to produce ceramics from indigenous materials.

Earlier, in 1971, Viola Burnham had established a co-operative cultivation micro-project called the ‘Dynamic Youth Farmers Co-operative’ which included a co-operative housing scheme for its members. The next year, she co-ordinated a rural training course for male and female rice farmers. She took a crash course in crop husbandry and livestock-rearing in an attempt to establish herself as a small farmer, rearing livestock and growing cash crops and orchard fruits at her farms in the Stabroek backlands in Georgetown and at Belfield on the East Coast Demerara.


Much of this public activism contrasted with Viola Burnham’s private upbringing, early school-teaching career and genteel disposition.

Born on 26 November 1930 in New Amsterdam, Berbice, the youngest of eight children of schoolmaster James Nathaniel Harper and his wife Mary (née Chin), Viola Victorine Harper attended the All Saints Scots School from which she won a Government County Scholarship to the Berbice High School. But, as her father had died and the family decided to move to Georgetown, she entered Smith’s Church Congregational School. Once again, she won a Government County Scholarship which, this time, was tenable at the Bishops’ High School.
After taking her Advanced Levels, she started to work at the Argosy newspaper alongside the likes of Olga Armstrong, Hector Bunyan, Billy Carto, Henry Josiah and Connie Theobald, all legendary figures in the annals of Guyanese journalism. Condemned to social assignments and confined to editing the women’s pages, she found journalism stimulating but unsatisfying. So she quit reporting and switched to teaching, starting out in 1950 at the Broad Street (later renamed Dolphin) Government School.

She taught there for four years and applied for a conditional scholarship which took her to Leicester University College, UK, where she obtained her BA (honours) in Latin. Four years later, she read for her MA in Education at the University of Chicago, USA. In between her university studies, she taught Latin at Bishops’ High School, the position from which she was swept into a much-anticipated marriage by Guyana’s new Prime Minister.


Viola Burnham was very much a product of mid-twentieth century Guyana. Her eighteen-year marriage to Forbes Burnham had thrust her into the limelight. With his death and her short stint in office, it was time to retire into the twilight.

Apart from battling the debilitating disease which eventually took her life, she resorted to her pastimes of designing greeting cards, clothing and fabrics; interior decorating; painting and, of course, running her little farm.

She had travelled widely as the wife of the Prime Minister and President, receiving awards from countries such as the Republic of Guinea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. In 1984, the year before Forbes Burnham’s death, she received the Order of Roraima, Guyana’s second highest honour.

She died on 10 October 2003, satisfied that she had been a dutiful wife to her husband, a devoted leader of the women’s movement and a dedicated citizen of Guyana.



“The first thing you do as a black poet is unzip the suit of your black skin and walk away from it. The second thing you do as a poet is find that suit of yours that fits you oh so well and step right back into it. That suit paints behind your eyelids so you see it when you dream. That suit is osmotic: it lets out sweat, breathes for you – your biggest organ – and keeps out the elements. All history is in that skin. Poetry plays your skin like an instrument – listen, touch, taste, look, and sniff. Dream-skin. Skin-song. Human.”

Fred D'Aguiar (born February 2, 1960) is an author of poetry, novels, and drama.

D'Aguiar was born in London in 1960, the second child of immigrants from the Caribbean nation of British Guyana. His parents both worked for London Transport, and their schedules made it difficult to care for their two sons. When he was two years old, D'Aguiar and his older brother were sent to Guyana to live with their paternal grandparents, who lived in a house at Airy Hall, about forty miles from the capital of Georgetown. The house belonging to D'Aguiar's grandparents, “Mama Dot” and “Papa T,” was a large one, made up of family members African, Asian, and European in origin. D'Aguiar spent the majority of his time in Guyana at Airy Hall, which was removed from the racial problems and political warfare of the capital. He spent the final four years of his Guyanese youth in Georgetown, where he lived with his maternal grandparents. At age twelve, D'Aguiar and his brother moved back to London (and a country increasingly antagonistic toward immigration by nonwhite members of the Commonwealth), where they lived with their newly divorced mother. D'Aguiar attended the Charlton Boys Secondary School, where he was, if only briefly, exposed to Caribbean literature. He then trained and worked for a period as a psychiatric nurse. During this time, D'Aguiar attended a series of writing workshops at the University of London. He began a three-year course in English literature at the University of Kent, graduating in 1985. (He had been exposed to English poetry during his boyhood in Guyana by his grandfather, Papa T.) In 1985, D'Aguiar published his first book of poetry, Mama Dot. He then released two more collections of poetry before the production of his first play, A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death (1991). Three years later he published The Longest Memory, his first novel.

D'Aguiar was born in London. His parents were Guyanese. He spent his childhood, from the age of two to twelve, in Guyana. His work has received much, and growing, acclaim. His Bill of Rights, about the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, was a finalist for the 1998 T. S. Eliot Prize. He was Judith E. Wilson Fellow at Cambridge University (1989-90), Visiting Writer at Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts (1992-4), and was Assistant Professor of English at Bates College, Lewiston, Maine (1994-5). He was Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Miami. Since 2003, he has held the position of Professor of English and Co-Director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Virginia Tech. He was also Northern Arts Literature Fellow at Newcastle and Durham Universities.

He trained as a psychiatric nurse before reading African and Caribbean Studies at the University of Kent, Canterbury, graduating in 1985. His first collection of poetry, Mama Dot (1985), was published to much acclaim. Along with Airy Hall (1989) (named after the village in Guyana where he spent his childhood), it won the Guyana Poetry Prize in 1989 and was followed by British Subjects (1993). His first novel, The Longest Memory (1994), tells the story of Whitechapel, a slave on an eighteenth-century Virginia plantation and won both the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. It was adapted for television and televised by Channel 4 in the UK. His long poem Sweet Thames was broadcast as part of the BBC "Worlds on Film" series in 1992, winning the Commission for Racial Equality Race in the Media Award.

His plays include High Life, which was first produced at the Albany Empire in London in 1987, and A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death, performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 1991.
He is also the author of the novels Dear Future (1996), set on a fictional Caribbean island, and Feeding the Ghosts (1997), inspired by a visit D'Aguiar made to the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool and based on the true story of a slave who survived being thrown overboard with 132 other men, women and children from a slave ship in the Atlantic.

Recent poetry includes Bill of Rights (1998), a long narrative poem about the Jonestown massacre in Guyana in 1979, which is told in Guyanese versions of English, fusing patois, Creole and nation-language with the standard vernacular; and a new long narrative poem, Bloodlines, the story of a black slave and her white lover, published in 2000.
His fourth novel, Bethany Bettany (2003), is centred on a five-year-old Guyanese girl, Bethany, whose suffering symbolises that of a nation seeking to make itself whole again.


Mama Dot, 1985
New British Poetry 1968-88 (editor with Gillian Allnut), 1988
Airy Hall, 1989
British Subjects, 1993
The Longest Memory, 1994
A Jamaican Airman Foresees His Death (play), 1995
Dear Future, 1996
Feeding the Ghosts, 1997
Bill of Rights, 1998
Bloodlines, 2000
An English Sampler: New and Selected Poems, 2001
Bethany Bettany, 2003
Continental Shelf, 2009

Prizes and awards

1984 T. S. Eliot Prize Malcolm X Prize for Poetry Mama Dot
1989 Guyana Poetry Prize Mama Dot and Airy Hall
1993 Commission for Racial Equality Race in the Media Award Sweet Thames
1994 David Higham Prize for Fiction The Longest Memory
1994 Whitbread First Novel Award The Longest Memory
1996 Guyana Prize for Literature Dear Future
1997 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) (shortlist) Feeding the Ghosts

D'Aguiar and son Nicholas



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