Andrew Salkey Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Felix Andrew Alexander Salkey was one of the most prolific of Caribbean writers, having published more than half a dozen novels, several volumes of poetry, three travel books, ten anthologies for which he was editor, and at least ten children’s books, including short stories and folk tales from the Caribbean. In 1992, his prolific output and significant contribution to black literature around the world were recognized by Black Scholar magazine, which granted Salkey its Twenty-fifth Anniversary Award for Excellence in the Field of Literature. The citation read at the Commonwealth Institute in London praised Salkey for his forty years of producing poetry and fiction and for his journalism and editing work.

Salkey was born in Colon, Panama, in 1928 and was brought to Jamaica to live first with his grandmother and then his mother when he was two years old. He attended high school at one of Jamaica’s prestigious boarding schools, Munroe College. His father remained in Panama, where he managed to make a fairly good living renting and repairing boats. Throughout Salkey’s childhood, his father was absent; the clearest demonstration of his father’s existence came each month when money arrived to support the family. Salkey never met his father until he was thirty-two years old. Even a passing familiarity with Salkey’s writing reveals that this absence of a father figure greatly influenced his work. Curiously, his children’s literature sought to celebrate the presence of the father figure as the constant and reliable head of the household, but his adult novels became, among other things, involved explorations of the psychology of fatherlessness.

While growing up in Jamaica, Salkey was drawn to, and deeply influenced by, the oral tradition that was passed on to him by his grandmother and his mother. The impact of the Anancy stories shared at nighttime, complete with the inimitable improvisational style of folk telling, is clearly demonstrated in his fascination with the trickster figure in virtually all of his work. This figure not only appears as a character in the short-story collections Anancy’s Score and Brother Anancy, and Other Stories but also appears in novels such as A Quality of Violence as a catalyst for dramatic action and ideological complication. More tellingly, the figure emerges in the guise of the author, who is constantly using duplicity, innuendo, the withholding of information, and intrigue to produce tension and interest in his works.

In Jamaica, Salkey attended two prestigious boys’ grammar schools, St. George’s College and Munroe College. At the age of twenty-four, he left Jamaica for England, where he took a bachelor’s degree at...

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Andrew Salkey Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Carr, Bill. “A Complex Fate: The Novels of Andrew Salkey.” In The Islands in Between, edited by Louis James. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. Represents one of the earliest and most comprehensive appraisals of Salkey.

DeRose, Michelle. “‘Is the Lan’ I Want’: Reconfiguring Metaphors and Redefining History in Andrew Salkey’s Epic Jamaica.” Contemporary Literature 39 (Summer, 1998): 213-238. An analysis of Salkey’s poetry.

Nazareth, Peter. In the Trickster Tradition. London: Bogle-L’Overture Press, 1994. Places Salkey centrally in world literature as a trickster novelist.

Paquet, Sandra Pouchet. “The Fifties.” In West Indian Literature, edited by Bruce King. 2d ed. London: Macmillan, 1995. Looks at Salkey’s treatment of Pocomaria.

Ramchand, Kenneth. The West Indian Novel and Its Background. 2d ed. London: Heinemann, 1983. Discusses themes of irrationality and fatalism in Salkey’s work.