Louise Bennett-Coverley’s poetry shows the beauty behind Jamaican culture and its tradition.
This Wednesday we woke up to a new doodle in the Google search engine, which was created in honor of none other than the poet Louise Bennet-Coverley, who would have turned 103 years old today. And if you still don’t know who she is yet, here we will tell you everything you should know about her and the importance of her legacy.
Who was Louise Bennett-Coverley?
It was on September 7, 1919, that Louise Simone Bennett-Coverley came into the world in a Jamaican town, according to the text A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett-Coverley Found Her Voice, being the only daughter of Augustus Cornelius Bennett and Kerene Robinson.
Her academic experience led her to join, in 1943, Friends College, where she studied Jamaican folklore and thanks to which she was able to publish her first works of poetry in a medium known as the Sunday Gleaner.
She was the first black student to enroll, in 1945, at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London thanks to a scholarship from the British Council, and after graduating, she embarked on a career in repertory companies and as a writer for intimate magazines throughout England, according to the biography published on the Miss Lou Jamaica website.
She worked as a radio presenter for the BBC; a professor of folklore and theater at the University of the West Indies; and even as a host of the children’s television program Ring Ding, through which she sought to encourage artistic talent in children. She even shared credits with the cast of two films, Calypso (1958) and Club Paradise (1986).
But the main reason why the world remembers her is for her work in bringing to the world the beauty of the Patua language, also known as Jamaican Creole, through her poems and writings, as well as for her preservation of that language with songs and popular narratives of the region.
The legacy of Louise Bennett-Coverley
The poet left behind several books and recordings with which she sought to spread her love for her homeland, its people, and culture, through which she succeeded in having Patois recognized as the mother tongue of Jamaica.
Her poems and thoughts are collected in texts such as Anancy Stories and Poems in Dialect (1944), Laugh with Louise: A Pot-Pourri of Jamaican Folklore (1961), Jamaica Labrish (1966), Selected Poems (1982), and Auntie Roachy Seh (1993).
And among her most important recordings are the following: Jamaica Singin Games (1953), Children’s Jamaican Songs and Games (1957), the monologues Miss Lou’s Views made between 1966 and 1967, Miss Lou Live-London (1983), and some more.
During her artistic career she received school awards for literature and theater, as well as posthumous decorations such as the Miss Lou’s Room, from the Harbourfront Centre, in Canada; or the exchange scholarship in her name from the University of the West Indies to Caribbean Literary Studies. Other decorations he has also received include:
- Appointed Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1960.
- Norman Manley Award for excellence, in 1972.
- Order of Jamaica, 1974.
- Musgrave Medal, 1978.
- Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of York in 1988.
- Order of Merit of Jamaica in 2001.
In 2006, Bennett-Coverley collapsed at her home in Ontario, Canada, and sadly passed away after being taken to Scarborough Grace Hospital on July 27. Days later, a funeral was held for her in Toronto, and her body was flown to Jamaica on August 7-8 at the National Arena. Today, her remains lie in Jamaica’s National Heroes Park.
Themes in the poetry of Louise Bennett-Coverley
The main objective of Bennett-Coverley’s poetry is to show the beauty behind the Jamaican culture and its tradition in it, so the poet sought to have her poems written in the mother tongue of the country. However, the artist also wanted the stories behind her writings to feature public spaces, such as schools, churches, or streetcars, so that readers could identify with her lyrics and feel a part of them.
One of the most striking points in the themes of her work was a harsh perspective on the social experiences that many working-class women were forced to live in the everyday life of post-colonial Jamaica, which is why Bennet-Coverley is also considered a great precursor of the literary feminism we know today.
Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva