Roy A. K. Heath Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in British Guiana in 1926 to Melrose A. and Jessie R. Heath, both teachers, Roy Aubrey Kelvin Heath lost his father in 1928. Heath attended Queen’s College in Georgetown after he graduated from Georgetown’s Central High School, and he supported himself from 1946 until his graduation from Queen’s College in 1951 with civil service jobs.

Upon completing college, Heath moved permanently to London, although he continued to visit Guyana frequently. He received a B.A. in French from the University of London in 1956, having again held various clerical jobs while studying. He continued his studies in law and was called to the bar, Lincoln’s Inn, in 1964. By this time, however, he was married to Aemilia Oberli Heath, with whom he had three children, and he had been teaching French and German in secondary schools for five years. Rather than practice law, he decided to continue teaching.

Despite his residence in England, Heath’s roots are in the country of his birth. Much of his writing centers on Georgetown. Like many expatriate artists, Heath developed deeper understandings of his native country upon viewing it retrospectively, and often nostalgically, from afar.

In 1972 Heath’s play Inez Combray, which is set in Georgetown, was performed and received the Drama Award from the Theatre Guild of Guyana. In the play Heath tried to do what he attempts in all his work: to present a dramatic chronicle of twentieth century Guyana.

On one level Heath’s work captures the sights, sounds, smells, and speech cadences of life in Georgetown. Heath knows the middle-class neighborhoods of his youth, but he is also intimately acquainted with Georgetown’s slums, with their crime and poverty, and with the sordid streets of its red light districts. The play gives an accurate depiction of the whole city. Underlying this depiction, however, lurks another world, one that may elude casual readers or theatergoers. At...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Akoma, Chiji. “Folklore and the African-Caribbean Imagination: The Example of Roy Heath.” Research in African Literature 29, no. 3 (1998): 82-98. Uses Heath as an example of the influence of African oral narrative and how myth reconfigures the aesthetics of black Caribbean literature.

Boxill, Anthony. “Penetrating the Hinterland: Roy Heath’s Guyana Trilogy.” World Literature Written in English 29 (Spring, 1989). Evaluates Heath’s writing well.

Harris, Wilson. “Roy Heath, The Murderer.” World Literature Written in English 17 (November, 1978). Worthwhile, although limited to a discussion of one novel.

McWatt, Mark A. “Tragic Irony—The Hero as Victim: Three Novels of Roy A. K. Heath.” In Critical Issues in West Indian Literature, edited by Erika Sollish Smilowitz and Roberta Quarles Knowles, 1984. Background information on Heath. Focuses on Heath’s depiction of women and their place in Guyanese society.

Saakana, Amon Saba. Colonization and the Destruction of the Mind: Psychosocial Issues of Race, Class, Religion, and Sexuality in the Novels of Roy Heath. Lawrenceville, N.J.: Red Sea Press, 1996. Analyzes Heath’s novels from a position of colonialist theory.