O is for W. G. Ogilvie (c. 1923-?)

William George Graham Ogilvie was born on the Panama Canal Zone, but schooled in Jamaica at Happy Grove and Mica. An educator as well as a writer, he taught in elementary and secondary schools in Kingston and was the principal of Wentworth High School.

There is no Wikipedia page for Ogilvie and it is difficult to find any mention at all of his writings now, although his play One Sojer Man is noted as a successful early example of Jamaican drama written specifically for the Jamaican theatre and public.

Ogilvie published two novels in The Gleaner Co’s Pioneer Press book publishing series that was initiated by Una Marson in 1950 and later edited by W. Adolphe Roberts. His first novel, Cactus Village, published in 1950, is identified by Kenneth Ramchand as one of the earliest examples of a West Indian novel representing African cultural survivals (exchange labour) in his landmark 1970 study, The West Indian Novel and Its Background. In common with Ogilvie’s second novel, The Ghost Bank, which won the Jamaican Prize Novel of 1953 according to its cover, Cactus Village narrates the life of ordinary Jamaicans, their occupations and preoccupations. Both novels render the community and solidarity of village life while representing their creole and folk traditions.   

As the preface to Cactus Village articulates, Ogilvie had a strong sense of the literary as a vehicle for telling histories from below: “We are ancestors at a very important point of our national history. The patterns set now and the traditions passed on shall mould our people’s character for centuries to come. We must show our descendants the road we travelled, in order that they may have some notion of whither they travel”.

Ogilvie’s play One dollar for dog was collected in a volume of West Indian Plays for Schools alongside Derek Walcott’s Drums of revolt and published by Jamaica Publishing House in 1979. It is pleasing to think that the work of this teacher-writer so dedicated to rendering Jamaican life and culture found its way into the island’s and region’s classrooms.

More about the author

Scholar Suzanne Scafe delved into Ogilvie’s short story “A Cottage Concert” in the Spring 2010 issue of the Journal of Caribbean Literatures.

The WorldCat page for one of Ogilvie’s known works, Cactus Village, and where you can find the book.

family sitting on outdoor stoop or patio area

The Panama and the Canal Oral Histories collection features interviews with residents of the Panama Canal Zone and descendants, including many born in the 1920s and 1930s. The above image shows the family of interviewee Malcolm Sandiford.

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