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Carolyn Cooper Delivers 6th Edward Baugh Lecture
Professor Carolyn Cooper shed her public persona as the much beloved and equally vilified “professor of slackness” and highlighted that the Prof title is no mere accident, but refers to her standing as a respected scholar of literature and culture. The occasion was the 6th Edward Baugh Distinguished Lecture on November 29, 2012 at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, UWI Mona.
Cooper, who is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the UWI delivered an engaging, witty and analytically sound paper which explored the relationship between the Caribbean writer and language. She was introduced by Dr. Norval Edwards, who spoke to Cooper’s unique position as the only UWI professor, outside of the late Rex Nettleford, who has brand name recognition. He noted that Cooper was one of the few in Jamaican society, who have been the subject of cartoons, an honour usually reserved for “politicians and other unsavoury characters.”
Cooper’s position as cultural villain and hero, came from much of her pioneering study on Jamaican popular culture, language and sexuality. Titled ‘Islands Beyond Envy: Finding Our Tongue in the Creole Anglophone Caribbean the lecture continued her engagement with the nature of language in the Caribbean. Cooper’s paper rested on the words of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott and his own relationship to language which he wrote about in the seminal essay ‘What The Twilight Says’.
As Jamaica continues to wage war on itself trying to determine whether the Jamaican tongue is sufficiently legitimate to deserve public funding and therefore inclusion in the education system, the lecture was particularly relevant. Cooper explored the “continent of envy”, as described by Walcott that is directed at the language of empire which continues to consume the Caribbean elite, but the writer must take up the language of the street.
According to Cooper, it is important that the sounds of the street contaminate the writer’s imagination, if the writer is to be at all relevant to the society. “The Caribbean writer must learn to speak in his own voice,” she said.
Cooper argued that the new generation of writers, such as Kei Miller, Tiphanie Yaniqe, Tanya Shirley and Marlon James are no longer consumed by this envy but are confident that they are are creating something new. They have inherited the traditions built by the writers of the previous generation.
Cooper ended the talk with what she described as a “poem of sorts” which honours Prof. Edward Baugh after whom the lecture series is named. Dubbed ‘It Was the Teaching’ after Baugh’s own ‘It Was the Singing’ the poem highlights Baugh’s contribution to the development of the Caribbean’s literary landscape through his over 30 years of teaching at the university.
The evening was closed off by Djenne Greaves, Tafane Bushchaecab and friends. The instrumentalists delivered a medley of Jamaican classics including ‘Simmer Down’ and ‘Monkey Man’.