19 Jamaican Writers You Need To Know About

Roger Mais
Roger Mais

10. Roger Mais

Mais, born in Kingston and educated at Calabar High School, was journalist, novelist, poet, and playwright. He also wrote more than 100 short stories and more 30 radio plays, in addition to novels and poetry. Many of his short stories were published in the newspapers Focus and Public Opinion, and he also had a stint at the Jamaica Daily Gleaner. Many of his articles focused on social injustice and inequality. His social criticism led to a six-month jail sentence in 1944, and it was that ordeal that inspired his first novel, The Hills Were Joyous Together (1953).

His most enduring work is Brother Man (1954), and other works include Face and Other Stories (1946) and Black Lightning (1955). He also published two collections of stories and completed two unpublished novels. He was posthumously awarded the Order of Jamaica in 1978.

11. Claude McKay

Born Festus Claudius McKay in Nairne Castle, Clarendon, the renowned writer and poet who rose to prominence in the US as one of the seminal figures in the Harlem Renaissance. McKay published three novels in his lifetime: the award winning Home to Harlem (the first novel by a black American to become a best seller), Banjo and Banana Bottom. His 1941 a manuscript called Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem was found and authenticated in 2012. McKay also authored several poetry collections, an anthology of short stories, Gingertown, two autobiographical books, A Long Way from Home and My Green Hills of Jamaica (published posthumously), and a non-fiction, socio-historical dissertation entitled Harlem: Negro Metropolis. His 1922 poetry collection, Harlem Shadows, was among the first books published during the Harlem Renaissance.

12. Kei Miller

Miller, born in Kingston, never made it all the way to graduating from the University of the West Indies, where he had been reading for a BA in English Literature. However, he has since completed MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and later completed a PhD in English Literature at the University of Glasgow.

He has also written nine books, covering short story, poetry, essay collections and novels. He  and they range across all these genres – collections of shorts stories; collections of poems; novels; collections of essays. His works include Kingdom of Empty Bellies, There Is an Anger That Moves The Fear of Stones, The Same Earth, The Last Warner WomanA Light Song of LightWriting Down the Vision: Essays & Prophecies and his most recent poetry collection, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion. His latest novel, Augustown, is due later this year. He is currently the director of the Centre for Research in Creative Writing at the University of London, Royal Holloway.

13. Mutabaruka

Born Allan Hope, the former Kingston Technical High School student became Mutabaruka in the 1970s, a period of great black consciousness in Jamaica. He is widely known as a dub poet, though he would probably resist the limitations of the label. An electrifying performer, he holds audiences spellbound while saying his piece about issues such as injustice and inequality in society, the plight of black people locally and around the world, and more.

His works include the books Outcry, Sun and MoonThe First Poems and  The Next Poems, and 14 recordings, among them – Mystery Unfolds, Blakk Wi Blak, Muta in Dub, Melanin Man, and Life Squared. He has also appeared in two movies, Sankofa and One Love.

14. Mervyn Morris

Morris was born in Kingston in 1937 and later attended Munro College in St Elizabethe. From there, he went on to the University of the West Indies and St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He won an Institute of Race Relations Essay Competition in 1963 with a notable piece entitled, ‘Feeling, Affection, Respect’, and had essays and poems broadcast by the BBC before returning to Jamaica.

Morris has produced four collections of poems, The Pond, On Holy Week, Shadowboxingand Examination Centre. In 2014, he was named Jamaica’s first Poet Laureate in 60 years. The title of Poet Laureate is a national honour that recognizes a distinguished Jamaican poet for his/her significant contribution to the literary community. He was also appointed professor emeritus of creative writing and West Indian literature at the UWI, Mona, in 2003, after teaching in the Department of Literatures in English since 1970. Morris’ other accomplishments and awards include MCOBA Hall of Fame (2013), CPTC Cultural Medal of Honour (2012), Order of Merit, Jamaica (2009), Silver Musgrave Medal for Poetry (Institute of Jamaica, 1976), and the 1958 Rhodes Scholarship (1957).

15. C Everard Palmer

Cyril Everard Palmer authored more than 15 books in the children’s genre and has been recognised for his great work in Jamaican literature. He worked as a journalist with the Gleaner Company before starting a career as an author. All his stories, most of which were published between 1962 and 1981, were inspired by the memories of his childhood in rural Jamaica. Among his most popular works The Cloud with the Silver Lining, A Cow Called Boy, The Sun Salutes You and My Father, Sun-Sun Johnson. His last book was A Time to Say Goodbye (2006).

Among his awards are a Certificate of Merit by the Jamaican Reading Association for contribution to Jamaican children’s literature, and a 1977 Silver Musgrave Medal for Literature from the Institute of Jamaica.

16. VS Reid

Victor Stafford Reid was one of a handful of writers to emerge from the new literary and nationalist movement that seized Jamaican sentiment in the period of the late 1930s. Reid wrote with the intent of influencing Jamaican national pride, especially among the younger generations. He wrote eight novels, as well as several plays and short stories. His first novel was New Day, which chronicles the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865. It was written in Creole, so he found it hard to get published. His next book, The Leopard, came in the wake of the later Mau Mau Rebellion in Kenya, which had a much easier time getting published – to critical acclaim.

Reid shifted his focus to writing for a student audience, including Sixty-Five (1960), The Young Warriors (1967), and Peter of Mount Ephraim (1971). He was awarded the silver and gold Musgrave Medals (1955 and 1978), the Order of Jamaica (1980) and the Norman Manley Award for Excellence in Literature in 1981.

17. Trevor Rhone

Born on March 24, 1940, in St Catherine, Rhone would eventually become one of Jamaica’s most acclaimed and successful dramatists. His best-known works include the 1972 film The Harder They Come, which he co-wrote with Henzell; One Love, and Milk and Honey, which he co-wrote to earn The Genie Award (for Best Original Screenplay), Canada’s highest film honour. His plays include Smile Orange, Old Story Time, School’s Out, Two Can Play and Bellas Gate Boy.

Rhone, a graduate of Beckford & Smith (now St Jago High School) also taught at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, received many national awards from the Jamaican government, including Commander of the Order of Distinction and the Prime Minister’s Award for Lifetime Achievement.

19. Anthony C Winkler

Winkler was born in Kingston in February 1942 and lived between that city and Montego Bay. He was an acclaimed novelist, biographer, textbook contributor and screenwriter. His most famous works are The Lunatic, both the novel and the screenplay, and the screenplay for Cool Runnings.

His first novel was The Painted Canoe. Other novels include The Great Yacht Race (1992), The Duppy (1996), The Annihilation of Fish And Other Stories (2004), Dog War (2007) and his last, The Family Mansion (2013). His non-fiction works include Going Home to Teach (2006) and Trust the Darkness: My Life as a Writer (2008).