Samuel Selvon Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Samuel Dickson Selvon’s contribution to Caribbean letters is manifold. He was a prolific novelist who created some of the most memorable characters in Caribbean writing; he was also a venturesome innovator in the use of folk idioms and folk language of such sophistication and sheer virtuosity that his influence is consistently apparent in the works of many fiction writers who have followed him. Above all, Selvon wrote with a rare combination of empathy and humor that managed, consistently, to capture the qualities of inventiveness and energy that have come to characterize the best of West Indian writing.

Selvon was born of East Indian parents in rural Trinidad, and he experienced the distinctly Trinidadian multicultural ethos through an immersion in the East Indian creole culture, which entailed the intermingling of cultures as disparate as Spanish, Dutch, French, African, and native Caribbean. Described by many, including poet Derek Walcott, as one of the most multicultural countries in the world, Trinidad became a remarkably fecund place for the generation of literature that, by its mere adherence to the project of speaking to a diverse and dynamic populace, always seemed to avoid parochialism and to achieve a certain humanity.

Selvon’s experience growing up among peasant farmers on sugar plantations in rural Trinidad played a significant role in the creation of many of his stories and most of his novels. His first novel, A Brighter Sun, and consequent novels explored themes that related to the dignity inherent in the peasant and largely East Indian culture of rural Trinidadian society. Selvon’s imagination, however, was never restricted to the East Indian experience; it expanded to include sensitive portrayals of African Trinidadians in such critically successful works as the comic trilogy The Lonely Londoners, Moses Ascending, and Moses Migrating.

After completing his secondary education at Naparima College, Selvon worked as a telegraph operator with the West Indian branch of the Royal Naval Reserve during World War II. During this time he began writing verse and short stories, many of which were published and earned him significant popularity as a fledgling author. He joined the staff of the Trinidad Guardian soon after the war, and while he worked as a journalist he continued to write and publish his poetry and stories in Caribbean journals.

His move to London in 1950 precipitated his shift to more ambitious writing projects. He began to work...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Joseph, Margaret Paul. Caliban in Exile: The Outsider in Caribbean Fiction. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. Looks at the image of Caliban as a symbol of colonialist alienation in the London-based works of Selvon, Jean Rhys, and George Lamming.

Looker, Mark. Atlantic Passages: History, Community, and Language in the Fiction of Sam Selvon. New York: P. Lang, 1996. Places Selvon’s fiction at the center of postcolonial theoretical debates, measuring it against its social and cultural contexts and gauging its productive counterpoise with ideas of history and community.

Nasta, Sushiela, ed. Critical Perspectives on Sam Selvon. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1988. A collection of essays on Selvon’s work, especially focused on his place as a Trinidadian writer.

Salick, Roydon. The Novels of Samuel Selvon: A Critical Study. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Examines Selvon’s novels within their historical, sociological, and ideological contexts and offers a fresh assessment of his works.

Wyke, Clement H. Sam Selvon’s Dialectal Style and Fictional Strategy. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1991. Concentrates on Selvon’s use of dialect for both literary and philosophical effect.