Bocas Lit Fest

Celebrating the centenary of the spellbinding Guyanese writer, 1921–2018

Wilson Harris

 

Born in New Amsterdam, in what was then British Guiana, on 24 March, 1921, Wilson Harris is considered one of the most original writers of the twentieth century, for his fiction, essays, and poems exploring human history, metaphysics, and the natural world, in an inimitable style dense with metaphor, symbolism, and mythological reference.

As readers in the Caribbean and around the world mark Harris’s centenary, we’ve collected some of the best resources on his life and work from across the web. Explore the groundbreaking, mind-expanding work of Wilson Harris through the videos, texts, and other links below, and join us on Saturday 27 March at 6 pm (TT/Guyana time) for the premiere of a special filmed performance celebrating Harris’s intellectual legacy, produced by the Moray House Trust in Guyana with support from the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

 

The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination

On Saturday 27 March, 6 pm TT/Guyana time, we premiered this specially recorded dramatic presentation.

The Unfinished Genesis of the Imagination is a dramatised reading excerpted from a longer work in progress, inspired by the writing of Dr. Duane Edwards, adapted by Isabelle de Caires, and directed, written, and edited by Nicholas Singh. With actors Keon Haywood, Nathaniel Powers, Onix Duncan, Mark Luke Edwards, and Le Tisha Da Silva. Director of photography: Kojo McPherson.

The play compares two approaches to social change in the Caribbean: Wilson Harris’s dreamworld of the creative imagination and Walter Rodney’s more grounded approach. This excerpt explores the radical imagining championed by Wilson Harris and shows where this approach might lead.

Produced by the Moray House Trust with support from the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

View this special video production at youtube.com/bocaslitfest, facebook.com/bocaslitfest, or here on our Wilson Harris at 100 page.

 

WATCH

Da Silva, Da Silva: A Tribute to Wilson Harris

In 1987, producer Tariq Ali and director Colin Nutley made a film for the BBC combining interview footage of Harris with a partial dramatisation of his novel Da Silva’s Cultivated Wilderness. After Harris’s death in 2018, Ali released an excerpt from the film online.

 

Celebrating Palace of the Peacock at Moray House

In November 2014, the Moray House Trust in Guyana hosted an evening celebration of Harris’s landmark debut novel, subsequently archived on YouTube:

Readings from Palace of the Peacock

Excerpts from the novel read by Russel Lancaster, Michella Alli, and Stanley Greaves, introduced by Dr. Joyce Jonas.

Spirit of the Labyrinth

“Spirit of the Labyrinth”: a poem by Harris, read by writer Ian McDonald

Amerindian Characters and Culture

On Amerindian characters and culture in Harris’s writing: readings by Michella Alli and Vanda Radzik, with an overview by Dr. Joyce Jonas

LISTEN

The Writer As Magician: Wilson Harris at 95

From the NGC Bocas Lit Fest archives: at our 2016 festival, in the year of Harris’s 95th birthday, this tribute event includes readings from Harris’s novels by Pauline Melville, Riyad Insanally, and Vanda Radzik, and a conversation about the significance and legacy of his writing with scholars Kenneth Ramchand, Gemma Robinson, and Gordon Rohlehr, and publisher Jeremy Poynting, hosted by Nicholas Laughlin.

READ

 
An excerpt from Harris’s novel Heartland

 “The solid morning mist began to disintegrate and dark shoulders of rock appeared in the water giving the illusion of swimmers….”

Read the opening chapter of Harris’s 1964 novel Heartland, plus an introduction to the book by Michael Mitchell, courtesy of Peepal Tree Press. Heartland was republished in Peepal Tree’s Caribbean Modern Classics series in 2009.

 

Harris interviewed in 2003

“Cross-culturality is an opening to a true and variant universality of a blend of parts we can never wholly encompass….”

In 2003, writer Fred D’Aguiar interviewed Harris for BOMB magazine, just ahead of the publication of his novel The Mask of the Beggar.

 

The Wilson Harris Bibliography

“In all his novels, Harris’s major concern is to explore imaginatively uncharted territory … to trace a subterranean tradition that grew out of the unacknowledged experience of all who disappeared into the dividing gulfs between peoples and cultures….

Compiled by the Harris scholar Hena Maes-Jelinek, The Wilson Harris Bibliography is a comprehensive list of works by and about Harris, with an insightful critical overview.

 

James Procter surveys Harris’s body of work

“There is a self-conscious artistry to Harris’s work, much of which dwells in a metafictional manner on the very process of writing and creation….”

The British Council’s Wilson Harris page includes a brief biography alongside a critical perspective from scholar James Procter.

 

Gemma Robinson on Harris’s early writing

“Harris would absorb a phenomenal set of vocabularies to elaborate his creative practice, from archaeology, music, history, to quantum physics, cosmology, geology and Jungian psychoanalysis….”

This essay by scholar Gemma Robinson, published in the Stabroek News soon after Harris’s death in 2018, looks at his early writing, including the poems in Eternity to Season.

 

Fred D’Aguiar on Harris’s metaphysics

“There is always a pressure about time in Wilson Harris’s works, a feeling of urgency about a world presented as in an emergency….”

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2008, and later published in The Caribbean Review of Books, Fred D’Aguiar’s essay “Prosimetrum” contemplates the elasticity of time and space in Harris’s fiction.

 

Andre Bagoo on Harris interpreted through Carnival masquerade

“Like one of his characters, Harris has come back. He has returned in the form of a band of moko jumbies — a motley crew of painted spirits striding high above us on wooden stilts, roaming the concrete jungle of Port of Spain, haunting Trinidad’s Carnival….”

For Carnival 2019, the Trinidad mas band Moko Sõmõkow presented an adaptation of Palace of the Peacock, brought to life in the streets of Port of Spain by stiltwalkers in magnificent costumes designed by Alan Vaughan. This piece by writer Andre Bagoo, published online by Global Voices, explores the background to the mas presentation, with photos by Maria Nunes.

 

“A Surveyor’s Journal”, a poem by Ishion Hutchinson

“I took my name from the aftersky
of a Mesopotamian flood,
birdless as if culture had shed its wings
into a ground vulture on the plain….”

Inspired by and dedicated to Harris, this poem appeared in Ishion Hutchinson’s debut book, Far District.

SEE

 

Moko Sõmõkow’s 2019 presentation of Palace of the Peacock was followed in 2020 by their mas interpretation of Harris’s novel Resurrection at Sorrow Hill — both documented by photographer Jason C. Audain in these online image galleries.

Image copyright © 2019 Jason C. Audain, used with the photographer’s permission

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