Mervyn Eustace Morris was born in Kingston on 21st February 1937, and the literary muse of Mount Helicon waved her magic wand and made him her own. Counter claims for the bundle of joy were by parents Eustace Arnold Morris and Muriel E. Taylor- Morris, and much later by Helen May Scott, who he married in 1961, and who bore him two sons and a daughter.
He attended Half Way Tree Elementary School, where his mother was a teacher. He won a full government scholarship, and entered Munro College in 1948. An all-rounder, he was outside right on the 1st XI Hockey team, which won the Henriques Shield; one of the most successful batsmen in 1st XI cricket; second only to Richard Roberts in badminton, and was on the tennis team which won the Alexander Cup. He was later to represent Jamaica in tennis in 1956, and helped us capture the regional Brandon Trophy.
As a member of the Dramatic Society, he was His Majesty King Valoroso in “The Rose And The Ring.” He cleverly served notice of his literary prowess by his poem, “The Electrician’s Chicken” about the theft, cooking, and eating of one I. Rowe’s laying hen, and the carelessly disposed feathers which were the culprits’ exposure and undoing.
He got his School Certificate in 1951, and although he did quite well in English, French, and History, to get his High School Certificate in 1953, he stayed on and repeated his exams, in the hope of getting even higher grades and winning a “big” scholarship to study abroad. In what he describes as a crucial event that he should be eternally grateful for, he won a local scholarship instead, and so he went to the University College of the West Indies on a Government Exhibition Scholarship in 1954. Thinking that he wanted to be a lawyer, he read English, French, and History, and got his BA in 1957.
Teacher/ Rhodes Scholar/ Professor Emeritus
Straight from University that year, he started his first of two teaching stints at Munro College to teach English. He quickly discovered that he really liked teaching, and decided to stick with it. The following year, still at Munro, he won the Rhodes Scholarship, and entered St. Edmund Hall, Oxford University in 1958. He represented Oxford in tennis, and earned the Oxford Blue in each of his three years while earning his MA degree.
He was Assistant Registrar at UCWI in 1961, the year of his marriage, and at UWI when full university status was achieved in 1962. During his second stint at Munro (1962-1966) and full of newly-wed energy, he, with Mrs. Merle Roper, rescued the Harrison Memorial Library from its chaotic state of ill-treated books and book fights. Mervyn and Merle pointed the library in the direction that has led to its present size, order, and computerized usefulness. He became Senior English Master at Munro.
From 1966 to 1970 he was back at UWI as Warden of Taylor Hall, and from 1970 to 1977, as Lecturer in the Department of English, where he became Senior Lecturer in 1977. He later became Professor of Creative Writing and West Indian Literature, and still later, Professor Emeritus.
In 1972 and 1973, he took time out to be a visiting lecturer at the University of Kent, and during 1975 and 1976, was coordinator for the Creative Arts Centre, UWI. In 1977, he wrote articles for Daily News for about six months. In 1983 he was a visiting lecturer for four months at the University of Hull, England.
As guest speaker at a speech day ceremony at Munro in 1976, Morris spoke on “managed change,” referring in large part to the accomplishments of Richard Roper at Munro, and proposing that such change could be achieved nationwide. The remarks were pointed, for in the audience that day sat, silent for once, Prime Minister Michael Manley, in his capacity of parent. He might have made a great lawyer after all, for while he was no perpetually angry firebrand radical, he spoke his truth quietly but apolitically and fearlessly, and in his observations of the social scene, he was always accurate and nuanced.
We have enough lawyers, though, and after all, Mervyn Morris is one of the most resourceful and technically brilliant of Caribbean poets. He has published six volumes of poetry, and has edited the works of many other Caribbean writers. In one of his books of poems “The Pond” will be found a moving poem on William Boland – a crippled Munro teacher who taught English and art from his room which opened unto the art room. One of Morris’ collections of poems is “On Holy Week,” one of his essays “Is English We Speaking.”
In 2006 Carcanet Press published his “I been there, sort of: New and Selected Poems”. He also had the distinction of editing the great Louise Bennett-Coverley’s “Selected Poems,” when it was decided that her poems would be used in schools. Some of his best-known poems are “Little Boy Crying,” “One Two,” and “Home.”
Would-be writers; beware – he is a literary critic. Among his recurrent concerns are sexuality, the delicacy of relationships, and the nature of independent thought and feeling.
He has written thirty articles in books, over fifty random articles, and his latest publication is in collaboration with Leonie Forbes – a book about her life in theatre and broadcasting and her life in general. The title is “Leonie: Her Autobiography.” With Jimmy Carnegie, another publication is “Lunchtime Medley,” which is an anthology on West Indies Cricket. It draws on the offerings of CLR James, Lloyd Best, Samuel Selvon, Paul Keanes Douglas, and many others.
He has sat and sits on myriad committees, which help in their various ways to steer the literary ship of Jamaica and the Caribbean. He is quoted as saying “There are lots of good things happening in West Indian lit.” He is happy to see new writers coming on the scene, and he is optimistic about the future. We think they are emerging because of foundation stones of which Morris is a cornerstone.
He is the recipient of eleven major awards, his most recent is the CPTC Cultural Medal of Honour conferred in 2012. He was awarded the Institute of Jamaica Musgrave Silver Medal for Poetry in 1976, and the Una Marson Award for Literature in 1997. In 2006 The Government of Jamaica conferred on him the Order of Merit (OM), the fourth highest national honour.
He used the opportunity of the occasion of his receiving the OM to call on the Government – which indeed is all of us – to shine the national spotlight on other individuals who have excelled in the arts, especially in the fields of literature and culture.
For all the above reasons, and more, Professor The Hon Mervyn Eustace Morris, OM, was inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.