C. L. R. James Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cyril Lionel Robert James, radical historian, political commentator, and cricket writer, was born in the small town of Chaguanas near Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad. His father, Robert, was a teacher, and on both sides of his middle-class family there was a dedicated commitment to education, particularly the kind of education that was common in the English schools of the day. Trinidad was an English colony, and many of its teachers were English nationals who had been educated at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge; the history studied, the books read, and the poetry memorized were heavily influenced by the assumptions and the standards of the mother country. Middle-class blacks in the West Indies rarely questioned this educational curriculum, and its values strongly influenced the young James.

Yet another English export played an equally important role in James’s education, namely the game of cricket. In the West Indies the English summer game was played eight months out of the year. James’s father had been a cricketer, and James began to play the game at a very young age. While he was maturing James felt the tension between the game of cricket and the intellectual attractions of books, but the values of the English game and those of the English education united in forming him. There were still other factors; James was a black man in an empire ruled by whites, and he was a member of a middle class in a West Indian society overwhelmingly composed of lower classes.

During the 1920’s he taught school and began writing. His literary career only blossomed, however, after he went to England in 1932. In his writings he focused on politics and cricket, writing about the latter subject for prestigious papers such as The Manchester Guardian. He began his political writing with a plea for the independence of the British West Indies. A Marxist but not a Stalinist, James combined his philosophy of class-based politics with national aspirations. Long attracted to the historical career of the Caribbean...

(The entire section is 836 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bouges, Anthony. Caliban’s Freedom: The Early Political Thought of C. L. R. James. Chicago: Pluto Press, 1997. A study of James’s political theories.

Buhle, Paul. C. L. R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary. New York: Verso, 1997. Combines biography with sympathetic critical analysis.

Cudjoe, Selwyn R., and William E. Cain, eds. C. L. R. James: His Intellectual Legacies. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995. A collection of essays illuminating the many facets of James’s life and thought.

Dhondy, Farrukh. C. L. R. James: A Life. New York: Pantheon, 2002. A biography that marks James as an early herald of multiculturalism.

Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney. Using the Master’s Tools: Resistance and the Literature of the African and South-Asian Diasporas. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. James is one of several writers profiled in this study of postcolonial writing and politics.

Nielsen, Aldon Lynn. C. L. R. James: A Critical Introduction. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1997. A guide to James’s writings.

Worcester, Kent. C. L. R. James: A Political Biography. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. A well-researched and insightful biography.