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Kingston, Jamaica: April 15, 2014 – Distinguished poet and academic, Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris, OM, has been selected to serve as the new Poet Laureate of Jamaica, becoming the first person to hold this eminent title in 60 years. The national honour was announced today (April 15) by Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, the Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill, at a press conference at the National Library of Jamaica, Downtown Kingston.
In making the announcement, Minister McNeill said Professor Morris “remains arguably the most resourceful and technically brilliant of Caribbean poets.” Jamaica’s new Poet Laureate studied at Munroe College, the University College of the West Indies and, as a Rhodes Scholar, at Oxford University. He worked at the University of the West Indies from 1966 to 2002, retiring as Professor of Creative Writing and West Indian Literature. He received the Order of Merit in 2009.
Alongside his own collections, including The Pond, Shadowboxing and Vestiges, Professor Morris has written extensively on West Indian literature, and edited various anthologies, as well as the selected poems of iconic Jamaican poet and performer, Louise Bennett-Coverley.
Minister McNeill said Jamaica’s Poet Laureate programme would help to positively position the island as a key cultural tourism destination by helping to revitalize the arts and preserve our rich literary history.
“The project dovetails perfectly with our efforts to use programmes such as Arts in the Park, 90 Days of Summer and Reggae Month, its Kingston for February to increase support for and give greater exposure to our local art forms, while using Jamaica’s cultural strength as a tourism attractor,” the Minister said.
“We are therefore pleased to be giving an even greater voice to Jamaica’s literary arts though our support of the Poet Laureate Programme. Developing the literary arts remains a key component of our strategy moving forward and this new programme will help to further bolster this initiative,” Minister McNeill added.
In commending the initiative the Principal Director of Culture in the Ministry of Youth and Culture, Dahlia Harris, noted that “the Poet Laureate Programme is a significant part of how the government not only intends to preserve and archive national memory but will also be instrumental in how we develop and encourage the talent of poets islandwide.”
In his response, Professor Morris said “I am keen on helping to put more poets in contact with the potential Jamaican audience.” Citing this as his priority, he explained that the media is extremely important in this regard. “If we can put Jamaica’s poems in front of a wider public than is currently available this will be of major service to culture and entertainment,” he said.
The Poet Laureate of Jamaica is a national honour that recognizes a distinguished Jamaican poet for his/her significant contribution to the literary community. The Poet Laureate is expected to stimulate a greater appreciation for Jamaican poetry, write poems for national occasions, and preserve and disseminate the island’s cultural heritage through prose.
The Poet Laureate Programme is a joint initiative of the National Library of Jamaica, the Entertainment Advisory Board of the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, and the Ministry of Youth and Culture. It is being financed by the Tourism Enhancement Fund at a cost of $3.4 million. The National Library will serve as the secretariat for the programme.
Chairman of the Entertainment Advisory Board, Kingsley Cooper emphasized that “the selection process was a very inclusive one as the public was invited to submit nominations for the post of Poet Laureate, with nominations closing in December, 2013. A nine member Steering Committee then made the final selection which will see Professor Morris serving in the capacity of Poet Laureate for three years.”