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UK Lecturer Shines Light on Caribbean Short Fiction in 7th Edward Baugh Lecture

James Proctor, Lecturer, New Castle University delivers 7th Edward Baugh Lecture

Comedian Blakka Ellis likes to declare that he may be short, but he is short of nothing. In a similar vein, although the form he explored was the short story, Dr. James Proctor’s lecture was a deep and insightful foray into the works of some of the Caribbean’s seminal writers. Proctor delivered the 7th Annual Edward Baugh Distinguished Lecture under the title, ‘The Small Space: Re-thinking Caribbean Short Fiction’.

Proctor's lecture as based on a work in progress and therefore he Proctor raised more questions than attempted to find or draw conclusions. Even so, it was a revealing lecture that shed light on much of the literary life of some renowned Caribbean writers.  

Prof Edward Baugh listens in on the lecture named in his honourProctor, a lecturer at Newcastle University, in the UK focuses on Caribbean literature and film, Black Asian and Black British writing. The visiting academic confessed that he had met Baugh, one of his favourite writers years ago but had failed to impress as he had devolved into nervousness only managing a giggle.

Yet the morning’s discussion was not to be on Baugh’s writing, but instead paid particular attention to prose fiction writers Samuel Selvon and Roger Mais.

"We're all living in the short space" Proctor said, explaining that in the contemporary world we are surrounded by "shrunken" forms of information squeezed into texts, tweets, emails and blogs. He explained further, that while he is interested in the short story itself, his focus was vehicles which have conveyed them newspapers magazines, and the radio which all provided the confines into which Caribbean writing had to fit itself in the mid to late 20th century.
Poet Raymond Mair was among those in the audience
According to Proctor, although many of the writers became only known for their long fiction, their survival was often maintained because of the work they did in the short form for magazines or the radio. The short form was therefore a means to financial survival.

So, not surprisingly, he used the BBC programme Caribbean Voices, as his point of departure. The mid-20th radio show featured the voices of many Caribbean writers such as Roger Mais, Samuel Selvon, Edgar Mitzleholtzer, and VS Naipaul. Proctor turned to a quote from George Lamming to show the influence of Caribbean Voices on the literary output, because of its financial component. According to Lamming, writers learnt to read slowly and convincingly as the show paid by the minute.

The majority of the lecture focused on the written form.

Proctor noted that Roger Mais although known for his three major novels (The Hills Were Joyful Together, Brother Man and Black Lightning) wrote several short stories from which he tried to make a living.  Samuel Selvon was also prolific in his creation of short stories

An intriguing revelation of the lecture, however, was not that these writers produced several shorts stories, but rather that these stories were often replicated in multiple forms. According to Proctor, as the stories became acrobatic, appearing in multiple magazines and or news papers and bent to match the politics of the magazine it is sent to. Professors Carolyn Cooper, Maureen Warner Lewis & Rupert Lewis

Writers also often assumed different psuedonyms with Mais adopting the persona of a white middle-class woman as he tried to get published in magazine targeting this audience. Selvon’s work, Proctor revealed, appeared in magazines ranging as far as soft porn mags to high brow cultural pieces.

He noted how the writers often assumed the persona of white voices, and the changes in the stories reveal their own tale.

"I firmly believe that this shift of stories across space is tied up with race and class." Proctor said. He noted that these images of race were very carefully managed to often fit the popular notions, sometimes resulting in amplification of stereotypes. Dr. Michael Bucknor (Head Dept of Literatures in English) fields questions

In her brief greetings, Dr Anthea Morrison (Deputy Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Education) outlined that the lecture series is the department's way of paying homage to and outlining scholarship coming from the department. ‘The Small Space: Re-thinking Caribbean Short Fiction’ continued that tradition.

The lecture was held at the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, University of the West Indies, Mona on Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 11:00 am.