the Novel I stated that my archive would remain with me. I see now that I
may never have the proper storage facilities, should any individual have a wish
to look into the life of this novelist.
It is indeed, a very difficult task to attempt to arrange with some coherence, three decades of this writing life. For example, as I begin, the first note I read says: “Just to think on the critic corrupts your work. It is the evil side to human nature.”
Here’s another: “The absurdity of being a critic before being a writer – the most absurd phenomenon in the history of literature.”
Someone's observation: "The foe shall forever after be designated as the
listener who gets up and begins pounding the poet on his head!"
And yet another: "... the English departments compound neglect with their
snobbery... a vested interest in obscurity."
Such notes may not go down well with hundreds of thousands across the globe. But it is absolutely true. Aspiring writers are known to have committed suicide because of the critic. My own experience has been one of devastation and shock. Therefore I researched the literary critic and wrote (unpublished) (Published in the year, 2008 in: The Novelist as: Instrument of God) The Critic’s Critic Critic. I was rewarded by reading Millett’s Professors. And the evil was corroborated with a reading of What is Literature… Or even my good and distinguished friend, author and critic, Professor Frank Birbalsingh’s Novels and the Nation. The latter I criticized mentally.
And then my thoughts turn to Yorkshire, and a self-styled, world-renowned critic and publisher, etc., who mangled my novel, The Elect. And a pile of personal correspondence with this fellow!
So just a brief statement leads to an infinity…..for those who would know truth!
And now another note to put an end to the above nonsense. “The brilliant writer achieves the greatest intellectual work by the use of simple words. The critic conceals his banality in bombast and calls it academic writing.”
A couple of typewritten versions.
After three attempts: Final lengthy novel.
Pen written and typewritten versions of:
Requiem for a Village & Apartheid Love.
Edited, chopped up pieces.
Finally published in 1982
Pen written and type written versions of:
Retribution for Sarah
Pen and type written versions.
The Changing Village 1983
Approx. 24.000 words peter out…
Final version of Juliana’s Sin in 1984. (Still unpublishable!)
1985 & 1986
Curse of the Blacksheep
Lengthy novel of approx. 120.000 words.
Only pen written manuscript.
The Elect published in 1993 or so.
By the world renowned critic, of course!
The Elect (new pen and type written
edition in 1996). In diskette.
Still unpublished. And awaiting the passage of 50 years; acc. to publishing laws!
1988 & 1989
Pen and Type-written versions. (Massive).
The critic says publishable. I say unpublishable!
New Edition of
Curse of the Blacksheep
Pen and type written versions.
Too disgraceful for publication. (Autobiography of some two score years, exposing the law of primogeniture - an evil predating Cain and Abel)>
1987 – 1988
Pen written short stories – Some published. Others unpublished.
1990 & 1991
When Gods Were Slaves
No editing necessary. Perfection achieved.
An experience with grace.
Pen and type written manuscripts.
New Publication 2004
Initiated into academia at the University of Nebraska,
Professor Learthen Dorsey.
New version of The Promise
Pen and typewritten ms.
Initiated into academia at York University, Toronto,
Professor David V.
1994 – 1995
Colour of Pain
Pen and typewritten ms.
Written over the decades and 1996
Some anecdotes or short stories to hone my pen.
Some published in the anthology:
Sunday 14th August, 2005
Empty, wrenching feelings to think about parting with these writings. Perhaps worthless to me now, they yet adorn my life.
Writing the Novel or A Touch of Grace.
Originally written as a response to the many who asked,
how I wrote When Gods Were Slaves.
Penned while recovering from a horrible breakdown.
And published in 2003 with the urging of Marie Blair.
Pen written ms. and diskette.
Radio Interview with Donna Seebo
Jailbait Jones & The Neighbourhood.
Pen written and diskette versions.
Still to be edited and considered for publication.
The Forerunner or Battle of the Spear
Pen and diskette versions.
Monday 15th August, 2005.
An afternoon of pain and hurt to delve into past correspondence with my Yorkshire Publisher, world renowned critic, authority on the Indian Diaspora, and then on this and on that, etc., and who published The Elect. A correspondence that was to endure into early in the following decade.
Perhaps it was around 1984, I received his lengthy,
critical appraisal of my first published work, Requiem for a Village and
Apartheid Love. Its final words: “…to produce an even more impressive
The pile of correspondence begins with each other’s hopes and ambitions. An author and a publisher. By 1987 I had produced the manuscript, The Elect. (At this moment I am looking at the contract I signed). Soon after, the pile of letters turned into fawning, flattery, and naked attrition. And much more. Anger at this fellow editing my ms., combining Jane Austen with Trinidad Calypso. Another critic at this time became my reader. I told him that my work was mangled.
I wrote a paper then with the following title: A search for a compromise between the world of conventional editing… In a three-way correspondence I heard that I had assaulted Yorkshire with a half dozen pages.
The attrition continued as now I am gazing at letters I had completely forgotten. These, when not filled with deceit, are too embarrassing to be recorded here.
The critics of this world. My good friend, Professor Frank Birbalsingh is much aware of all that goes, and yet… Ismith Khan is dead dead dead. Frank's Guyana in the Caribbean (Recalls The Caribbean Artists Movement by Anne Walmsley) gives praise to all and sundry; endows a knighthood too.
It was time to move on. I would attempt one last novel. The result was
When Gods Were Slaves.
The critic’s assessment was: This work is very very very…..good. It needs no editing. Yet when we launched it at the University of the West Indies…another embarrassment too absurd to record. My wife and I were paralyzed for six straight weeks. Until Professor Frank’s review. Until a meeting with the Barbadian novelist, George Lamming. Until Heinemann’s lengthy critical appraisal: “…the novel is certainly worthy of publication.”
My assumptions then that they were not interested in a black novel, I gave way as being puerile or immature. I was wrong. They were not.
I had crossed boundaries and gone into the historical past with accuracy. (A great novelist has no need to cross boundaries, and does not even understand what that means). The novel needed no editing. Gradually I began to understand that no novelist had ever achieved such a feat. I wrote another private letter telling of a particular experience during this writing, when I felt I was going mad. I came to understand that a condition of grace had descended upon me. Pat Mc Leod uses this book as her Bible.
(Not much later, I came upon the words of the late Sir Arthur Lewis – Nobel Prize for economics - : The duty of the author in the Caribbean is to return the peoples to themselves. Still later, in C.L.R. James’ Party Politics in the West Indies, I saw the above statement expanded into: Someone from another race should write about how the peoples lived on the continents, the reasons for their being shipped across the oceans and how they endured on the plantations. (In my correspondence to two presidents of this republic, I mentioned that I do believe the above great men would have been pleased to know that their dreams have finally been achieved).
Frustration and the worthiness of my manuscript drove me into private publication. And a ton of correspondence followed.
Meanwhile, with more ignorance than Hernadi’s protagonists, the critic continued to threaten to use the ‘scientific method’ against the author!
In the ensuing years, I heard several times of authors selling their archives to foreign universities. My head wagged slowly as I heard of some columnist writing, that the author’s archive should have been negotiated by our university here, so that students would have the benefit of studying how he did it.
But the above culled another saying about casting pearls before swine, lest they turn and rend you again.
Correspondence with Professor Frank Birbalsingh of York University, Toronto.
We had shared a single piece of correspondence in the decade of the eighties. From 1993, after When Gods Were Slaves and his review, Frank and I shared a personal correspondence through pen and type written letters.
As I glance randomly at a few, I see they were letters of oppression, letters of complaint, and more complaint. I complained about the pirate publishers and about the manqué critic. I complained about the refusal of individuals and organizations to buy a single copy of my work. I complained about a dire need for the smallest authorial grant…..
At the same time, I was always researching, writing or rewriting, editing, proofreading, hiring a typesetter, finding artists (Lisa and Pat Chu Foon of late) to design my cover, and scraping for money for the printer! (I have in possession over $100.000 in receipts for printing costs over the years. Another reason why my wife was never able to buy a second-hand motor vehicle)! Frank tried in vain to encourage me. I had to leave off writing Colour of Pain to publish The Promise. When I returned to my writing, some six months later, I found myself in great confusion. I wrote to Frank that the world will not forgive me my weaknesses in my novel. (When I finally published Colour of Pain, Frank wrote bluntly that he did not have to like all my novels)!
Oh! Here now I see Frank selling some of my novels in Canada! Now my constant complaints about the noisy environment - my nemesis since I began writing! I see that Frank wants to write my biography. Now I am congratulating him on his excellent book: The Rise of West Indian Cricket. This very distinguished author then reminded me of what Millett said in his book: Professors, about the great critic: That he is second only to the novelist. (Of course, I did not say that the critic would rather commit suicide than believe in Fred Millett.) Still, I urged Frank several times to see himself in Millett's book.
We continued corresponding, while Frank became a frequent visitor to my home. I was accustomed to vigorous exercises at the end of each day, and for some time I had felt my body heating up. A friend advised me to join his yoga classes. Some time in 1997, neither vigorous exercise nor yoga availed as I experienced a living nightmare. So horrible that I quickly realized that it would be better to end my life than to bear the excruciating pains. Overnight, my physique was transformed into a Shakespearian ghost.
During my convalescence, I replied to the often asked question: How did I write When Gods Were Slaves. As aforesaid, this turned into Writing the Novel. (On this work, I have the original radio interview with Donna Seebo on diskette).
Noise became obscene. The neighbourhood was hostile. In 1999, my wife and I spent fifty disgusting days in Canada. (I shall explain in another section). I have in my possession a couple of pictures, one at the lake and another with Frank and his wife, Norma in their refreshing backyard.
There are several more letters shared between us that I have not bothered to look at. By the year 2000, the computer and instant emailing was responsible for the loss of more correspondence. But I have saved one of Frank’s letters on his suspicions for Vidia Naipaul (This antithesis lived three miles from me) to have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
As I write now, Frank is struggling to recover from a stroke. (He was smitten some six months ago on his way to England. Luckily, his wife Norma was with him. She is a nurse.) I said a prayer for him last night…..
Writing the Novel or A Touch of Grace.
You write with the sum total of your knowledge, and
though the novel will not tolerate irrelevancies, there is much to be
deduced from abstruse knowledge, especially, as often it is declared nonsense!
(eg. Practical Rules for the Management of Slaves,
by a professional planter!) Sharlow.
In Writing the Novel I wrote: It is expected that the aspirant would have read as widely as possible, and would possess a fair command of the English language. Not having accomplished that, he might as well engage himself with hieroglyphics.
We all begin with the latter in one way or the other. I began with two screws named, Twirly and Twisty. And with scores of comics. (The late James A. Michener has highlighted the great role and importance of comics, especially to astronauts and to scientists, in his novel, Space).
This was followed in primary school by King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. And in the age of dwindling puberty, by Earl Standley Gardiner’s Perry Mason. I also read Westerns by Zane Grey and Luke Short.
Perhaps my essential influences were inculcated in the next decade of my life. On Love: from Chaucer. From Shakespeare embracing all of life, including the elements. (The latter’s imagery, says Heinemann’s critic of my magnum opus, is similar to that in King Lear). And perhaps to weave a tale in Africa, from Edgar Rice Burrows’: Tarzan of the Apes. To these were added novels by Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Marie Corelli, Charles Dickens, and D.H. Lawrence. Also, a few of the British Poets, and plays such as: Joan of Arc or The Duchess of Malfi. (We studied Joseph Conrad).
From Russia, there was Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. And from France, Hugo Francis’ Les Miserables. These were my wonders of the world. Later a few more wonders were added: Several great novels by Frank Yerby, and Taylor Caldwell from North America, and Michener of Canada. And Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. Leon Uris from Greece gave me Trinity and The Haj amongst others.
Of course I read hundreds of other novels of which I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed to tell. These may be publications by Mills and Boon, about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And which have done irreparable harm to millions across the globe. And of course, I was titillated by the libertinism of Harold Robbins.
I also read other books. And these include the works of Tibet’s Lobsang Rampa or those by Kahlil Gibran. Later, those of Germany’s Eric von Daniken, and even Iran’s Sadeq Hedayat and poetry by Farough Farrokhzad. I read the first poems in English written by East Indian authors, but could not find their first novels in English. (I would not mention the likes of Stephen King).
From South Africa, Doris Lessing. And from Kenya, wa Thiongo’s A Grain of Wheat appeared similar to Michener’s Poland. And from Nigeria, novels of Chinua Achebe, and poetry perhaps by Mapanji and certainly Wole Soyinka. From Amos Tutuola's Palm Wine Girl I took Oya for my novel.
Last of all, I went to the Public Library of my own country, and read all the West Indian novelists and some poets. (A suggestion by my reader). From Roger Mais and Andrew Salkey in Jamaica, through Jean Rhys and George Lamming, to Guyana’s Jan Carew and Edgar Mittelholzer. (And of course, the works of a former correspondent, Carryl Philips, such as The Final Passage or A State of Independence and Jamaica Kincaid's (Virginia Turner) Lucy. (I omitted CLR. James’ Minty Alley).
Books in Specific Fields
It was not Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, nor The Development of Underdevelopment, but Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery which led me to research the field of economics. After studying Hanson’s Textbook of Ecomomics, I turned to the world’s first recognized economist, Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations. I was able to see how the logic of text book or theoretical economics, was sacrificed to maintain the status quo of the African Slave Trade. (Bamboozlement from the beginning).
Next was a study of Karl Marx’s Das Capital and his amazing theories on labour. Eric Williams, considering Smith’s factors of production, did not fail to point out the economic hypothesis of ‘all things being equal’. And that in those days all things were certainly not equal. For those who insisted on being blind, Williams insisted on pointing out just who contributed most to world development. (Later, I observed British writers replacing one factor of production with the word, expertise).
Next I allowed that great man, John Kenneth Galbraith, whom I call the economists’ economist, to teach me. (It did not escape my observation, that Galbraith had created philosophy out of economics!) I came across the quote why it was necessary to study economics: So that I would not be confused by economists. After about ten of his great books, I saw that in The New Industrial State he called economics bamboozlement! I believe I have sufficiently engaged myself in this field to explain a bit about how economics is bamboozlement – and much more.
I pay tribute to the great John Kenneth Galbraith, who taught me a great deal about how the world spins. (Even though his very witty A Tenured Professor is a novel by an economist for economists).
for: When Gods Were Slaves
In this country, books are not readily available to the general public. Thus I am baffled whenever I hear some complain about illiteracy and semi- illiteracy, and even functional illiteracy! Lucky for me that my wife was studying at the university during the years 1987 – 1993, and so, was able to thief research material for me.
To begin, I told her to get me material on the continent beginning from a thousand years ago. I began then to see the fringes of the Sahara at Kano on the mouth of the Niger. During that time too, the Nigerian, Dr. Fun So Aiyejina visited me, and I was able to grasp from him something of the African psyche. I kept it.
The following are some books and other materials which I researched:
A Tribute for the Negro by Wilson Armistead.
African Survivals in Trinidad & Tobago, by Dr. J. D. Elder
Practical Rules for the Management of Negro Slaves, by a professional planter.
British Slave Trade Suppression Policies 1821 – 1865, by Le Veen.
Out of Slavery/ Abolition and After 1833 - 1895 Ed. by Jack Hayward.
Capitalism and Slavery – Eric Williams
Preface to Modern Nigeria – Jean Herskovits Kopytoff.
The Story of Nigeria – Michael Crowder
The Yoruba Ancestral Cult in Gasparillo – Dr. J.D. Elder
Nigeria Magazine – Festac Edition 1977
The Wretched of the Earth – Frantz Fannon (Pre) Jean Paul Satre
Yoruba Beliefs and Sacrificial Rites – J. Omosade Awolalu, Ph.D, and his wife Bosede.
Black Names – J.L. Dillard
Arrow of God – Chinua Achebe
Palm Wine Girl by Amos Tutuola
The History of the Yorubas – Johnson
Sons of Kings – Gobineau
Slavery Days in Trinidad – 1797 to 1838, Carlton Robert Ottley.
The Story of San Fernando – C.R. Ottley
The Plantation Slaves of Trinidad – 1783to 1816 A. Meredith John
Knibb – ‘The Notorious.’ Philip Wright
British Historians and the West Indies – Eric Williams
History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago – Eric Williams
Trinidad in Transition by Donald Wood.
Profile Trinidad – Michael Anthony
British Slave Emancipation - Green
Peninsular General – Frederick Myatt. (Biography of Picton).
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa – Walter Rodney.
Colonialism 1870 – 1945 by D.K. Fieldhouse
Return to my Native Land by Aime Cesaire
Negritude – Philosophy of African Being by Abiola Irele.
West Africa – 1600 to 1800
Crisis and change in the international sugar economy – Roberta M. Delson
Thesis by Bridget Brereton
Thesis by Carl Campbell
Thesis by Fun So Aiyejina
Papers presented by distinguished individuals at
The Quinquennial Conference held at Hull, in Bristol to
Songs by Miriam Makeba (For cultural empathy).
This is the first novel that led me to extensive research. One of the first things I learnt was that I was not an East Indian. (If any man of the African or Indian diaspora harbours the thought that he is of the continent, let him attempt to write a page of creative literature about the continents, and he would immediately come to the realization that he is neither fish nor fowl).
Like Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations some history books delight in carrying a thousand odd pages. Such as The Reformation by Will Durant, or Europe Since Napoleon by David Thompson. Two short history books on India were actually short after a thousand pages! No wonder, in Writing the Novel I mentioned I had to keep sawing off the legs of my table so as to adjust my eyesight!
Still, an example of the fact that we write with the sum total of our knowledge…..abstruse knowledge serves as a foundation of confidence, can be seen in one of my short stories Datura in More Times & Things.
From an accidental experience with a hallucinating herb, I was able to make allusions to Chaucer’s Cresideye, and Shakespeare’s Calpurnia. And also, to the great European Reformers including the Humanist, Desiderius Erasmus!
The Cambridge Shorter History of India by Allan.
A Short History of India, by W.H. Moreland and Sir Atul Chandra Chatterjee.
A New System of Slavery by Hugh Tinker
The National Culture of India – S. Abid Hussain
Myth and Reality – D.D. Kosambi
Kamasutra – Vatsyayana
Grass Root People – Harry Narain
Ramayana – Translated by William Buck
History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago – Eric Williams
A short history of the East Indian progress in Trinidad, and lives of famous Indians.
East and West Indians Rescue Trinidad – C.R. Ottley
British India 1772 to 1947 by Michael Edwards
Indentured Labour in the British Empire 1834 to 1920
Conference of Caribbean Historians (vi).
Crisis and Change in the International Sugar Economy 1860 to 1914 by Bill Albert and Adrian Graves.
Trinidad in Transition – Donald Wood
A History of Modern Trinidad 1783 to 1962 by Bridget Brereton.
Bhagavad-Gita – A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
The Making of the West Indies.
Urban Nationalism – A Study of Political Development in Trinidad by Alvin Magid.
What Can India Teach Us? By Max Muller.
Thesis by Kusa Harracksingh.
Thesis by Marianne Ramesar.
Survivors of Another Crossing by Marianne Ramesar.
Indian-English Literature – A perspective.
Poems by Shiv K. Kumar, Siddalingaiah, Chandrakant Khot, Siddalinga Pattannashetti, Keshav Malik, Arun Sedwal, Kunwar Narayan, Raji Narasimhan, J. Birje-Path and Rabindranath Tagore.
Indian English Literature by Elena J. Kalinnikova.
Traditional India – Ed. by O.L. Chavarria Aguilar.
Some Aspects of Indian Culture – C. Sivaramamurti.
Indian Heritage and Culture – K. Satya Murty.
The Upanishads – Swami Nikhilananda.
of the Spear
I would have to list the bibliographies of both When Gods Were Slaves and The Promise, since the former is relevant background, while the latter is contemporary with the life and times of John Jacob Thomas.
Added research included:
When Gods Were Slaves by Sharlow
The Promise by Sharlow
Report on the State of Education in the island of TRINIDAD by Patrick Joseph Keenan, Esq.
The Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar by J.J. Thomas
Froudacity – West Indian Fables Explained by J.J. Thomas.
The Story of San Fernando – C.R. Ottley
Patterns of Regional Settlement and Economic Activity by Immigrant Groups in Trinidad 1851 to 1900 by Marianne Ramesar
Profile Trinidad – Michael Anthony
The English in the West Indies by James Anthony Froude
the Novel or A Touch of Grace
After several years of being asked how I wrote When Gods Were Slaves, and finding myself in a state of convalescence, I decided to give reply. My intent was to write a simple letter of explanation. I realized then that nothing could ever be simple again in my life.
When I realized that I had to research myself, my own
archive, I believe I wrote in Writing… that this is simply not done! My
actual meaning had to do with the quotation to be found at the end of an
interview by Sunity Maharaj:
The failure to recognize and to appreciate
literary talent is a form of oppression.
A NEW IDENTITY OR A lost heritage 2006
Pen written and diskette versions
A New System of Slavery - Hugh Tinker
History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago - Eric Williams
Report on Education in Trinidad - Patrick Keenan
The Cambridge Shorter History of India - Allan
A short History of India - W.H. Moreland and Sir Atul Chandra Chatterjee
Trinidad in Transition - Donald Wood
The Promise - Sharlow
When Gods Were Slaves - Sharlow
The Forerunner - Sharlow
Offerings - Rajnie Ramlakhan
Survivors of Another Crossing - Marianne Soares Ramesar
Ramayana - William Buck
Bhagavad-gita - A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Autobiography of a YOGI - Paramahansa Yogananda
Froudacity - John Jacob Thomas
World of Correspondence in the decade of the nineties.
It does not make any sense to me to list in any detail, a tremendous amount of correspondence which were mostly frustrating or futile. As Professor Frank said in 1999 to the Canadian Publisher, Vassanji and a Newspaper owner: “Sharlow has had bad experiences.”
These letters are typewritten, since I only had the computer in the year 2000. They are correspondence mostly due to my marketing attempts, and also, to try and secure a grant to help my annually worsening situation. It is painful even now to delve into these.
Perhaps it started after an evening with George Lamming at his mother’s Petit Bourge residence here. We spoke about proposing publishers, and individuals to do reviews on When Gods Were Slaves. Thus Heinemann’s critic’s excellent review, published in Writing the Novel. I will not mention the name of a Trinidadian professor established abroad, who wrote his review for Ebony. Trinidad was not to see it!!!
I recall Lamming’s words: “You have crossed the greatest hurdle by bringing out the book. You just have to wait and after two or three years someone will pick it up.” The publishing world was undergoing change with the speed of light at the same time!
Here is correspondence to Dr. Karen King Aribisala in Nigeria, to contact the Nobel Prize Laureate Wole Soyinka for me. Soyinka’s brief response explained that he was fleeing persecution; he gave me three addresses to send him Gods. There is perhaps some lost correspondence with the Afro-American scholar, Henry Louis Gates, Junior, who found Soyinka once more for me in this decade. Correspondence from Wole giving me his literary agent. Melanie Jackson wrote that Gods was too huge for her to handle! It reminded me of correspondence in the other decade with Bridget Aschenberg who was Derek Walcott’s (Nobel Prize 1992) agent. In a three way phone conversation which included my wife, she said she did not do the novel, but to send it as she would give her associate.
I began the marketing with a list of potential buyers in my own district, and with my wife taking to the streets, to the schools and libraries of this country. It was encouraging for a while. Correspondence with foreign embassies here. Some of them even bought my books, such as the Nigerian Embassy, or the India High Commission. Correspondence to and from two ex- presidents of the republic. One was quoted as saying: Small states produce literature. I believe he was thinking of his own biography.
If I thought I could have begged a grant from the Embassies, I was mistaken. I have written in other correspondence, that so far as Literature is concerned, Trinidad is worse off than any of the islands of the archipelago. Indeed, worse off than Tierra del Fuego!
The marketing progressed to some of the West Indian islands. Correspondence with Samuel B. Bandara of Jamaica who bought books for Acquisitions, and gave me Annie Greet of Australia. Barbados and Grenada were more encouraging in their purchases, while I could understand Guyana’s purchase of two copies.
A massive correspondence with literary agents, key individuals, and publishers abroad now began. There is correspondence with England and more with the United States. I was being swindled off my books as far away as Nova Scotia, and by 1999, at Bathurst in Toronto. Sales to England and the United States Acquisition Departments. I have correspondence in file of those who bought.
Correspondence to and from twenty-nine business enterprises here. These include the giant oil companies, banks, and even The West Indian Tobacco Company. I informed the latter that I had been supporting them for the past thirty-five years, by smoking on average two packs of cigarettes per day, and which would have cost me approximately $127.750.00. All the companies boasted at one time or the other of their great support for culture. Not a single company bought a single book, while they all replied in stock phrase: “…we regret that due to severe budgetary constraints, we will not be able to assist at this time.” The next day, one bank boasted on the newspaper of making half a billion dollars in profits. (The letters (stationery) from the companies are pretty to look at).
Continuing the search for grants, letters to Josh Henry, the CEO of Trinidad Cement Limited. This appreciative gentleman bought twenty copies each of my two major books. We spoke about a grant, and I was told that would be ‘breaking ground’, but to write a letter of request. At that time a member of parliament and sometime Speaker of the House of Representatives, took over and asked how much I was looking at. I merely thought about our debts from printing costs, and said, $25.000.
“That is all you want, man Sharlow,” said this politician. He was also the lawyer for the Southern Chamber of Commerce. I was asked to state my reasons for a request. Huge correspondence followed. The politician not only fooled me, he destroyed the attempt of Josh Henry of Trinidad Cement Limited!!!
I see correspondence here to and from Sandra Gift, Secretary-General of the Trinidad & Tobago National Commission for UNESCO for a grant. Everybody was sure that I deserved a grant, but I seem to be missing it by some slight and far-fetched qualification!!!
Another lengthy piece of correspondence to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Culture. This fellow phoned me late in the night, setting up my hopes that ‘We must do something for you, man.” I stopped looking for something years ago.
Lengthy correspondence to the Minister of Culture and Youth Affairs – in another regime. (Of course, I had to keep giving away my books to entertain these correspondence). At Clico House, I spent ninety intense minutes outlining my case to the sympathetic minister. I even pointed out that the critics here receive grants of hundreds of thousands of dollars, just to write about or promote the authors, while it is the latter who exist in stark poverty! When the minister inquired how much I was looking at, I told her, anything at all. Then changed my mind, and told her I would leave that up to her.
Twenty-four hours later, I received an abrupt phone call. “The minister wishes to say that she cannot accommodate me, because she cannot circumvent the funds!” I was not angry that it took her twenty-four hours to realize this, since I knew she had decided at our interview. I was angry at the waste of my time, and expenses which I could ill afford! I was also frustrated at the ignorance which underlay literary oppression!
I also see several letters to and from Foundations and Organizations abroad, from whom I courted a grant in vain. Some refused me politely, while one from England is definitely an insult. The gist is that I should renounce my citizenship here and become a citizen of England, there to write praises of my new country before such grants can be considered! The fellow was most smug to inform me that they gave their award to Vidyahar Naipaul!
There remains a tremendous amount of correspondence which I have not bothered to look at. Letters to and from Dr. Evelyn O’Callaghan of the Cave Hill campus at Barbados, who together with Dr. Vishnudat Singh of the Trinidad Campus put up their own money to post copies of my book for the Commonwealth Prize – so confident were they of my magnum opus! (When Gods Were Slaves could not fit into any category for the award)!!!
After Professor Gus John’s trials with Gods in England, 1998, a most influential professor from New York, New York, with whom I had phone conversations for eighteen months, decided to sell movie rights to the actor, Wesley Snipes. After a three-way phone conversation, which included my wife, we were asked to send four copies and to come to New York. I will not state the reasons why this fell through, and left me and my wife stranded for fifty miserable days in Canada, in the year, 1999.
Notes Notes Notes in files everywhere! Private Letters & Papers.
Notes on almost every book that I have researched: on the several histories and on economics, on sociology and biographies, or on religion and philosophy.
I have never written a draft, and how I wrote (lived) the novel is clearly explained in Writing the Novel. (Today’s work will determine the next day’s). So I took daily notes on where my manuscript was leading; until they represented ensuing chapters to the finish. This is for all my writings. So there are several files with notes for each book that I wrote.
I see before me now a paper of some ten typewritten pages, titled: The Critic’s Critic Critic. I have already stated my experience with the critic. Late in the decade of the nineties, my wife drew my attention to a newspaper article captioned: Critic as Creator. It was penned by one of our university lecturers.
I have great love and respect for the chief proponent of Existentialism, Nietzsche. Indeed I have several notes on this philosopher, and I am sure that he too had his experience with grace. Only thus could he have written: I love only what a man has written with his blood. Write with Blood, and you will experience that blood in spirit. I had the experience! (I had also read Kafka and Kierkegaard).
Again: Your work, your will, that is your neighbour.
I live this experience!
I recalled it was Nietzsche who said that the only creator is the author.
And that too, I fully understood. I was bothered by the misguided article and the lecturer’s attempt to usurp the authorial role. The university students would be misguided. I was nagged by the thought that when good men do nothing they allow evil to rule.
Not long after, I asked my wife to get me research material on the literary critic. Millett’s Professors was instructive. But after reading What is Literature by Paul Hernadi 1978 (My beginning), I put an end to further research.
The first presentation begins with Snapshot: …begins with the stripes on tigers and about something said and something made. What is a tiger? To the intelligence of rats.
Again, I had had the experience!
Edward Davenport could not do better at exposing his own
specie: For trash on theories and stupidness. The uncertainty and even
falseness of our theories, should they be discovered, do not make them
worthless. (I say!!!)
My God, he continues: Could anything ever be more absurd? Our knowledge of what literature is must remain conjectural, but such conjectural knowledge can be useful, and can be improved, by further attempts to formulate theory.
Some Papers, Notes and Quotes
Perhaps it was the need for therapy through writing, or distillation of a topic, or sheer necessity which culled some of the above.
Critic’s Critic Critic – circa 1998, already mentioned.
Reflections, and an assessment of myself after twelve
years of fulltime writing. 1989.( already mentioned.)
Problems in Rewriting 1994. (to be found in Writing
Significance of When Gods Were Slaves 1993.
Synopsis for Curse of the Blacksheep.
Pen written letter to me by my first editor, on Juliana’s
Sin, Requiem for a Village, and Timmy and Pearl – circa 1982.
A helter-skelter search for a personal compromise,
between the apparently conflicting worlds of conventional editing and creative
Personal letter after completing the manuscript of When
Gods Were Slaves, expressing my opinion and explaining continuing
oppression in my present state. 1991
Papers on the Significance of The Promise and on
When Gods Were Slaves, as also prepared for launching.)
After the launching of When Gods Were Slaves and having experienced mischief and misconduct against me, I never contemplated launching another book in Trinidad!
* * *
In all my files and notes can be found a tremendous amount of immature quotes. The immature became mature only after the writing of When Gods Were Slaves and my experience with grace.
And to such an extent that in Writing the Novel I not only made quotes on significance and absolutes, but exposed a couple circulating the hemisphere as self delusions. On page 2: Maxims such as: It is better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. Or: The only people who have failed are those who have not striven, I shall expose to be self-delusions.
We write and we learn. We learn and we write, may appear all too simple. Not true; it is fraught and can only be understood after years of an individual’s writing. Indeed, I see now that something can be gleaned about this quote from the above archive!
I shall just take a couple of random quotes from the past.
1.)Writing the novel is like the course of a man’s
life. You never know where it leads. Sharlow
2)Give me back my history
Give me back my heritage.
This should be your cry.
This should be the pedagogic duty
Of all Caribbean institutions of learning.
Just before my experience with grace, I was subjected to some strange and sparkling emotions. For example, one morning, while entering my study with a second cup of coffee, I was struck with the thought: This room is holy ground! Around that time, perhaps it was intuition that made me pen the following.
I am not a magician, but if you stay awhile, and you
prove yourself not to be of swine, I shall cast you a pearl or two before I
Articles, Reviews and Interviews.
The first review was written by the Express journalist, Anthony Milne on Requiem for a Village & Apartheid Love. 1982
An Interview by Ms. Kathlyn Russel 1983 on the above work, to be found in Writing the Novel, pages 38 to 40. (Cracked-up picture of author then).
Review by Yorkshire on the above, 1984.
Review on When Gods Were Slaves by Professor Frank Birbalsingh, 1993. (On my website and newspapers).
Review of the above by Anthony Milne for the Express Newspaper. 1993
Review on the above by Simon Lee for the Guardian, 1993.
Interview with Sunity Maharaj for The Trinidad and Tobago Review, based on When Gods Were Slaves, 1993. (On website and newspapers).
Heineman’s critic’s lengthy and favourable review on When Gods Were Slaves, from Bristol in 1993.
Article of Introduction and excerpt of The Promise by Sunity Maharaj for The Express. (Newspapers). 1995
Introduction and excerpt on The Promise by Simon Lee for The Guardian, 1994.
Review of The Promise by Simon Lee for The Guardian 1995. (This journalist had access to Professor’s Frank’s review of Gods, before he wrote his own. He had no knowledge of East Indian Indentureship, and therefore proved Shakespeare’s words correct: Thou canst not speak about what thou dost not know! (He would have written differently had he seen Frank’s review of The Promise)! After that, one ought to be frightened of journalists.
I realized then that it was my error to think that a journalist could possibly be qualified to write a review on my novels! Except for a telephone interview with Anthony Milne for The Express on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of Indian Arrival Day, 1995 (On website and newspapers) I put an immediate end to further interviews.
Review on The Promise by Professor Frank Birbalsingh for INDOCARIBBEANWORLD 1999, Toronto. (On website and newspapers).
There are lesser articles which I will not bother to mention, such as Kamal Persad’s review on The Elect, and an article by Sheldon Osborne which appeared in The Guardian 1997, after I had made one of my rare appearances at the opening of Pat McLeod’s school, and where When Gods Were Slaves was highlighted by Carolyn Ravello and other speakers.
I am aware that several individuals have written on my works, such as in North America, Puerto Rico and the University here. I am also aware that even as I write, reviews are being written.
* * *
A never ending stream of articles and correspondence keep popping up. I thought to add a few.
Letter to Spike Lee (Shelton Jackson Lee) advising the director about the drama to be found in When Gods Were Slaves!
Best wishes from Mandela through his office.
Letters to and from the journalist, Anthony Milne when he was "fatally" married to Lady Camilla, and residing in Swindon, Wiltshire. (Includes a poem by Anthony titled: LAND SHARK).
Correspondence to the Canadian Publisher Vassanji. (Whom I met in 1999).
Letters of correspondence with Professor James Small.
Correspondence with Professor Gus John.
Correspondence with Regina James of Oujamaa of Nova Scotia...
Correspondence with the novelist from St. Kitts, and lecturer at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Caryl Phillips.
Numerous Letters to Publishers and Literary Agents.
Correspondence to the Nigerian Publisher, Chief Joop Berkout on the recommendations of Wole Soyinka.
Mahatma Gandhi by Vincent Sheean.
A long time ago, someone observed the obvious: Authors are the worse speakers. But the time had come to make a public appearance. I had to launch When Gods Were Slaves. Therefore Books by Dale Carnegie, and pages of notes on Public Speaking!
Synopsis on Curse of the Blacksheep.
* * *
Marie Blair (Sirens Publications, Lincoln, Nebraska) would be able to provide another tremendous amount of relevant information, accumulated over the three years or so gone by, especially on the spread of the above published works, to buyers, key figures and institutions in North America, and across the globe.
* Professor Wole Soyinka's continuing letters...
The above is a brief word on thirty fulltime years of this author’s life.
August 22, 2005
A NEW IDENTITY ( subtitle: A Lost Heritage) 2006
Jailbait Jones & Bruit: 2008
The Urchin: Memoirs of a Novelist: 2008
The Novelist as: Instrument of God: 2008
Murder in Paradise: for 2009
Through Marie Blair, letters from Wole Soyinka on Sharlow's
candidacy as a contender for the Nobel Prize in 2007.
(After 15 years, a curious letter from Peepal Tree Press, 5th August, 2008
with an even more curious reply.)
Letter from Sharlow to Wole (18th June, 2008) linking When Gods Were Slaves to Obama.