John Figueroa was born in Jamaica in 1920. He was educated at St George's College, Jamaica and Holy Cross College, Massachusetts; he did postgraduate work at London University. He taught in England, Jamaica, the USA, Uganda and Puerto Rico. In Jamaica he was the first Jamaican to be appointed to a chair at the University College of the West Indies and the first Dean of the Faculty of Education. He finished his teaching career as Professor of Humanities leading the Department of Education of the Centro Caribeno de Estudios Postgraduados, Puerto Rico. He lectured frequently in Europe, particularly in Spain.
In the 1980s he moved to the UK, working for the Open University, was a Fellow at the Centre for Caribbean Studies, University of Warwick, and was an adviser in multicultural education. In his retirement he was a familiar and popular/combative figure at conferences on Caribbean studies as a Foundation Member of ACLALS, the Caribbean Studies Association and the Society for Caribbean Studies.
His work in education is recorded in countless articles and his book, Society, Schools and Progress in the West Indies (1971). Apart from his collections of poetry, his other major contribution to the Caribbean is in his editorship of the anthology Caribbean Voices (vol 1: Dreams and Visions and vol 2: The Blue Horizons 1966 & 1970), the first comprehensive collection of West Indian poetry, and an important landmark in establishing the breadth of creativity in the area. The anthologies drew on the Caribbean Voices broadcasts and made much previously unpublished work available. Figueroa was also the first general editor of the Heinemann Caribbean Writers Series.
His own creative writing was first collected in Blue Mountain Peak: Poetry & Prose (privately published, Jamaica, 1944) and then in Love Leaps Here, (privately published, UK, 1962). His poetry reflects his origins as a Jamaican of Portuguese descent and a Catholic who, whilst deeply committed to the Caribbean, was concerned to maintain his European heritage without apology. He insisted that drums were not the only Caribbean musical instrument (no doubt a dig at Kamau Brathwaite) and championed Derek Walcott's relationship to the classical and European literary tradition. Ironically, one of Figueroa's most effective poems is in Nation language.
The Chase (Peepal Tree, 1991) collects the poetry into an organisation which reflects Figueroa's lifelong preoccupations: a synthesising of the spirit and the flesh, the Caribbean and Europe in one vision.
He died in 1999.
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