Authors: Earl Lovelace

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Trinidadian novelist and playwright

Identity: African descent

Author Works

Long Fiction:

While Gods Are Falling, 1965

The Schoolmaster, 1968

The Dragon Can’t Dance, 1979

The Wine of Astonishment, 1982

Salt, 1996

Short Fiction:

A Brief Conversion, and Other Stories, 1988

Drama:

The New Boss, pr. 1964

My Name Is Village, pr. 1976 (musical drama)

Jestina’s Calypso, pr. 1976

The New Hardware Store, pb. 1984

Jestina’s Calypso, and Other Plays, pb. 1984 (includes The New Hardware Store and My Name Is Village)

The Dragon Can’t Dance, pr. 1986 (adaptation of his novel)

The Wine of Astonishment, pr. 1987 (adaptation of his novel)

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Crawfie the Crapaud, 1997

Biography

The work of Earl Wilbert Lovelace, arguably the best-known Trinidadian novelist after V. S. Naipaul, insistently probes the lives of his fictional Trinidadians for their human response to historical, economic, and social conditions that circumscribe them. The settings for his works are both small Trinidadian villages and the capital city, Port-of-Spain, as indeed his own life has been divided between village and city.{$I[AN]9810001028}{$I[A]Lovelace, Earl}{$I[geo]TRINIDAD;Lovelace, Earl}{$I[geo]WEST INDIES;Lovelace, Earl}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;Lovelace, Earl}{$I[tim]1935;Lovelace, Earl}

Lovelace was born in the village of Toco. After receiving a basic education in a number of schools in Port-of-Spain, he graduated from Ideal High School with a Cambridge School certificate in 1953. His specialized education and training was in forestry and agriculture in Centeno, Trinidad; he obtained a diploma in 1962. After serving as a forest ranger for six years, he transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture, where he remained an agricultural assistant from 1959 to 1966. Encouraged in part by the British Petroleum Independence Literary Award for his first novel, While Gods Are Falling, he resigned from the civil service and pursued studies more closely related to his writing at Howard University in Washington, D.C., from 1966 to 1967, then returned to Port-of-Spain as a journalist for the Express newspaper.

Lovelace has received numerous honors as a writer and teacher. His skills in both capacities led to positions teaching writing at the University of the District of Columbia, The John Hopkins University, the University of the West Indies, and Hartwick College. In 1980, he was named a Guggenheim Fellow. In addition to his literary contributions to Trinidadian village life, he was a member of the village councils in Valencia, Rio Claro, and Matura, and he has worked with various youth and drama groups.

Lovelace published his first three short stories in the Trinidad Guardian in 1965, the year While Gods Are Falling was published. The Schoolmaster appeared in 1968, and in the eleven years between that and the publication of his third novel, The Dragon Can’t Dance, he wrote The Wine of Astonishment as well as several plays and musical dramas, most notably Jestina’s Calypso, which was first produced in 1976. His short stories were collected in A Brief Conversion in 1988. His novel Salt, which appeared in 1996, was awarded the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Novel.

While not prolific, Lovelace is an industrious writer of consistently well-crafted fiction that is richly sensuous in descriptive detail, unerring in the finely tuned dialect of its dialogue, and driven by a single-mindedness of theme that has sharply divided critics. Some see Lovelace’s work as directed toward the characters’ developing sense of identity or personhood, while others see it as developing a sense of communal power and responsibility. Those directions, often isolated as oppositions in criticism, may be more fruitfully seen as complementary, although conflicted in telling ways.

His first novel, While Gods Are Falling, convincingly portrays Walter Castle’s disastrous move to a Port-of-Spain slum, although the solution–Castle’s rallying the members of the community to assume their mutual responsibility–comes about didactically. That sense of community that the urban poor rediscover is established in the village of Kumaca well before Lovelace’s novel The Schoolmaster begins. The village’s serenity is disrupted by intrusions from the outside world: the building of a new road to the village and the coming of the schoolmaster, who has been educated away from the values of rural society. The drunken vagabond Benn has the best perspective on the ensuing conflicts but keeps his sense of dignity and self-worth by remaining an observer, not a combatant. Aldrick Prospect begins The Dragon Can’t Dance similarly distanced from the squabbles among the inhabitants of his yard. His sham self-reliance is a refuge from having to face the troubles of the group as well as his own desires. He exists on very little, putting his resources entirely into making his dragon costume for the Carnival masquerade. As the dragon, he is a symbol of the Trinidadian’s colonial resistance and independence. Ironically, the effort to be the dragon prevents him from acquiring the possessions that would let him make a life with Sylvia, the young beauty who loves him. His status is ambiguous; he is either a saint who has escaped materialism or a victim who has accepted society’s definition of him as a poor man.

Lovelace does not provide a solution for Aldrick (as he did for Walter Castle) but instead more widely and thoroughly traces the problems of community and selfhood through a range of characters, each of whom the novel traces as part of an ensemble. That technique reflects Lovelace’s increasing unwillingness to center his novels on a hero, which leads to an unsatisfactory notion of self-reliance or interior satisfaction at the expense of the group–and his implicit belief that the authorial use of “minor” characters to serve the definition of the hero is a reflection of the societal power structure. In this novel the potentially minor characters all take their turn as objects of the novel’s focus.

Lovelace’s work ought not to be framed overinsistently within the individual-community thematics but should instead be seen as an enactment of the protagonists’ triumphs, large and small, over their demeaning and desperate circumstances, over poverty or the state, over the self-destructive attitudes of their peers, and even over their own feeble gestures of resistance. In Jestina’s Calypso, after Jestina has been rejected by her pen-pal fiancé and the community, the “ugly” Jestina asserts herself with some of the most beautiful lines of the play. Individualism and communalism are the poles between which the characters move in their search for dignity and self-worth. Lovelace’s touch with his wide range of characters is affectionately comic and nearly tragic in its sense of the circumstances they are required to overcome.

BibliographyBarratt, Harold. “Metaphor and Symbol in The Dragon Can’t Dance.” World Literature Written in English 23 (1984): 405-413. Describes The Dragon Can’t Dance as a parody of the crucifixion and redemption and its characters as “wrongsided” saints.Cary, Norman Reed. “Salvation, Self, and Solidarity in the Work of Earl Lovelace.” World Literature Written in English 28 (1988): 103-114. Addresses Lovelace’s novels and plays as significant postcolonial writings. Examines what is called “their quest,” which is often expressed in religious terms.Dance, Daryl Cumber. Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. Devotes a chapter to Lovelace, analyzing his major works and listing scholarly articles concerning his books. Dance considers the quest for personhood (a term Lovelace prefers to manhood or identity), and the difficulty of achieving a true sense of self in an impersonal modern urban environment, as the major themes of his writings.Gowda, H. H. Anniah. “A Brief Note on the Dialect Novels of Sam Selvon and Earl Lovelace.” The Literary Half-Yearly 27, no. 2 (1986): 98-103. Draws comparisons between Lovelace’s use of dialect and that of Samuel Selvon, another West Indian novelist. Offers insights into how the Third World writer rebels against standard English and creates authenticity by attempting to record the actual speech of the people.Green, Jenny. “Lovelace’s Wine of Astonishment.” Trinidad and Tobago Review 6, no. 4 (1982). Points out that Lovelace deals with the significance of history and roots as well as the implications of social reliance on the intellectual. Lovelace is able to capture the voice of the people in his use of the language. Green sees the characters as symbols of forces at work in Trinidadian society.James, Louis. Caribbean Literature in English. New York: Longman, 1999. Provides a brief history of West Indian literature before turning to twentieth century writing dealing with the islands. One chapter discusses Trinidadian authors. James devotes another chapter to Lovelace, one of six major Caribbean writers granted separate chapters.Lowhar, Syl. “Ideology in The Wine of Astonishment: Two Views.” Trinidad and Tobago Review 10, nos. 11-12 (1988): 41-43. Lowhar sees the major events of the novel as having their parallels in the actual history of the society and explores the implications of these events.Reyes, Angelita. “Carnival: Ritual Dance of the Past and Present in Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance.” World Literature Written in English 24 (Summer, 1984): 107-120. Shows how the novel The Dragon Can’t Dance makes symbolic use of the traditions surrounding the idea of Carnival and how, in this indirect way, Lovelace conveys social change and history in the Caribbean. Analyzes the way the narrative shapes itself around the Carnival seasons, concluding that Carnival exemplifies a form of Third World resistance against past colonialism and neocolonialism.Taylor, Patrick. “Ethnicity and Social Change in Trinidadian Literature.” In Trinidad Ethnicity, edited by Kevin A. Yelvington. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993. Sees Lovelace as challenging ethnic stereotypes to open possibilities of building a more just society in Trinidad.Thomas, H. Nigel. “From ‘Freedom’ to ‘Liberation’: An Interview with Earl Lovelace.” World Literature Written in English 31 (Spring, 1991): 8-20. Lovelace describes his use of language and symbols within his novels and plays.Thorpe, Marjorie. “In Search of the West Indian Hero: A Study of Earl Lovelace’s Fiction.” In Critical Issues in West Indian Literature, edited by Erika Sollish Smilowitz and Roberta Quarles Knowles. Parkersburg, Iowa: Caribbean Books, 1984. Examines the kinds of heroes that appear in Lovelace’s fiction: the false ones whose only interest is materialism, the failures who become isolated, and the true heroes who express their Caribbean identity.
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