Saturday, April 04, 2009

RIP Janet Jagan

Janet Jagan, ex-president of Guyana, died last week. RIP, Janet!

I am her designated biographer. What a great story she has!

Picture this. A prettty and popular and athletic Jewish girl from Chicago. Qualifies for the Olympics in swimming, takes secret flying lessons, studies nursing.

Meets a handsome, swarthy and passionate young dentistry student of Indian descent from a country she's never heard of. They fall in love. Her father threatens to shoot him on sight, her grandmother has a heart attack, but marry him she does and follows him back to his homeland in South America armed with several copies of the Little Lenin Library.

Meets the inlaws, labourers on a sugar plantation who have scrimped and saved to give the eldest son an education.

Cheddi, her husband, opens a dental practice and she works with him as an assistant, but their true passion is politics, and soon they are shoulder-deep in their life work.

The rest is history.

Long story short: Janet Jagan was elected President of Guyana in 1996, the climax of an amazing life dedicated to a people who at first rejected her for being a "white foreigner" and who now called her Ma. Janet has spent her life working untiringly for the Guyanese people: putting her life and safety at risk, spending time in jail, facing the wrath of John F. Kennedy, breaking down barriers of gender and race.

My father spent much of his life working for the Jagans, so I know them personally. In between all her political activities Janet has written and published several children's books. She loved my novels and put me forward for the Guyana Prize for Literature in 2004, but unfortunately I was a German citizen and ineligible.
 Here we are at a reading I gave in Guyana, 2004:

From her Guardian obituary:
"The death of Janet Jagan, who has died aged 88, closes a remarkable and controversial career in Guyanese and postwar anti-imperialist politics, within which she was a central figure from 1946 until her death. She became president in succession to her husband Cheddi Jagan in 1997 and along the way she acquired as many supporters as enemies."

Another Book!

My short story "How Bhoomi Broke her Bonds" has been published in Tell Tales IV, the Global Village.
The launch party was last Thursday, April 2nd. at the Blag Club in Notting Hill Gate. I took my cousin Rod and his partner Jaunita Cox and we had a blast!
I don't go out socially much at all so it was a very good change for me; and I realised how very much I fit the image of Writer in a Garrett... and writing in a garrett just doesn't work in these fast times. People - by that I mean writers - go out, meet other people, (writers), network, network, network. So I decided to join the club, and, armed with a copy of my book, went around the club gathering autographss from as many contributors as I could get my hands on.

I got to meet quite a few interesting people. Not counting co-editor Monique Roffey, (because I already knew her) here's who I met:

Courttia Newland, Tell Talles IV editor. Courttia's name has become familiar to me over the last few months and it was great to meeet him in person, chat, and know that I will be included in some of his future projects! He is very active in the London literature scene and it is him we have to thank for helping to keep the short story alive.

Jeremy Poynting, editor of the Peepal Tree Press, which publishes Caribbean and Indian literature and non-fiction. I've submitted to Peepal Tree Press before, but the timing was wrong... anyway, I chatted with him and got him interested in my future biography of Janet Jagan. More about that later.

So there I was, going around asking people if they're "in the book", and I met this group of three ladies. So I popped the question, and they said, "no, we're agents!" "Oh!" I said, "Which agency?" and they told me but I'm sorry to say I didn't get it and I didn't know how to follow up on that, by announcing, "I've got JUST the book for you, three in fact!"
I'm really quite shy, you know. So I just moved on, with a bright smile. More's the pity.

On the way home we ran into one of the contributors, Catherine Smith, at Notting Hill Gate tube station. Tunrs out she lives in Lewes, which is a stop on my way home to Eastbourne. So of course we travelled together. At Victoria we discovered the next train to Eastbourne would be a 45 minute wait, so we decided to take the Brighton train and then double back to Lewes/Eastbourne. And on the way back Catherine and I became friends. She happens to be teaching a Creative Writing Course at Sussex U. where I am doing my MA and we had quite a few mutual acquaintances, including the indefatigable poet John Agard and his partner Grace Nichols. John is an old friend of mine, which is why I call him Johnny; we were Young Adults together in Georgetown, when he was already a budding poet and I was a budding.... well, hippy, I guess. We worked together at Georgetown's Sunday Chronicle and shared some good times.
And now he's a famous poet, and succesful too, which just proves that you CAN make a living form poetry, if you've got Johnny's talent and spirit. A lovely puckish fellow, and Grace is just as great.

So, that was my round-up for Thursday. More to come...