BY: LEANNE BENN
As Caribbean people, one of our favourite past times may be coming together with family and friends and sharing stories, light laughter and socializing to catch up on the latest ‘gaffe ’. The Queens College Alumni Association Toronto ( QCAAT) is all too familiar with planning social gatherings that bring together former students and friends of Guyana’s most prestigious school, Queen’s College.
July 9th, was no exception, as former students, colleagues and prominently Guyanese gathered at the Warden Hilltop Community Centre to celebrate and recognize the book launch of two main Guyanese authors as well as readings from Canadian Guyanese writers and former members of the Alumni Association.
This entertaining and wonderfully planned event was part of the QCAAT 25th Anniversary celebrations and under the literary program of the association. With opening remarks from President of the association, Gerald Alleyne and Vice President Kemahl Khan, the event was underway to honour and present the book launch for Dorothy Irwin, Years of High Hopes: A Portrait of British Guiana 1952-1956 and Dr. Frank Birbalsingh, West Indian History, and Literature.
Years of High Hopes is an interesting and fascinating take on Dorothy Irwin’s own personal relationship with Guyana. Her parents, moved from America to Guyana in 1952, in search of new work opportunities, where her father, Mr. Howard Irwin taught Biology, in the 50’s. Dorothy was born in Guyana near the end of her parent’s time in this strange and fascinating place and she left her birth country at only five months old. It was only years later that Dorothy found approximately 200 letters written by her mother to her grandparents back in the USA. Upon research, Dorothy found letters that her father had written as well. It became only fair that these personal accounts of a young American couple in a foreign land such as Guyana should be shared with the Guyanese people, it was the perspective, as Dorothy remarked, of outsiders on the inside. As these letters were the only means of overseas communication that her parents had, Dorothy praised their skilled writing, which made for entertaining detail especially the political and social environment of British Guiana moving towards Independence. From Dorothy’s remarks, the letters present an unfolding of Guyana’s colonial past towards an unknown future.
The next book featured by the launch was presented by Dr. Frank Birbalsingh, who is a Queens College Alumnus as well as an Emeritus Professor of English at York University in Toronto as well as the author of other books related to the Caribbean and Guyanese culture.
Dr. Birbalsingh’s book on West Indian History and Literature is a collection of reviews based on 88 different books written by authors all over the Caribbean. All the books included have various viewpoints and tones and they include historical notes, poetry, drama, politics, and fiction all related to the history of Caribbean nationality, as Guyanese culture is well shared with other Caribbean islands, despite being a country in South America. Dr. Birbalsingh even read an excerpt of one chapter based on a memoir by Lorna Goodison entitled From Harvey River, which explores themes of race, the dehumanization of slavery and feminine voice among other accounts.
Janet Naidu, a Guyanese- Canadian author, and human rights activist also recited two poems written from her Rainwater collection which focused on the reflections of Indian indentureship in Guyana, including reflections of her own grandparents. Her elegant poetry included phrases such as “waves of bondage” to describe the journey back to India once freed from plantation life in Guyana.
William Farley, a QC alumnus also included a reading from his late brother and former member of the QCAAT, Saville Farley and his book entitled; Where The Peoples Have Gathered. Syed Rayman read from the late Barney Singh’s work entitled Tales of the Guyanese Vanacular which provided humorous high points in the selected readings section and a closing by Kemahl Khan reading from The Golden Age of Georgetown Characters 1930-1960 by Bernard Heydorn explored themes of humor but also undertones of mental health.
The QCAAT still has many events in store to encourage future gatherings including the Last Lap Lime, a popular event amongst the alumni of various Guyanese High Schools. For more information and updates visit www.qcalumnitoronto.com.