Dathorne’s career presents an important example of a differently diasporic life and a breadth of commitments to Caribbean studies. Born in Guyana in 1934, Dathorne first migrated to England in 1953, but after completing a BA at the University of Sheffield and his education qualification at the University of London, he took a job at the University of Ibadan and settled in Nigeria. In the late 1960s he worked at the University of Sierra Leone before taking a number of appointments at prestigious US universities, including as Director of the Caribbean, African and African-American Studies Program at the University of Miami. Dathorne made a significant contribution to building and legitimating the field from 1979 when he founded the Association of Caribbean Studies and became founding editor of the Journal of Caribbean Studies—roles he held for over thirty years. His scholarly work advanced critical race studies before the term existed, and he wrote two early studies of African Literature, The Black Mind: A History of African Literature (1974) and African Literature in the Twentieth Century (1976).
Dathorne’s knowledge of the field of West Indian writing dating back to the eighteenth century shines through in his introduction to the 1966 collection Caribbean Narratives published by Heinemann, which he describes as intended primarily for younger West Indian readers.
The diasporic narratives of his two novels published in the 1960s echo his own life journeys. Dumplings in the Soup (1963) is an episodic exploration of migrant life in 1950s London, reminiscent of Selvon’s Lonely Londoners in its surface humour and grave undertones. The Scholar-Man (1964) is an alternative campus novel based on the experiences of a West Indian teaching in the English department of a West African university. Dathorne also published two later works, the novel Dele’s Child (1986) and poetry collection Songs for a New World (1988).
More about the author
An article by scholar Lucy Wilson in the Sept. 2010 issue of Caribbean Quarterly examines the unacknowledged contribution made by Dathorne’s wife, Hilde Ostermaier.
In “(Re)placing the wor(l)d: the search for the half sign” (1999), Dathorne argues that the Enlightenment sought to structure the world after its own image through language.
An essay by Dathorne from the Sunday edition of the Guyana Graphic, “De Festa and Me,” highlights the first CARIFESTA cultural and arts event in Georgetown in 1972.