So, the American folk/rock musician, Bob Dylan, has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature — the first time that a song lyricist has won this prestigious international award.
I say well done to Bob Dylan: he is deserving of every accolade that comes his way. In fact, I am one of Dylan’s biggest fans and regularly feast myself on his socially conscious, insightful and poetic compositions, ranging from the anthemic Blowing In The Wind of the American civil rights era, through such folk and rock classics as The Times Are A-Changing, Mr Tambourine Man, All Along The Watch-Tower Like A Rolling Stone, Knocking On Heaven’s Door and the list goes on.
But, as much as I admire and appreciate the lyrical work of Bob Dylan, I can’t help but note that it pales in significance to the tremendous body of poetry and essays of cultural scholarship that has been produced by our very own Kamau Brathwaite over a 65-year career of ground-breaking scholarship and artistic creation. Why hasn’t the 86-year-old Kamau Brathwaite– easily the most original and creative poet of the Caribbean and wider Americas region– ever been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature?
Is it because he is too authentically Bajan, Caribbean, African? Is he too Black, too revolutionary, too uncompromising in his views and in his defense of the intrinsic validity and worth of the culture, heritage and humanity of the Bajan/Caribbean/Afro-American/African/Third World peoples?
Several years ago, the Nobel Committee found it possible to award Nobel Prizes in Literature to two English-speaking Caribbean writers– Derek Walcott and V. S. Naipaul. Of course, the latter writer– Naipaul– has devoted much of his career to extolling the alleged virtues of the English and Western European culture and to sneering at and denigrating virtually every non-White civilization, including our Caribbean civilization.
Walcott’s work, on the other hand, has valorized and found universal relevance in our (and his) Caribbean culture and civilization, but he has done so without veering too far away from the standard European models, standards and approaches. Unlike Kamau Brathwaite, Walcott has not plunged into a profound exploration and validation of our Nation Language, nor into the capacity of our African based and derived folk culture to generate authentic and valid myths, legends, philosophies, historical arch-types, poetical and literary devises, deities, and creation stories. Nor, for that matter, has he been the excoriating critic of European imperialism and domination that Brathwaite has been.
Thus, so far as the European literary establishment is concerned, Walcott has in all likelihood been a safer and less dangerous cultural warrior and literary iconoclast than Kamau Brathwaite has been AND CONTINUES TO BE. And so, even though the Nobel Committee may never be able to summon up the integrity and sense of justice that will be required of them if they are to make that fateful decision to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to the profoundly deserving Kamau Brathwaite, we should not let them off so lightly by failing to publicly press the case for Kamau.
I don’t know what the procedure is for nominating a writer for the Nobel Prize, but I think that the time has come for us Caribbean people to do the necessary research and to launch a very public campaign of advocacy in pursuance of a collective people’s demand that Kamau Brathwaite be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
(David Comissiong is president of the Clement Payne Movement)