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Roger Mais Biography

(1905–55), Public Opinion, The Hills Were Joyful Together, Brother Man, Black Lightning

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Madras House to Harriet Martineau Biography

Jamaican novelist, poet, painter, and playwright, born in Kingston, Jamaica. Although he belonged to the well-to-do middle class, Mais had a lively social conscience that inspired lifelong interest in the poorer classes of his black countrymen. Sharp social criticism in an article he wrote for the People's National Party newspaper Public Opinion in 1944 earned him a six-month jail sentence, where he experienced the appalling conditions in Jamaican prisons during British colonial rule. These conditions are vividly portrayed in his first novel, The Hills Were Joyful Together (1953), which consists of loosely assembled episodes giving a stark portrait of denizens of a slum in Kingston, Jamaica; but this bleakness is relieved by ribald humour and self-mockery. Similar themes are treated in Brother Man (1954), his best-known work. Black Lightning (1955) explores the spiritual failure of a blacksmith carving a lifesize statue of Samson; like Samson, he is destroyed by pride. The strong biblical language and references in Mais's writing suggest that he was as much concerned with spiritual regeneration as with political ideology and patriotism. He also published two collections of stories and completed two unpublished novels. In 1978 he was posthumously awarded the Order of Jamaica.

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