Jan Carew was born in 1920 in Agricola Rome, a liberated village near the Guyana coast, where his ancestral blood-seeds had sprouted. Describing his home, he said, “Agricola was a place of polyglot races – Creoles, Africans, Highland Scots, Amerindians, Sephardic Jews and English, Dutch, French, Maltese, and Azorean castaways. Then, there were Chinese, East Indians, Hindus, Shiite and orthodox Moslems. ” Carew was blessed, he claimed, with “the bloods of the most persecuted peoples on earth.”
His maternal grandfather was the village school master. His paternal grandfather was a ship’s captain who plied between the Caribbean islands and South American mainland. He was also a part-time artist who painted designs on carriages in the horse-and-buggy days.
Carew lived abroad most of his life. In the course of living as a writer, painter, broadcaster, actor, activist and educator, Carew lived in England, France, Holland, Spain, Ghana, Canada, Mexico, and then settled in Louisville, Kentucky in the US until his passing in December 2012.
He was educated at the Wesleyan school in Agricola Village, and later, a Jesuit elementary school in New Amsterdam, but when he told his mother that he wanted to become a Priest, she sent him instead to Berbice High School (a Canadian Mission – Scottish Presbyterian institution in Guyana). After serving in the British army during World War II, he attended Howard University and Western Reserve University in the United States; Charles University in Prague, Czechoslovakia; and La Sorbonne in Paris, France.
Initially studying science, he found himself drawn more and more into the arts. He finally abandoned universities to write, paint and to immerse himself in liberation politics, only to return to academia after many decades of nomadic wanderings. Over a period of twenty years of living mostly in England, but traveling widely in the Americas and Europe, he wrote poetry, stories and regular features for the British Broadcasting Corporation in England, literary and art criticism for magazines in England and on the continent, had two successful exhibitions of his paintings, edited a local paper in London, and was an actor with the Laurence Olivier Productions in England and then on Broadway in the US. In the 1960s, he also served a short stint as Director of Culture under Prime Minister Cheddi Jagan in his native Guyana (then British Guiana), and later went to Ghana where he was adviser to President Kwame Nkrumah’s Publicity Secretariat.
He taught at London University in England and in the late 1960s, moved to the US where he taught at Princeton, Rutgers and Northwestern Universities. After retiring as Emeritus Professor of African American and Third World Studies at Northwestern in 1987, he was a visiting professor at George Mason, Illinois Wesleyan, Hampshire College, Lincoln (in Pennsylvania), and the University of Louisville. For the last twelve years of his life, he was based in Louisville, Kentucky.
His publications are too numerous to list in a brief summary. Among his works are his autobiography, Episodes in My Life: the Autobiography of Jan Carew, his memoir, Potaro Dreams: My Youth in Guyana, his collection of stories, The Guyanese Wanderer ; and his novels, such as: Black Midas (American edition, A Touch of Midas), The Wild Coast, The Last Barbarian, Moscow is Not My Mecca (American edition, Green Winter).
His essay collections, histories, and memoirs include: Fulcrums of Change: The Origins of Racism in the Americas, Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again, Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England and the Caribbean, and Rape of Paradise: The Origins of Racism in the Americas.
His collections of poetry are Streets of Eternity, Sea Drums in My Blood, and Return to Streets of Eternity.
His children’s books and novellas include: The Third Gift, Children of the Sun, The Coming of Amalivaca, The Sisters and Manco’s Stories, and The Riverman.
His stage and television plays include: “Black Horse, Pale Rider,” “The University of Hunger,” “The Big Pride,” “The Day of the Fox.”
Numerous of his works have been published in foreign languages, including German, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Georgian, and Japanese. There are, in addition to these items, numerous unpublished manuscripts – plays, poetry, stories, novellas, novels, essays, histories – buried in trunks and boxes.
Despite the implosion that collapsed the Second World in upon itself, and the profound changes that an electronic, communication and service industry brought about, Jan Carew remained a committed Pan-Africanist, and a fighter for Black Liberation.