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Samuel Selvon (Samuel Dixon Selvon) Biography

(1923–94), (Samuel Dixon Selvon), Trinidad Guardian, A Brighter Sun, An Island Is a World

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Trinidadian novelist, short-story writer, poet, and playwright, born in Trinidad, educated at Naparima College in southern Trinidad. He worked briefly as a journalist on the Trinidad Guardian before emigrating in 1950 to England; in 1975 he left for Canada and later became a Canadian citizen. His first novel, A Brighter Sun (1952), paints a loving portrait of Indian peasants engulfed by squalor and deprivation in southern Trinidad during the period of the Second World War. This novel and others by such writers as Edgar Mittelholzer and George Lamming arrived in a blaze of literary productivity that, by the end of the 1950s, brought West Indian writing into international focus. Selvon's second novel, An Island Is a World (1955), considered themes of cultural mixing, nationality, and exile which recur in more than a dozen works of fiction that were to follow. These themes are evident in his third novel, The Lonely Londoners (1956), which brilliantly evokes the bitter-sweet experiences of West Indian immigrants living in London in the early 1950s: their cultural rootlessness, economic deprivation, and outgoing manners produce exactly the right combination for Selvon's comic art. His fiction combines humorous handling of West Indian language, speech, and idioms with affectionate insight into West Indian character and cultural forms. His use of one narrator in three novels, The Lonely Londoners, Moses Ascending (1975), and Moses Migrating (1983), confirms Selvon's undiminished skill in the sustained ironic treatment not only of West Indian immigrants, but of black power advocates, institutions of white power, and the fickleness of human nature in general. His poems and plays are less well known compared with his fictional output, which made Selvon one of the most popular and enduring of West Indian writers. Other works are Foreday Morning (1989), a collection of short stories and essays; Highway in the Sun and Other Plays (1988) and Eldorado West One (1989), a further collection of plays. A critical study, Critical Perspectives on Sam Selvon (1989), was edited by Susheila Nasta.

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