K is for Peter Kempadoo (1926-2019)

Peter Kempadoo was a Guyanese writer, journalist and folklorist. He became a certified teacher in Guyana, and later trained to be a nurse at Georgetown Public Hospital, where he started his journalistic work reporting for the Daily Argosi on hospital-related news. In 1953, he moved with his first wife, Rosemary Read, to London, where he worked at Gallup Poll and rose to become the director of research. After the family returned to London in 1965, he worked “researching, broadcasting and radio production especially in ‘Techniques for the Tropics’ for the BBC and […] for the British Information Services (COI)…,” as described in an unpublished 2007 paper. Kempadoo also lived for periods in Barbados, Jamaica, and St Lucia.

Kempadoo’s novel Guiana Boy was first published in 1960, and re-issued in 2002 in Peepal Tree’s Caribbean Classics series as Guyana Boy. As Petamber Persaud has noted, Guiana Boy “was the first novel written and published by a Guyanese of Indian descent.” With semi-autobiographical elements, the novel documents life in a sugar estate and the experience of growing up as the son of sugar cane workers. Guiana Boy received wide critical acclaim when it was published and has become an influential and central text in the canon of Indo-Guyanese Caribbean literature.

Although Guiana Boy was Kempadoo’s first published novel, appearing under the name Lauchmonen, he had already written All in a Saturday Night, which tells of the socio-political context of the early 1950s in Guyana. His second published novel, Old Thom’s Harvest (1965), also under the name Lauchmonen, is the story of a rice farmer and renders the religious and cultural practices of rural communities in Guyana.

Kempadoo’s contributions to Caribbean heritage extend beyond the field of literature to include cultural heritage, music and folk traditions. Together with his wife, Kempadoo co-authored an A to Z of Guyanese Words. Upon his return to Guyana in 1970, Kempadoo formed ‘Jarai’ with fellow Guyanese poet Marc Mathews and they travelled across coastal Guyana, recording Guyanese folk materials subsequently broadcasted in a series of radio programs such as ‘Jarai’, ‘Rural Life Guyana’, ‘We the People’ and ‘Our Kind of Folk’. As chronicled in Vibert Cambridge’s Musical Life in Guyana (2015), Jarai recorded over 600 hours of folk materials, predominantly music.

His work has influenced many Caribbean writers, artists and scholars including his own family, as evident in the work of Kamala, Manghanita, Oonya and Roshini Kempadoo. Al Creighton has noted how Kempadoo “helped to build the pre- and post-independence literature […] in the class with other social realism writers and made an immense contribution to folk traditions and practices of Guyana.” (Sutherland)

Kempadoo passed away in 2019.

Marta Fernández Campa

More about the author

Stabroek News’s obituary on Kempadoo’s passing in 2019, detailing his life and including pictures of him in his youth.

Kempadoo’s novel, Guiana Boy (1960), was republished by Peepal Tree Press in 2021 and described by the Caribbean Review of Books as “an intimate, clear-eyed portrait of Indo-Guyanese rural life.”

A 2008 interview in the Guyana Chronicle with writer Oonya Kempadoo, Peter’s daughter. Oonya discusses literary influences on her work, including exposure to her father’s books.

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