Address by the Public Orator

Chancellor, we are told that a novel is both a work of art as well as an invention. Here stands before you today an artist and an inventor who has been described as a ‘writer of genuine poetic beauty’.

Her latest novel ‘Daughters of Empire’ was reviewed as a must read for those in the field of education and as “...something new in the literature of migration”. She was born in Pasea, Trinidad but has been domiciled in Britain for close to a quarter of a century. Her Caribbean upbringing, however, has influenced both her literary style and content. This begs the question: What is it about Britain that stirs the soul and brings out the writer among us from the Caribbean who migrate to those chilly shore?

Like her countrymen, Selvon, and Naipaul, Lakshmi Persaud discovered a voice best spoken through the written word. Apart from her five novels, she has also written short stories and literary commentary in reputable Journals.

Her third novel, ‘For The Love Of My Name,’ was described by reviewers as honest, fearless and generous and as one which marks the maturing of Caribbean literature. ‘Sastra’, her second, was described by Dr Bhoe Tewarie, former Head of English and Pro Vice Chancellor at UWI, as a love story of unusual and even rare beauty. The UK Sunday Times, in its review of her very first publication ‘Butterfly in the Wind’ described it as a celebration of life and its simple pleasures. India Weekly went further, making the inevitable comparison, and asserted that Lakshmi Persaud has maintained the high tradition of Indian Caribbean writings set by V.S. Naipaul. Her fourth novel ‘Raise the Lanterns High’ was described as powerful and poetic as well as hypnotic and lyrical.

Her work has formed the basis for a number of post-colonial literary courses here in the West Indies as well as in the USA and the United Kingdom. Both, graduate and postgraduate research work has been stimulated by her writings. This must be very gratifying for she was once a teacher and as you yourself would know Chancellor, once a teacher always a teacher!

A doctoral graduate in Geography, she had taught at iconic bastions of learning across the Caribbean, including Queen’s College, Georgetown; Harrison’s in Bridgetown and her own alma mater, St Augustine Girls’ High School.

While academia has been studying the implications of her work, civil society has been busily conferring awards and honours upon her. On the occasion of our fiftieth anniversary of Independence, The National Library and information Service conferred on her a life time literary award for “her significant contribution to the development of Trinidad and Tobago’s Literature”. She has also been recognised by the Indo-Caribbean Council of New York and the Hindu Women’s Association of Trinidad.

In the words Of Emeritus Professor of history, Brinsley Samaroo, she is a West-Indian sage who has turned an inward eye on our society, taking us back to the philosophical bases of our evolution as a Caribbean civilisation.

For this Chancellor, by the power vested in you by the Senate and Council of the University of the West Indies, I now invite you to confer upon this ‘Daughter of Empire’, one who has ‘held the lantern high’, the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.