Place of birth
Trinidad and Tobago
National identity
Trinidad and Tobago

Ismith Khan

Short biography
Ismith Khan was born in Trinidad in 1925. He grew up within a Muslim family, who came from the country to Port of Spain, strongly influenced by his grandfather, a Pathan from Northern India, who was a militant community leader who had been shot and wounded by the colonial authorities in their suppression of the San Fernando Hosay rebellion of 1884. Ismith Khan makes use of this background in his first novel, The Jumbie Bird, 1961.

Ismith Khan attended Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain and later worked as a reporter on the Trinidad Guardian. He was a close Trinidad friend of Sam Selvon, who edited the literary page of this paper before he emigrated to the UK. Khan himself left Trinidad in the 1950s to study at Michigan State University and Johns Hopkins University.

Following the publication of the semi-autobiographical The Jumbie Bird, which explores the impact of urbanisation on an Indo-Trinidadian Muslim family, came The Obeah Man (1964), a profound but oblique exploration of the possibility of seeing the contemporary tensions between Afro and Indo-Trinidadians as a dialectic relationship which had the latent potential for the creation of a truly culturally dynamic society. The Obeah Man was recast as a play and broadcast by the BBC in 1970. His novel The Crucifixion, written in the 1970s, but not published until 1987 by Peepal Tree, develops ideas from both earlier novels. It encompasses the folk history/archetype of the Preacher/Prophet who calls on his followers to crucify him, and one episode draws on the folk narratives of the 1937 Trinidad uprising, particularly the actual event when a deeply unpopular police sergeant was burnt to death by a crowd. It also develops in a more symbolic way the issues of the dialectic between freedom and order in Trinidadian society.

Ismith Khan’s short stories, which have been much anthologised (‘The Red Ball’, ‘A Day in the Country’, ‘Shadows Move in the Britannia Bar’ in anthologies such as New Writing in the Caribbean (1972), Caribbean Rhythms (1974) and From the Green Antilles (1966)), are brought together with several previously unpublished stories in the Peepal Tree collection, A Day in the Country (1994).

Ismith Khan lived in New York until his death in April 2002.