Horace Orlando Lloyd Patterson has managed to succeed in two areas of literary endeavor in a manner that demonstrates a symbiotic relationship between academic research and creative writing. His creative output is reflected in his successful novels, while he has continued to achieve critical success as a published sociologist with a central interest in issues of slavery and racism. While his creative output has diminished significantly since his most active period in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, he has continued to publish groundbreaking studies in the sociology of slavery. However, it is largely on the seminal quality of his first book of fiction that Patterson’s reputation as an author rests, and it is for this reason that—despite his diminished output as a novelist—Patterson continues to be recognized as an important literary figure in West Indies literature.
Born in Jamaica in 1940 on land that for centuries was used to cultivate sugar cane, Patterson moved several times throughout Jamaica during his early years. Essentially an only child (his six older stepsiblings from his father’s earlier marriage were significantly older than he), he developed at an early age what may be described as a bookish introspection. He read a great deal and began to cultivate the kind of imagination and instinct for academia that would characterize his later life.
Patterson attended Kingston College from 1953 to 1958 and came under the influence of a history teacher, Noel White, who helped to nurture his interest in history and the social sciences. White played an important role in guiding Patterson to pursue his undergraduate studies at the then emerging University of the West Indies. As a schoolboy Patterson had begun publishing short stories in the local newspapers, and by the time he arrived at the university he was committed to the business of writing. In the late 1950’s a radio play of his, The Do Good Woman, was produced by the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. He was thus an emerging writer at precisely the time when Jamaica itself was emerging as an independent country.
In 1963 he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to complete a doctorate at the London School of Economics. While in London he began to work in earnest on his first novel, The Children of Sisyphus. The novel offers a moving, graphic, and hard-hitting testimony of poverty and hopelessness in Jamaica. That C. L. R. James championed the book was no accident: In many ways, the novel is centered on a Marxist framing of an oppressive, class-driven society....
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