August 11, 2006

Happy Birthday, Roger Mais

Roger Mais was perhaps the most important writer to emerge from the nationalist movement which began with the labour rebellion of 1938. His play of that year, George William Gordon, which focused on the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865, played an important role in the rehabilitation of the eponymous character, who was in conventional colonial history described as a rebel and traitor, and who would be proclaimed, on the centenary of the rebellion, a National Hero.

Mais became a writer for the weekly newspaper, Public Opinion, which was associated with the People's National Party. A column he wrote for the newspaper, entitled "Now We Know", critical of British colonial policy resulted in his imprisonment for sedition. This period of imprisonment was instrumental in the development of his first novel, The Hills Were Joyful Together, a work focused on working-class life in the Kingston of the 1940s. Mais's second novel, Brother Man, was a sympathetic exploration of the emergent Rastafari movement.

While Mais's first two novels had urban settings, his third novel, Black Lightning centered on an artist living in the countryside.

Mais was also known as a poet, and showed a fine command of lyricism, and a short-story writer. His short stories were collected in a volume entitled Listen, The Wind, thirty-two years after his death.

Mais's novels have been republished posthumously several times, an indication of his continuing importance to Caribbean literary history. He also had an influence on younger writers of the pre-independence period, notably John Hearne.

From Wikipedia
Roger Mais’s, Brother Man, opened the door for me to write about Rastafari and reggae. As the protagonist in “I Want to Disturb My Neighbor” says, “We accept the rastaman today. We see him and his fashion victims all around — the colors, the music, the hair, the food. But in those days in Jamaica decent people like my mother thought of them as cells of infection that had to be cut out. Decent girls were being seduced. Decent boys were dreading up their good, good hair and swearing their allegiance to Selassie, taking oaths. The disease was spreading, and music was both sperm and blood. They felt they had to stop the flow at any cost and the state already paid the police.”

I keep coming back to the courage of writers like Mais because despite his work and many others in forging a national identity, there are still people in Jamaica and in the blogosphere who still wish that Jamaica would have remained a colony and blame many of the social ills on Rastafari. In this time, in this year 2006 as Mikey Smith would say, “Mi cyaan believe it!”

Many writers of my generation owe a great debt to Roger Mais. His work made us realize the plight of the idren, of those living in the shanties around Beverly Hills, Jamaica. One of the first “brownings with a conscience” (Annie Paul), he pioneered a whole new way for us to look at ourselves.

Give thanks, Roger Mais!

Tags: Americas, Arts & Culture, Authors, books, Caribbean, Caribbean writers, fiction, Jamaica, Jamaican writers, Literature, Poetry, Rastafari, Writing.


FSJL said...

I wonder who wrote the wikipedia article on Mais? [evil grin]

Geoffrey Philp said...

I wonder too.
The offer still stands for anyone to write a "livication."
Stephen Bess took me up on the offer and wrote a great piece for Frantz Fanon.
Just write it on your blog and I will link to it.
Right now I'm looking for takers on Naipaul.

FSJL said...

You do? Well, wonder no more, that was my less-than-deathless prose that you quoted. I also did the piece on John Hearne.

marciano guerrero said...

And what is wrong with the Wikipedia article?

Geoffrey Philp said...

I don't understand what you mean, Kristen.