Wayne Brown was the only non-British poet to take up the Gregory Fellowship, his appointment coinciding with the development of the academic study of Commonwealth and Postcolonial literatures at Leeds. He was instrumental in the production of the anthology marking 21 years of Poetry and Audience magazine.
Wayne Vincent Brown was born on 18 July 1944 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. After attending school at St Mary's College, Port of Spain, he read English at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica from 1965 to 1968, and also attended the University of Toronto. He won the Jamaican Independence Festival Poetry Prize in 1968, and in 1973 won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for his first collection, On the Coast (1972).
Brown's candidature for the Gregory Fellowship appears to have been prompted by the success of On the Coast. Following the award of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize he was brought to the attention of Arthur Ravenscroft, editor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature, by Kenneth Ramchand; at Ravenscroft's instigation, he was approached and offered the Fellowship by Professor A. Norman Jeffares. (1) Brown was the first and only non-British writer to be appointed to the Fellowship, taking up the post in October 1974. Two years previously, William Walsh, a lecturer in the School of English at Leeds since 1957, had become the first Professor of Commonwealth Literature in the United Kingdom. Brown's own appointment might, therefore, be considered within the context of the development of the study of Commonwealth and Postcolonial literatures as an academic subject at Leeds.
Despite having found the University campus somewhat cold and impersonal, Brown appreciated the time to write that the Gregory Fellowship gave him. He later reflected on his time in Leeds as, "a womby interlude, for which I remain very grateful." (2) He enjoyed meeting the students, finding them "unpretentious but high-spirited and hard-working" (3); held a weekly student poetry workshop; and contributed both poems and editorial advice to the literary journal Poetry and Audience. Volume 21:6 of the magazine, published in 1975, was issued as a Selected Poems, edited by Brown.
Also in 1975, Brown compiled and co-edited the 21 Years of Poetry and Audience anthology with Tom Wharton. Brown states that he felt: "gratified at how readily the poets, some quite famous, agreed to their poems being reprinted, gratis." (4) This perhaps gives some indication of the esteem in which this small student publication was held. In addition to poems by former Gregory Fellows and other 'Leeds Poets' such as Geoffrey Hill, Vernon Scannell and Robin Skelton, the anthology included contributions from poets including Philip Larkin, C.H. Sisson, Stevie Smith, Donald Davie and Ted Hughes. The cover for the anthology was designed by Brown's wife, Megan.
In 1977, Brown returned to the Caribbean, initially to Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he took up a teaching position at Fatima College, and was appointed information officer to the American Embassy. He edited a selected edition of the poetry of his mentor, Derek Walcott, in 1981. Brown went on to hold various fellowships in the United States connected with creative writing, and has also been involved in the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa. He has lectured in English at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica; and was a tutor in Creative Writing on the Master program at Lesley University, Boston.
Wayne Brown continued to write both poetry and prose, publishing a further collection of his poems, Voyages (1989), and two collections of short stories and remembrances, Child of the Sea (1990) and Landscape with Heron (2000). From 1984 onwards he wrote the social commentary column 'In Our Time' for the Trinidad Express; he also edited the literary pages of the Sunday Gleaner, and was editor of the online literary magazine Caribbean Writing Today.
Wayne Brown was diagnosed with cancer early in 2009. He died at his home in St Andrew, Jamaica, on Tuesday 15 September 2009, aged 65.
(1). Wayne Brown, Interview by e-mail (September 2007). Kathryn Jenner/Leeds Poetry Project.
(2). Information from Brown's responses to a survey on Writers in Education conducted by Alan Brownjohn for the Arts Council in 1979 (Leeds University Library Special Collections).
(3). Wayne Brown, Interview by e-mail (September 2007).
(4). Wayne Brown, Interview by e-mail (September 2007).