Authors: Garth St. Omer

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

West Indian novelist

Identity: African descent

Author Works

Long Fiction:

A Room on the Hill, 1968

Shades of Grey, 1968 (includes the novellas The Lights on the Hill and Another Place, Another Time)

Nor Any Country, 1969

J––, Black Bam, and the Masqueraders, 1972

Short Fiction:

“Syrop,” 1964

Biography

By 2002, Roland E. Garth St. Omer Bush had written three short novels and two novellas concerned with the existentialist despair of young men who do not see much of a future for themselves on the island of their birth. These works were written about St. Omer’s native Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Like many of his protagonists, St. Omer, who is of African descent, was born in St. Lucia when the island was still a British colony. Because he guards his privacy, nothing is publicly known about his parents. His cousin, Dunstan St. Omer, has been active in Caribbean theater. Dunstan, like Garth, is a friend of St. Lucia’s most famous writer, the 1992 Nobel Prize laureate Derek Walcott.{$I[A]St. Omer, Garth[Saint Omer, Garth]}{$S[A]Bush, Roland E. Garth St. Omer;St. Omer, Garth}{$I[geo]WEST INDIES;St. Omer, Garth[Saint Omer, Garth]}{$I[geo]ST. LUCIA[SAINT LUCIA];St. Omer, Garth[Saint Omer, Garth]}{$I[geo]AFRICAN AMERICAN/AFRICAN DESCENT;St. Omer, Garth[Saint Omer, Garth]}{$I[tim]1931;St. Omer, Garth[Saint Omer, Garth]}

Growing up on St. Lucia, Garth St. Omer attended St. Mary’s College and studied with Father Charles Jesse, a prolific writer and publisher of St. Lucian history and poetry. For young men like St. Omer, the priest served as a crucial mentor. He even appears in fictionalized form in St. Omer’s first novel, playing chess with the protagonist.

After graduating from St. Mary’s College in 1949, St. Omer taught for seven years at Caribbean high schools. By 1956, he had enrolled at the University College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. He graduated in 1959 with honors in French and Spanish. From 1959 to 1961, St. Omer taught English in French high schools. Reconnecting with his African roots, St. Omer moved to Ghana, where he taught English and French at Apam Secondary School for five years.

Returning to St. Lucia in 1966, St. Omer devoted himself to his career as a writer, which had been launched with the 1964 publication of his short story “Syrop,” about a young African Caribbean man who is killed by the propeller of a passing ship on the day he has finally landed a job. In 1967, St. Omer received a writing grant from the London Arts Council and continued to write in St. Lucia or London. His first novel, A Room on the Hill, was published in 1968. Critics were less happy with what some called a standard existentialist plot and protagonist but lauded the brilliant evocation of mood and atmosphere of the Caribbean setting.

St. Omer’s next works appeared in rapid succession. His two novellas, collected in Shades of Grey, both feature young African Caribbean men suffering from a lack of hope as they contemplate their stagnant island lives. In 1969 St. Omer began studies for his master of fine arts degree at Columbia University, which he received in 1971. By 1972, the next two novels had been published. They feature a common protagonist, Peter, who is faced with life decisions regarding his wife and mentally ill brother.

In 1975 St. Omer received his Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University and joined the English department of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). By 1985 he was married and living with his daughter in Santa Barbara. In 2002, Garth St. Omer, in his early seventies, was still teaching a full load as English professor at UCSB. His literary reputation relies on the work he published in his late thirties, as he apparently stopped writing shortly after his move to New York.

BibliographyCampbell, Elaine. “The Third Wave of St. Lucian Literature.” In Studies in Commonwealth Literature, edited by Eckhard Breitinger and Reinhard Sander. Tübingen, Germany: Günter Narr, 1985. Places St. Omer in the context of other St. Lucian writers of his generation, most notably Derek Walcott.Cousins, Jacqueline. “Symbol and Metaphor in the Early Fiction of Garth St. Omer.” Journal of West Indian Literature 3, no. 2 (September, 1989): 20-37. Perceptive study of St. Omer’s use of existentialist material.Dunwoodie, Peter. “Images of Self-Awareness in Garth St. Omer’s J––, Black Bam, and the Masqueraders.” Caribbean Quarterly 29 (June, 1983): 30-43. Contrasts the view of the two brothers in this book.Gilkes, Michael. “Garth St. Omer.” In The West Indian Novel. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Discusses the life and work of St. Omer. Useful, comprehensive survey.Kaye, Jacqueline. “Anonymity and Subjectivism in the Novels of Garth St. Omer.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 10 (August, 1975): 45-52. Critical analysis of St. Omer’s existentialist philosophy, which has shaped all his published fiction. Faults the writer for a lack of objectivity regarding his characters.King, Bruce. “Garth St. Omer: From Disorder to Order.” Commonwealth Essays and Studies 3 (1977/1978): 55-67. King sees a move toward maturation and greater concern for others in St. Omer’s development of his male protagonists.Thieme, John. “Double Identity in the Novels of Garth St. Omer.” Ariel 8 (July, 1977): 81-97. Praises J––, Black Bam, and the Masqueraders as his best work because the brothers, Peter and Paul, fully function as doubles.Williams, David. “Mixing Memory and Desire: St. Omer’s Nor Any Country.” Journal of West Indian Literature 2 (October, 1988): 36-41. Analysis of the protagonist’s relationship with his memory.
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