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My Strangled City

Gordon Rohlehr
Caribbean Modern Classics, Essays
Trinidad and Tobago
Date published
25 Apr 2019

Gordon Rohlehr published all his outstanding works of literary and cultural criticism in Trinidad. Along with Kamau Brathwaite and Kenneth Ramchand, no critic did more to establish the subject of Caribbean writing and its aesthetics as a distinctive body of work. These essays were the work of a young academic changing the university curriculum, but they were also deeply engaged with the less privileged world outside the campus.

In these essays, written between 1969 to 1986 and first collected in 1992, Rohlehr catches Caribbean writing when it leaves behind its nationalist phase and begins to challenge the complexities of the deeply embedded cultural legacy bequeathed by colonialism. In the process he not only documents a crucial phase of literary development but identifies those features that have shaped subsequent Caribbean writing: the rapprochement with popular culture of reggae and calypso, openness to previously submerged Afro-Caribbean and Indian Caribbean energies, and the emergence of powerful women’s voices that challenge male nationalist norms.

What is outstanding about Rohlehr’s work is not merely the depth, acuity and humanity of analysis, but its courage. He writes at a point when his subject literature is still emergent, without waiting for the credibility of metropolitan sales and endorsements as a guide to the cannon. “My Strangled City”, a record of how Trinidad’s poets responded to the upsurge of revolutionary hopes, radical shams, repressions and disappointed dreams of 1964-1975 is an indispensable account of those times and the diversity of literary response that continues to speak to the present. The energy of his work restores forgotten voices, and his writing about the giants Walcott and Naipaul is some of the finest, most acutely focused criticism around.

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