INFLUENTIAL CARIBBEAN WOMEN
JEAN AUGUSTINE, P.C., C.M., M.Ed, LL.D.
From 1993 to 2005, Augustine was a Liberal member of the Canadian House of Commons, representing the riding of Etobicoke, Lakeshore. She is a former member of Cabinet, and a former school principal. Augustine served as the Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien from 1994 to 1996, and was the Minister of State for multiculturalism, and the status of women until 2004.
Augustine was born in Grenada. She studied at the University of Toronto where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Education. Later on she received a Honorary Doctor of Laws from the same institution. After university she was an elementary school principal with the Metropolitan Separate School Board in Toronto.
She has served on numerous organizations and Boards including the National Black Coalition of Canada, the Board of Governors of York University, the Board of Trustees for The Hospital for Sick Children, the Board of Directors of the Donwood Institute, the Board of Harbourfront and Chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority. She was also National President of the Congress of Black Women of Canada.
In the 1993 federal election, Augustine became the first African Canadian woman elected to the Parliament of Canada and subsequently the first black woman in a federal Cabinet. She also served three terms as Chair of the National Liberal Women’s Caucus.
In February 2002, Augustine was elected Chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. On May 26, 2002, Augustine was appointed Secretary of State (Multiculturalism) (Status of Women). In December 2003, she was re-appointed to the new Cabinet as Minister of State (Multiculturalism and Status of Women). In 2004, she was appointed to the position of Assistant Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole, making her the first African Canadian to occupy the Speaker’s Chair in the Canadian House of Commons.
Augustine was the Founding Chair of the Canadian Association of Parliamentarians on Population & Development, Chair of the National Sugar Caucus, Chair of the Micro-credit Summit Council of Canadian Parliamentarians, Chair of the Canada-Slovenia Parliamentary Group and Chair of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Group.
On November 28, 2005, Augustine announced her intention to retire and that she would not be a candidate in the 2006 Canadian election.
In 2007, Augustine was nominated by the Government of Ontario to become the first Fairness Commissioner, a position created to advocate for Canadians with foreign professional credentials.
She is the recipient of the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award, the Kaye Livingstone Award, the Ontario Volunteer Award, the Pride Newspaper Achievement Award, the Rubena Willis Special Recognition Award and the Toronto Lions’ Club Onyx Award.
In 2009, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada “for her distinguished career as an educator, politician and advocate for social justice in Canada”
“ORDER OF CANADA”
For over four decades, Jean Augustine has advocated for the rights of women, immigrants and visible minorities. Upon immigrating to Canada, she became involved with her community, volunteering with numerous health and social welfare organizations. She also provided leadership as the former national president of the Congress of Black Women of Canada. During four successive terms as a member of Parliament, she held various portfolios, including that of secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women. Her legacy includes the federal declaration of February as Black History Month in Canada, and the motion that brought the Famous Five monument to Parliament Hill.
BERYL AGATHA GILROY
An innovative Caribbean writer, novelist of the black diaspora and London’s first black head teacher.
Beryl Agatha Gilroy (née Answick) (30 August 1924 – 4 April 2001) was a novelist and teacher, and “one of Britain’s most significant post-war Caribbean migrants”. Born in what was then British Guiana (now Guyana), she moved in the 1950’s to the United Kingdom, where she became the first black headteacher in London. She was the mother of academic Paul Gilroy.
Gilroy was born in Skeldon, Berbice, Guyana. She grew up in a large, extended family, largely under the influence of her maternal grandmother, Sally Louisa James (1868–1967), a herbalist, manager of the family small-holding, keen reader, imparter to the young Beryl of the stories of “Long Bubbies”, Cabresses and Long Lady and a treasury of colloquial proverbs.
Gilroy did not enter full-time schooling until she was twelve. From 1943 to 1945, she attended teacher training college in Georgetown, gaining a first-class diploma. She subsequently taught and lectured on a UNICEF nutrition program. In 1951, at the age of 27, she was selected to attend university in the United Kingdom. Between 1951 and 1953 she attended the University of London pursuing a Diploma in Child Development.
Although Gilroy was a qualified teacher, racism prevented her getting a post for some time, and she had to work as a washer, a factory clerk and maid. She taught for a couple of years, married and spent the next twelve years at home bringing up and educating her children, furthering her own higher education, reviewing and reading for a publisher. In 1968 she returned to teaching and eventually became the first Black headteacher in London. Her experiences of those years are told in Black Teacher (1976).
Later she worked as a researcher at the Institute of Education, University of London, and developed a pioneering practice in psychotherapy, working mainly with Black women and children. She gained a PhD in counselling psychology from an American university in 1987 while working at the Institute of Education.
She died of a heart attack at the age of 76 on 4 April 2001. As noted by Roxann Bradshaw: “Two days later over one hundred Anglopjone women writers from around the world gathered at Goldsmith College in London, where Dr Gilroy had been scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the 4th annual Caribbean Women Writers Association conference. The news of her death was received with great sorrow for the passing of one of the first wave of Anglophone women writers, whose contribution to Caribbean women’s literature is invaluable.
An orange skirt suit worn by Beryl Gilroy was included in an exhibition entitled Black British Style at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2004.
Gilroy’s creative writing began in childhood, as a teacher for children and then in the 1960s when she began writing what was later published by Peepal Tree Press as In Praise of Love and Children. Between 1970 and 1975 she wrote the pioneering children’s series Nippers, which contain probably the first reflection of the Black British presence in UK writing for children.
It was not until 1986 that her first novel, the award-winning Frangipani House was published (Heinemann). It won a GLC Creative Writing Prize in 1982. Set in an old person’s home in Guyana, it reflects one of her professional concerns: the position of ethnic minority elders and her persistent emphasis on the drive for human freedom. Boy Sandwich(Heinemann) was published in 1989, followed by Stedman and Joanna: A Love in Bondage (Vantage, 1991), and a collection of poems, Echoes and Voices (Vantage, 1991). Then came Sunlight and Sweet Water (Peepal Tree, 1994), Gather the Faces, In Praise of Love and Children and Inkle and Yarico (all Peepal Tree, 1994). Her last novel, The Green Grass Tango (Peepal Tree) was published in 2001, sadly after Beryl Gilroy’s death in April of that year.
Dr. MERLE HODGE
Merle Hodge was born in 1944, in Curepe, Trinidad, the daughter of an immigration officer. She received both her elementary and high-school education in Trinidad, and as a student of Bishop Anstey High School, she won the Trinidad and Tobago Girls’ Island Scholarship in 1962. The scholarship allowed her to attend University College, London, where she pursued studies in French. In 1965 she completed her B.A. Hons. and received a Master of Philosophy degree in 1967, the focus of which concerned the poetry of the French Guyanese writer Léon Damas.
Hodge did quite a bit of traveling after obtaining her degree, working as a typist and baby-sitter to make ends meet. She spent much time in France and Denmark but visited many other countries in both Eastern and Western Europe. After returning to Trinidad in the early 1970’s, she taught French for a short time at the junior secondary level. She then received a lecturing position in the French Department at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Jamaica. At UWI she also began the pursuit of a Ph.D. in French Caribbean Literature. In 1979 Maurice Bishop became prime minister of Grenada, and Hodge went there to work with the Bishop regime. She was appointed director of the development of curriculum, and it was her job to develop and install a socialist education program. Hodge had to leave Grenada in 1983 because of the execution of Bishop and the resulting U.S. invasion. Hodge is currently working in Women and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.
To date, Merle Hodge has written two novels: Crick Crack, Monkey (1970) and The Life of Laetitia, which was published more than two decades later, in 1993.
Hodge’s first novel, Crick Crack, Monkey, concerns the conflicts and changes a young girl, Tee, faces as she switches from a rural Trinidadian existence with her Aunt Tantie to an urban, anglicized existence with her Aunt Beatrice. With Tee as narrator, Hodge guides the reader through an intensely personal study of the effects of the colonial imposition of various social and cultural values on the Trinidadian female. Tee recounts the various dilemmas in her life in such a way that it is often difficult to separate the voice of the child, experiencing, from the voice of the woman, reminiscing; in this manner, Hodge broadens the scope of the text considerably. Cultural appropriation, when those who are colonized appropriate the culture of the colonizers, is exemplified in the story of Crick Crack Monkey.
The Life of Laetitia (1993), the story of a young Caribbean girl’s first year at school away from home, was well received, one review calling it “a touching, beautifully written coming-of-age story set in Trinidad”.
PAULA VANESSA LLEWELLYN
The Director of Jamaica Public Prosecutions, born Paula Vanessa Llewellyn, is the first woman to be appointed to that Office within the Island. On graduating from the St. Hugh’s High School, Ms. Llewellyn embarked on the study of law and completed this program in 1984. In that same year she was appointed in the position of Clerk of Court in the St. James Resident Magistrate’s Court. From there, she was promoted to Crown Counsel at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and within seven years of working in that office, Ms. Llewellyn was appointed Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions.
In 1999 Ms. Llewellyn became the first woman to act in the position of Director, and in 2003 became the first female to be appointed in the position of Senior Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions. In May 2008, Ms. Llewellyn was appointed as Her Majesty’s Queen Counsel, with the Order of Distinction conferred with the rank of Commander in August of that same year. In November, the Director was the recipient of the Civil Service Long Service Medal for twenty-five years in the public service.
Ms. Llewellyn has one daughter and attends the Saint Mary’s Anglican Church. She is also a member of the Trailblazers Toastmasters Club and believes that professionalism and excellence must be at the heart of service to her fellow citizens.
Celia Cruz was born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso in the diverse Santos Suárez neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, on October 21, 1925, the second child of Catalina Alfonso and Simón Cruz. Simón worked in the railroads as a stoker, and Catalina took care of the extended family. While growing up in Cuba’s diverse 1930’s musical climate, Cruz listened to many musicians that later influenced her adult career, such as Paulina Alvarez, Fernando Collazo, Abelardo Barroso, Pablo Quevedo, Arsenio Rodriguez, and Arcaño y sus Maravillas. When she was a teenager, her aunt took her and her cousin to cabarets to sing, but her father encouraged her to keep attending school, in hopes that she would become a Spanish language teacher. However, one of her teachers told her that as an entertainer she could earn in one day what most Cuban teachers earned in a month. Cruz began singing in Havana’s radio station Radio Garcia-Serra’s popular “Hora del Té” daily broadcast, she sang the tango “Nostalgias”, (and won a cake as first place) often winning cakes and also opportunities to participate in more contests. Her first recordings were made in 1948 in Venezuela. Before that, Cruz had recorded for radio stations. She thanked her young nephew Cesar for all the hard work he put into it also. “He was an amazing little boy he was like my own son, rest in peace Cesar”.
In 1950, she made her first major breakthrough, after the lead singer of the Sonora Matancera, a renowned Cuban orchestra, left the group and Cruz was called to fill in. Hired permanently by the orchestra, she wasn’t well accepted by the public at first. However, the orchestra stood by their decision, and soon Cruz became famous throughout Cuba. During the 15 years she was a member, the band traveled all over Latin America, becoming known as “Café Con Leche” (coffee with milk). Cruz became known for her trademark shout “¡Azúcar!”, (“Sugar!” in Spanish). The catch phrase started as the punch line for a joke Cruz used to tell frequently at her concerts. Once, she ordered cafe Cubano (Cuban coffee) in a restaurant in Miami. The waiter asked her if she’d like sugar, and she replied that, since he was Cuban, he should know that you can’t drink Cuban coffee without it! After having told the joke so many times, Cruz eventually dropped the joke and greeted her audience at the start of her appearances with the punch line alone. In her later years, she would use the punch line a few times, to later say: “No les digo más ‘Azúcar’, pa’ que no les dé diabetes!” which means “I won’t say ‘Sugar’ anymore so that you won’t get diabetes”.
With Fidel Castro assuming control of Cuba in 1959, Cruz and her husband, Pedro Knight, refused to return to their homeland and became citizens of the United States.
In 1966, Cruz and Tito Puente began an association that would lead to eight albums for Tico Records. The albums were not as successful as expected, however, Puente and Cruz later joined the Vaya Records label. There, she joined accomplished pianist Larry Harlow and was soon headlining a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
Celia Cruz Plaza in Union City, New Jersey.
Her 1974 album, with Johnny Pacheco, Celia y Johnny, was very successful, and Cruz soon found herself in a group named the Fania All Stars, which was an ensemble of salsa musicians from every orchestra signed by the Fania label (owner of Vaya Records). With the Fania All Stars, Cruz had the opportunity of visiting England, France, Zaire, and to return to tour Latin America. In the late 1970s, she participated in an Eastern Air Lines commercial in Puerto Rico, singing the catchy phrase ¡Esto sí es volar! (This really is flying!!!).
Celia Cruz used to sing the identifying spot for WQBA radio station in Miami, formerly known as “La Cubanísima” : “I am the voice of Cuba, from this land, far away,…, I am liberty, I am WQBA, the most Cuban! (Yo soy de Cuba, la voz, desde esta tierra lejana, …, soy libertad, soy WQBA, Cubanísima!)
During the 1980s, Cruz made many tours in Latin America and Europe, doing multiple concerts and television shows wherever she went, and singing both with younger stars and stars of her own era. She began a crossover of sorts, when she participated in the 1988 Hollywood production of Salsa, alongside Draco Cornelio Rosa.
In 1990, Cruz won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Performance – Ray Barretto & Celia Cruz – Ritmo en el Corazon. She later recorded an anniversary album with la Sonora Matancera. In 1992, she starred with Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas in the film The Mambo Kings. In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded Cruz the National Medal of Arts. In 2001, she recorded a new album, on which Johnny Pacheco was one of the producers. In early 2003, she had surgery to correct knee problems that she had for a few years, and she intended to continue working indefinitely.
On July 16, 2003, she died of a cancerous brain tumor at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey. She was survived by her husband Pedro Knight and family. After her death in New Jersey, her body was taken to Miami to lie in state in downtown Miami’s Freedom Tower, where more than 200,000 of her South Florida fans paid their final respects.
Pauline Melville (born 1948) is a Guyanese-born writer and actress of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry, who is currently based in London, England. Among awards she has received for her writing are the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Guyana Prize for Literature.
A professional actor before she became a writer, Melville has appeared in films that include Mona Lisa (playing the part of Dawn), as Dora in The Long Good Friday. She also appeared in television programs: as Vyvyans’s mother in the BBC Television comedy series The Young Ones; as Yvonne in Girls On Top, among other roles.
Melville’s first book, Shape-Shifter (1990), a collection of short stories, won the 1991 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book), and the Guardian Fiction Prize. A number of the stories deal with post-colonial life in the Caribbean, particularly in her native Guyana, as well as of some stories being set in London. Many of her characters, most of them displaced people from former colonies struggling to come to terms with a new life in Britain, attempt to find an identity, to reconcile their past and to escape from the restlessness hinted at in the title. Salman Rushdie described the collection as “notably sharp, funny, original…part Caribbean magic, part London grime, written in a slippery, chameleon language that is a frequent delight”.
Her first novel, The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1997), won the Whitbread First Novel Award, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. In the book – which one reviewer has characterized as “a unique look at the conflicts of ancient and modern ways” – Melville explores the nature of fiction and storytelling and writes about the impact of European colonizers on Guyanese Amerindians through the story of a brother and sister.
Her 1998 collection, The Migration of Ghosts (1998), is a book of complex layered tales of physical and emotional displacement. According to one reviewer: “A magnificent sense of pacing is the first of Melville’s skills that impresses the reader of this mesmerizing collection. The second is her gift for voices … she has an amazing range, from West Indians in London celebrating carnival, to the self-conscious, resentful Macusi Indian brought by her literal-minded British husband to a wedding in London, to the irritable Canadian wife whose husband has been sent to Guyana for two years to serve as unofficial liar for a mining corporation. Magic realism is the label most readers and critics will paste on Melville’s work … it is an appropriate but incomplete description. The dozen stories spill over with musical chaos and sly humor…. The magic in Melville’s eccentric tales is neither good nor bad, white nor black, but the magic of the teeming pluralness and the many possibilities of life.”
Her most recent novel, Eating Air, published in 2009, was called by The Independent “a virtuoso performance, playing with a gallimaufry of characters”.
In November 2012, Melville delivered a lecture entitled “Guyanese Literature, Magic Realism and the South American Connection” in the Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lecture series at the Umana Yana in Georgetown.
Melville now lives in London.
- 1990 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best First Book) Shape-Shifter
- 1990 Guardian Fiction Prize Shape-Shifter
- 1991 PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award Shape-Shifter
- 1997 Whitbread First Novel Award The Ventriloquist’s Tale
- 1998 Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlist) The Ventriloquist’s Tale
- 1998 Guyana Prize for Literature The Ventriloquist’s Tale
Dr. MERLE COLLINS
The prolific writer and esteemed scholar Merle Collins was born in Aruba to Grenadian parents who shortly after her birth, took their bundle of joy with them and relocated to Grenada. She received her secondary education from the St. Joseph’s Convent in St. George’s, Grenada and from there went to the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica where she earned a B.A. in English and Spanish. The bilingual Merle Collins then traveled to the United States to attend Georgetown University where she received an M.A. in Latin American Studies and a Certificate in Translation (Spanish to English). She went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Government from the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, England.
Over the years, Merle Collins has combined her academic knowledge with her creative writing talents to create several volumes of significant work. She is the author of two novels, Angel (1987) and The Colour of Forgetting (1995), a collection of short stories, Rain Darling (1990) and three collections of poetry, Because the Dawn Breaks (1985), Rotten Pomerack (1992) and Lady in a Boat (2003). She also co-edited a collection of creative writing entitled Watchers and Seekers: Creative Writing by Black Women in Britain (1987). Her work has also been published in several anthologies. She has just completed a novel, Invisible Streams, which is not yet published.
Merle Collins is a skilled storyteller whose poetry and prose have always been infused with the cadences of Grenadian speech, the richness of Grenada’s folklore and the nuances of everyday life in Grenada. Regardless of where her characters travel to, they are always conscious of the memory of home. Merle Collins must be acknowledged as one of the foremost female writers to extensively explore issues of diaspora in her creative writing. She brilliantly captures the anxieties and paradoxes of the diaspora experience: “and I linger/ longer/ in this “seductive dying/ this sad and sweet subsisting/ and the more silent, it appears, I become. Rr1; (“seduction”, Rotten Pomerania) Her writing is a fusion of racial, political, cultural and societal concerns. Mt is the West Indian’s contemporary search for self-knowledge and truth.
However, Merle Collins’ contribution to the study and development of literature from the West Indies is not restricted to her role as a creative writer, she is also a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Maryland where she has been teaching Creative Writing and Caribbean Literature since 1995. She has taught at the St. Joseph’s Convent, St. George’s, Grenada, Mac Donald College, Sauteurs, St. Patrick’s, and Castries Comprehensive Secondary School, St. Lucia. During the years 1984-5995, she taught at the University of North London England and she has also been Visiting Professor at the St. George’s University, of Grenada. She currently is the holder of a Guggenheim Fellowship M ` awarded for the academic year 2003-2004.
In her capacity as a teacher and the director of the University of Maryland’s (Study Abroad program for courses taught! ” in Mexico, Grenada and London, Merle Collins has dutifully taken the literature of the West Indies to various corners of the world. She has inspired in her students the passion to learn more about the history and literature of the West Indies. With her quiet dignity, her joy in her chosen field and her unwavering intellectual curiosity, Dr. Collins remains an ambassador for our literature.
LORNA E. WELSHMAN-NEBLETT
Senior Manager, Sales & Marketing Administration Clarins Fragrance Group::: Twenty years ago Lorna Evelyn Welshman-Neblett launched Angel, the first Thierry Mugler perfume, in the U.S. market. The fragrance has been flying off high-end shelves since. Welshman-Neblett’s career in the fragrance industry began in the late 1970s, when Elizabeth Arden established a separate fragrance company with Chloe, Burberrys and others. Welshman-Neblett started working with Thierry Mugler Parfums (now a division of Clarins Fragrance Group) in 1993, presenting the brand to retailers, establishing a sales team and creating a strategy to bring Angel to the market.
Energized by the creativity required to bring a fragrance to market and to develop appealing packaging and descriptors, she holds, fittingly, the title of senior manager of sales and marketing administration for Groupe Clarins USA, U.S. arm of the Paris-based luxury cosmetics company. “What I enjoy most about working in the industry is seeing the happiness that a fragrance brings to a consumer. It is about the person who’s wearing the fragrance—for them to smell good and feel good at the same time,” she declares.
Born in Georgetown, Guyana, Welshman-Neblett has reached a pinnacle that few women of color have attained in the fragrance industry. She is committed to her homeland and the Caribbean and seeks improved health care for women in the region through the Organization for Social Health and Advancement for Guyana and the Caribbean (OSHAG/C), a New York group that focuses on treatment, follow-up and cosmetic care for breast cancer patients.
Welshman-Neblett earned a bachelor’s degree at Washington Business Institute. She is a staunch advocate of community involvement, evidenced by her recognition from the City of New York and former New York City Council member Una Clarke. “I learned from an early age that working in a community and organizing with others is the best way for people to come together for a worthy cause,” she says.