QC Alumni Association (Toronto) – Book Launch for Dorothy Irwin and Dr. Frank Birbalsingh – July 9, 2017

View Download:  QC Alumni Asso. Book Launch for Dorothy Irwin – July 9, 2017

Comment  from Kemahl Khan, Vice-President of QCAA (Toronto Chapter)    

 “Years of High Hopes: A Portrait of British Guiana 1952-56 ….” by Dorothy Irwin, daughter of Howard Irwin who taught Biology at QC in the ’50’s when I (Kemahl) attended. She was born in Guyana but was raised in NY where she now lives. Her father and mother lived in the QC compound. I haven’t read her book, but it tells, I think, of her parents’ experiences in British Guiana, inter alia, with QC (if I may surmise) at the centre.

The book was recently launched in Georgetown, Guyana.

Mr. Donald Trotman, in his review as reported in the March 20, 2017 issue of Kaieteur News, suggested that the book could be divided into four categories- autobiography, biography, history, social and political. To quote Trotman: ‘the book encompasses the genres of both traditions -of letter writing and diary keeping’.

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  • guyaneseonline  On July 6, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Please see attached review by Clarence Trotz.

    As part of the promotion of our Literary Event (book launch) to be held this Sunday, July 9, Clarence kindly consented to do the review which was published on July 6 in the local edition of the Indo Caribbean World newspaper.

    Hopefully, Clarence’s insightful review will lead to a good turnout on Sunday.
    You are reminded that seats are limited to a max of 60. So if you will be attending, please respond to this e-mail and a seat will be held for you.

    Also attached for ease of reference is the event FLYER giving details.


    Dorothy Irwin, Ed., Years of High Hopes: A Portrait of British Guiana, 1952-1956, from an American family’s letters home, Hertford, Hansib Publications Ltd., 2016, pp.737.

    Years of High Hopes: A Portrait of British Guiana, 1952-1956, from an American family’s letters home relates the adventures of two young Americans, Howard and Marian Irwin, in British Guiana (formerly B.G.) from September 1952 to March 1956. Howard, a botany graduate of the University of Puget Sound in the US, was on a Fulbright grant to teach biology at Queen’s College (QC) and, together with his wife Marian, was accompanied by their five-month old daughter, Elizabeth. In Years of High Hopes the Irwins’ second child, Dorothy, who was born shortly before the couple left B.G, has used her publishing skills to edit and reprint journal entries as well as a vast collection of letters that Marian and Howard wrote home to their parents in the US.
    The letters reveal much about both Marian and Howard, and about political events and their aftermath in B.G. during 1953 and 1954. Through Dorothy’s very extensive research, the letters may be seen to illuminate not only personal aspects of biographical or autobiographical significance, but also wider, more public elements of Guianese social, political and cultural history. For Howard, B.G. offered prospect of fieldwork leading to a doctoral degree, and botanical research that proved to be a veritable treasure trove in virgin territory.

    In September 1952, Howard assumed duty as biology master at Queen’s College, while Marian ‘kept house’ and looked after young Elizabeth. The family changed addresses five times, and these addresses serve as titles for five of the seven chapters of the book, so striking was the impact on the Irwins of their experience at each address. Incidents that the Irwins witness and people they encounter at each address also speak volumes about the mores of different social strata of Guianese society at that time. At one address the American family get a ‘taste’ of life among ordinary Guianese folk, at another they savour the behaviour of ‘higher-ups’ or more genteel folk, while at a third they see, at first hand, the consequences of political misjudgment and immaturity after B.G. gains limited self-government, under adult suffrage, only to have the Constitution suspended a few months later. Meanwhile, Elizabeth grows into a four-year old with a personality of her own, even trying to assist with household chores.

    Marian’s comprehensive and vivid letters to her parents go into great detail about culinary and other domestic minutiae, including dealings with domestic help which she finds necessary, especially with young Elizabeth to look after. Elizabeth’s physical and psychological development, however, are never overlooked. Every now and then Marian allays American, parental fears about their (the Irwins’) personal safety and comfort, at a time of political upheaval in another country. Howard’s correspondence with his folks is less frequent, briefer than Marian’s, and concerned mainly with his job and other academic matters. Although his base is Georgetown, he pays field visits to St. Cuthbert’s Mission, Orealla, the Rupununi, and other locations in BG, and to Brazil; he also meets pioneers of aviation in the colony, US-born Col. Art Williams and Harry Wendt, and observes Kaieteur Falls in full flow! Howard displays many manual skills, and can be firm with Elizabeth when necessary, but his first duty is to Queen’s College.
    Both he and Marian pitch into the staging of school plays, and he tries his hand as bassist in a local orchestra. There is never a dull moment for the Irwins, especially for Howard, although Marian can sometimes be a little critical, once referring to B.G. as ‘this silly country,’ but mostly they (especially Marian) are complimentary, for example, feeling ‘fortunate to find themselves in Guiana’, or confessing ‘we are happy here and contented…’ and ‘so many of our set ideas are changing.” They especially notice the way Guianese of widely differing skin colour get along with one another, vis-a-vis Whites and Blacks in their own country. Perhaps their experience of race in B.G. might even influence their attitude to racial issues when Howard and Marian return to the US!

    Some sixty years later, when Dorothy, born in October 1955, comes to edit Years of High Hopes, she entitles its opening chapter “The Past as Prologue” while, in the final chapter of her insightful volume, she describes accompanying her father on a re-visit, in 1994, to his old Georgetown haunts which she sees for the first time; and while it is fitting for Howard merely to reminisce, it is no surprise that his daughter seeks out the locus of her birth at 224 New Market Street, Georgetown.

    Understandably, minor inaccuracies about Queen’s College escape the editor’s notice; but her bibliography is as extensive as are her well-constructed, explanatory notes at the end of each chapter. There is also an index of five pages, and an ‘Epilogue’ of thirteen pages which provides pen-pictures of individuals, many from QC, whom the Irwins met during their stay in B.G. A number of QC masters of the period are mentioned and, for QC alumni old enough to appreciate it, there are nostalgic pictures of scenes from 1950s Georgetown, and on p. 527, a picture of the QC 1954-5 teaching staff, among whom, in the front row, the young Howard Irwin occupies pride of place.

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