Felix Andrew Alexander Salkey was born in January 1928 in Colon Panama to Jamaican parents. His mother was Linda Marshall Salkey and it was not until he attained the age of thirty-two that he met his father, Andrew Alexander Salkey. The infant Salkey was sent to Jamaica and was raised, first by his grandmother, and from the age of two was brought up by his mother who was a teacher. His father was a successful boat builder and repairer in Panama and the practical evidence of his existence was the regular monthly money he sent for the support of his family in Jamaica.
Poured into Salkey’s young mind by his grandmother and mother were Anancy and other stories of Jamaican culture with strong links to Africa. The painful vacuum of “fatherlessness” would be added to the cultural and appears in his writings – his children’s stories would celebrate the responsible father along with the guile of Anancy, while his adult novels, among other things, explored the psychology of fatherlessness.
In Jamaica he attended two prestigious high schools, St. Georges College in Kingston and in 1945 he entered Munro College in St. Elizabeth in the Upper Fifth form. In that year on Munro’s sports day, he came third in the Class One 100 yards and third in shot put, contributing to Farquharson House’s effort which unfortunately yielded fourth place among the four boarding houses.
In the early 1950’s, Andrew Salkey went to England to attend the College of St. Mark and St. John, London University. Soon he immersed himself deeply in the then centre of a small but outstanding circle of Caribbean writers and intellectuals such as Sam Selvon and George Lamming and during that time on reading V.S. Naipaul’s first story, Salkey encouraged Naipaul ….. Yes Naipaul…. And Naipaul kept on writing.
Prolific and Inspiring Writer
Salkey was the key figure, the main presenter and writer-in-residence in the Caribbean section of the BBC World Service at Bush House, London.
In the mid-1950’s Salkey taught English at Walworth Secondary School in south-east London. His first novel was “A Quality of Violence” set around 1900 rural Jamaica and narrated in Patois. It was published in 1959 but not before Andrew married Patricia Verden in 1958, a union producing two sons.
Andrew was fluent in Spanish and was attentive to all that was happening in the Spanish Caribbean and Latin America including political affairs. In 1977 he wrote “Writing in Cuba Since the Revolution” and his collection of poems “The Hills where The Dream Lives; Poems for Chile” earned him the Casa de las America poetry prize in 1979.
At Bush House, his programmes became a glittering showcase for a generation of aspiring writers who he chivvied, cajoled, gently chastised, inspired and schooled to produce new works for Caribbean Voices – a programme over which he presided. It is not surprising then that in 1966, John La Rose, Kamau Brathwaite and himself co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) as a platform for Caribbean artists, writers, actors and musicians. Salkey brought Marcus Garvey’s dicta; “up you mighty race” and “emancipate yourself from mental slavery” to life when in addressing CAM’s third conference he stressed “black awareness” and further stated our own Caribbean communities must become the new centers from which we first seek approval of the fruits of our imagination and that only then may we move from within our society outward with assurance.
Despite Andrew Salkey’s courageous pioneering work he condemns himself in his novel “Escape to An Autumn Pavement” when he says “I was headed nowhere…. I had escaped a malformed Jamaican middle class; I had attained my Autumn pavement ……. and I had created another kind of failure and this time, in another country.” But that was early in his career – 1960. Hopefully, he would recover.
In 1976 he went to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.A., where he became a professor of creative writing. Salkey also had a long-written correspondence with Austin Clarke and those letters are available in Clarke’s files at the McMaster University Archives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Jessica Huntley, a Guyanese–born publisher, founded the Bogle- L’Ovuerture Publishing Company, London. Salkey was a director. In 1992 Jessica and a committee totaling eight and including another Munronian, Mervyn Morris, organized a two-day Commonwealth Institute and celebrated Salkey’s work in London. The Caribbean Artists Movement, BBC Radio’s Caribbean Voices, his teaching of Caribbean writing in schools, the importance he attached to Africa, to Caribbean identity, his work in Cuba, his novels, poetry, editing, children’s books, essays, and other writings, were all appreciated with feeling.
Andrew Salkey died in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1995, his legacy being The Andrew Salkey Memorial Scholarship, established at Hampshire College- “An award for students who show exceptional writing promise.”
For these and other reasons Felix Andrew Salkey was proudly inducted into the Munro College Old Boys’ Association Hall of Fame.