David Dabydeen was born on December 9, 1955 to Krishna Prasad and Vera Dabydeen, the
parents of a peasant family, in a county in Guyana named Berbice. Until 1966, Guyana was a British colony predominantly inhabited by Indians and some Africans who immigrated to the Caribbean during a massive movement, which transplanted more than half a million indentured Indians between 1838 and 1917. Dabydeen's family moved several times during his early years to avoid race riots between Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese. When he reached his tenth year, he journeyed to the capital city of Georgetown to further his education in accordance with a full scholarship. There, he met some British teachers whom he would praise as his inspiration for writing throughout his life. Young David spent a few years boarding in generous homes until 1969, when he left for England. His parents had separated, as his father had gone ahead to England in order to raise sufficient funds to send for his family. Each child from eldest to youngest went in turn. Dabydeen earned a Bachelor of Arts with honors from Cambridge University in 1978 and his Ph.D. in eighteenth century literature and art from the University of London in 1981. While at Cambridge, he wrote the poems which were eventually published in his first book, Slave Song, some six years later in 1984. He continued his studies at Oxford and Yale from 1983-87, lecturing on Caribbean Studies. He is currently directing the department of Caribbean Studies at Warwick University.
David Dabydeen made his poetic debut with a book titled Slave Song. Most of the poems had
been written six years prior to its publishing in 1984. Only the encouragement of friends drove him to seek literary representation. The language found in the poems is accentuated and spelled especially to recreate Guyanese Creole: a mixture of French, Spanish, and tongues African and from the Caribbean. Dabydeen intended for the poetry to be read aloud so as to illuminate the accent, emotion, and spirit of the culture of the language of the cane fields. In 1988, Coolie Odyssey followed Slave Song, receiving less acclaim and no awards. However, the strength and depth of the poetry never diminished. Although Dabydeen chose to write his second collection almost entirely in English, "the rhythm of the line and the sound of the poem are Caribbean" (Binder 171). The book paints a picture of the relationship between the white colonialists and the indigenous South Americans. Several poems outline one specific character at a time on a Guyanese plantation, presumably where Dabydeen spent his early years. By surveying the scene, the life, and the history through the eyes of so varied a crowd, Dabydeen brilliantly describes the setting of tragedy, rage, sorrow, oppression, and culture which pervade the endless fields of sugar cane. In revealing the minds of slaves and narrating from aboriginal perspective, Dabydeen also opens the reader to issues of the land, demonstrates the results of colonialism on the native peoples, and addresses the intensified bond of the Guyanese to their pasts. The poem, "Coolie Mother," touches upon language and education as pertains to identity and cultural mixture. A mother tells
due to force or choice. become more like them. He has not lost his native tongue.
Works Cited Binder Wolfgang. "We always felt ashamed (of women wearing saris) and we would talk about that to each other. Another theme which prevails and re-emerges in several of the coolie poems is the sexual tensions and relationships between races. Ed. His language never deviates from Creole. so he does not become a drunk cane worker (Coolie 16). characters in a classic myth of the Guyanese plantation. for poetry
Awards *Quiller-Couch Prize from Cambridge University. As Dabydeen noted in an interview. These descriptions confirm the danger and lure of lust on the plantation. Conversely. With the aid of Caribbean rhythm. Dabydeen enveils the vulgarity of lust which persists in the blood of the cane workers. the less developed of the two gravitates toward the other. while she "refused the embrace of fantasy. broken" (Coolie 32). Kevin Grant. Foreigners wish they could blend with the domestic people." The Art of David Dabydeen. the slave is described as "desperate to colonize" the white woman. London: Hansib Publishing Limited and Dangaroo Press. One sad aspect highlighted by the influx of British culture to a previously sheltered land is the discrepancy in technology and its culture. This self sustaining trap keeps the two at risk of death. Certain shame and embarrassment accompany being a part of a foreign culture in England. but must hide the truth from everyone and live in the shame of impurity. "The Sexual Word" further engages the taught energy between the races. 1988." the male slave knows that the white woman should never have any relations with him. 1978. Two consecutive poems are entitled "Miranda and Caliban. All native persons in a colonized environment must struggle with their sense of identity and self-composition. The mother in the poem wants her son to learn English and get an education so he can escape the generational cycle of the cane fields. the poem on the facing page is told from the perspective of that son.her son that he must read books. They continue to indulge their sexual desire for each other. 1997. but wants her anyway." Caliban is a slave and Miranda a white woman. raped. Coolie Odyssey. England: Peepal Tree. Dabydeen David. Dabydeen strikes at certain taboos with an oral wizardry. Ultimately. enchanting readers and uncovering a truth too long ignored by earthy literature. Most potently. In "Untouchable. 1989. "Interview with David Dabydeen. As boys. we wished women who spoke in Urdu in public would keep quiet" (Binder 161). unable to be torn up. that he "got to go to school in Georgetown".
1992.*Resident fellowship from Yale University's Centre for British Art. for Slave Song *Guyana Prize. 1983 *Commonwealth Poetry Prize. 1982 *Postdoctoral research fellowship from Oxford University. 1984. for The Intended