The circumstances of her governorship in Grenada placed her at the heart of local, regional and international change, and later of conflict. Her appointment was recommended by the Premier Eric Gairy, whose genuine concern to advance women politically was not matched by his commitment to the democratic rights of opposition parties. And though Hilda Bynoe, known in her main career as a caring and socially-engaged doctor, was generally a popular figure, her inevitable but coincidental connection with the Gairy government and its repressive treatment of the radical New Jewel opposition, made her the target of opposition criticism. As a result, she chose to resign.
This is the bare bones of the Governor’s story, but Merle Collins probes beyond it for its antecedents and its meaning in a broader Caribbean context. Based on interviews with Dame Hilda, Merle Collins explores the meaning of ancestry, family, the small nation state and regional identities, intra- and extra-Caribbean migration, class and race in the formation of Dr Bynoe’s conception of her role. It provides an insightful portrayal of not just an exceptional woman, but the emergence of an aspiring working class into a new Caribbean middle class. It adds to the picture of the education of that class – mostly in the UK – in the 1940s and 50s, but one so far mainly told from a male perspective.
Merle Collins is uniquely equipped to write this biography. As a Grenadian intimately involved in the events that led to Dr Bynoe’s resignation, as a black woman, and as a novelist and academic, she is able to bring an effective blend of local knowledge, empathetic identification, narrative skills and analytical questioning to her task.
Merle Collins is Grenadian. She is the author of two novels, a collection of short stories and two previous collections of poetry. She teaches Caribbean literature at the University of Maryland.