E. A. Markham: Poet, dramatist and writer who resisted any tendency to define his work as either Caribbean or British

The poet, fiction writer, theatre director, editor and creative-writing teacher E.A. Markham was born in the Caribbean but migrated to the UK as a teenager. Britain was to be his home for most of his life, but he was a perennial traveller and also lived in France, Germany and Papua New Guinea for extended periods.

Born in Harris, Montserrat in 1939, Edward Archibald Markham attended the island's only grammar school, before moving to the UK in 1956. He studied English and Philosophy at what was then St David's College, Lampeter, and subsequently worked on 17th-century drama at the Universities of East Anglia and London. Theatre was his first love, and he had a play performed while he was still a student in Lampeter. Later he was to be part of various semi-professional troupes in London.

After lecturing at Kilburn Polytechnic for two years in the late 1960s, Archie Markham founded the Caribbean Theatre Workshop with the aim of exploring "non-naturalistic" theatrical forms. The Workshop toured the eastern Caribbean in 1970 and 1971, performing plays in St Vincent and Montserrat and holding events elsewhere. Back in Europe, Markham turned his talents in a different direction, building houses with a French co-operative movement from 1972 to 1974. He subsequently held creative writing fellowships at Hull College of Further Education (1978-79), in Brent (the C. Day Lewis Fellowship, 1979-80) and Ipswich (1986), and at the University of Ulster (1988-91). From 1983 to 1985, he worked as a media co-ordinator in Papua New Guinea, an experience he would later revisit in his travel book A Papua New Guinea sojourn (1997). After returning to Britain from New Guinea, he edited the magazine Artrage from 1985 to 1987.

Although Markham's earliest writing was as a dramatist, he first achieved national recognition in Britain as a poet and it is as a poet that he will mainly be remembered, though he also produced significant fiction and edited two major anthologies of Caribbean writing, Hinterland: Caribbean poetry from the West Indies and Britain (1989) and The Penguin Book of Caribbean Short Stories (1996). His short-story collections include Something Unusual (1986) and Taking the Drawing Room through Customs (2002).

Archie was always uniquely his own man and yet in some ways his career was not untypical of a generation of Caribbean-born poets who came of age during the late colonial period, steeped in the idioms of English literature and culture, but with an equal capacity to inhabit other voices. He prefaced a selection of his own poetry in Hinterland with a brief autobiographical note entitled "Many Voices. Many Lives", a phrase which might well serve as an epitaph on his life and work.

Like Derek Walcott, with whom he shared a memorable public conversation at a Sorbonne conference on Walcott's work two years ago, his knowledge of European culture put many of his British contemporaries to shame. At the same time, and again like Walcott, his writing refused to be shackled by his colonial education. He transformed and subverted this, even as he drew on it.

His early poetry defied the stereotypes that British commentators often imposed on Caribbean-born poets of his generation, and he particularly resisted any tendency to categorise him as either a Caribbean or a British poet. This resistance to easy definitions found its way into his assumption of poetic personae that reflected his sense of multiple selves. First among these was Paul St Vincent. He created Paul in the 1970s, in response to English critics who felt that he should be sounding more "Caribbean" and less "mainstream". Putting his classical education to one side, he rented a room in Battersea and, using Paul's name as a pseudonym, began to write about inner-city experiences in a form of Caribbean Creole.

Then, in an attempt to combat the sexism that he felt characterised much Caribbean writing, he invented another persona, the Seventies Welsh feminist Sally Goodman, who, he said, made him aware of his own chauvinism. Archie's capacity to inhabit different personae was the mark of a modest, outgoing man, who was always keen to challenge any possible preconceptions and biases in his make-up. It was also a product of his sense of being a "chameleon": in an early poem entitled "Proteus", he wrote, "The quick-change artist/ rules the world." Later, both Paul and Sally would be absorbed into his main Markham persona, a composite figure, who was now able to dispense with the pseudonym Paul St Vincent and publish his alter egos' poems as his own.

In later years, he taught at the University of Newcastle before becoming Professor of Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, where he directed the biennial Hallam Literature Festival. His experiences at Sheffield Hallam gave rise to his campus novel, Marking Time (1999), which grew out of his disaffection with recent British examples of the genre. When he told his students what he thought was wrong with the campus novel and they suggested that he should write one, he rose to the challenge. The result was a wide-ranging comic work, centred on a creative-writing tutor caught in a world of bureaucrats and overworked academics, desperately trying to balance competing pressures. Interspersed with this were memories of the tutor's childhood on the Caribbean island of St Cesare, a fictional surrogate for Montserrat.

In the same year, 1999, Sheffield Hallam published A Festschrift for E.A. Markham in honour of his 60th birthday; and after his "retirement" in 2005, the University conferred the title of Professor Emeritus on him. Predictably, he remained as active as ever. Keen to live in a metropolis, but finding London expensive and increasingly less congenial, he moved to Paris. At the time of his death, his memoir of life in the 1950s, Against the Grain, was in press for publication by Peepal Tree Press, Leeds.

Archie Markham's collections of verse include Human Rites: selected poems 1970-1982 (1984), which brought together the best of several earlier small-press books, Living in Disguise (1986), Towards the End of a Century (1989), Letter from Ulster & the Hugo Poems (1993) and Misapprehensions (1995). In 1997 he was awarded the Certificate of Honour by the government of Montserrat. In 2003 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

He will be remembered as much for his warmth, conviviality and kindness as for his seminal place in Caribbean-British writing, both as a practitioner and as an inspiration to others.

John Thieme

Edward Archibald Markham, poet and writer: born Harris, Montserrat 1 October 1939; Lecturer, English Department, Sheffield Hallam University 1991-97, Professor of Creative Writing 1997-2005 (Emeritus); FRSL 2003; died Paris 23 March 2008.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Technical Project Manager - Software and Infrastructure - Government Experience

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Central Lon...

Head of Technology

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Head of Technology needed for a Outsta...

Maths teachers needed in Cromer

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teachers requir...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits