An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Samuel Selvon, author of novels, plays, film, television, and radio, was born in 1923 in South Trinidad to an Indian father and an Indian/Scottish mother. He grew up in Trinidad's multi-racial society and graduated from San Fernando's Naparima College in 1938.
Selvon began writing fiction and poetry while he served in the Royal Navy Reserve during World War II. After the war, he began his literary career as the fiction editor of the Trinity Guardian's literary magazine until he immigrated to England in 1950.
In London, his short stories and poetry were published in various journals and newspapers, including London Magazine, New Statesman, and The Nation. His first novel, A Brighter Sun, was published by Wingate Press in 1952, and since then he has published several other novels, including The Lonely Londoners (1956), I Hear Thunder (1963), The Plains of Caroni (1970), Moses Ascending (1975), and El Dorado West One (1988). Selvon's works chronicle the West Indian experience in England with recurring themes of alienation, discrimination, and racial tension.
Selvon has also had success with his writings for other media. He worked extensively with the British Broadcasting Corporation during the 1960s and 1970s to produce two television scripts, Anansi the Spider Man and Home, Sweet India, numerous radio programs, and a film version of The Lonely Londoners.
In addition to these accomplishments, Selvon has held a series of university appointments in the Caribbean, Great Britain, and North America. He has also received numerous awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships (1955, 1968), Trinidad's Humming Bird Medal for Literature (1969), and an honorary doctorate from the University of Warwick (1989).
Selvon married Draupadi Persuad in 1947, with whom he has one child, and Althea Nesta Daroux in 1963, with whom he has three children. He moved to Canada in 1978 where he currently resides.
The Samuel Selvon Papers consist of original holograph manuscripts, original and carbon copy typescripts, book proofs, manuscript notebooks, correspondence, and a cash book, ranging in date from 1946 to 1975. The material is arranged in three series: I. Works, 1958-75 (1.5 boxes), II. Correspondence, 1946-74 (4 folders), and III. Personal, 1965-67 (one folder). The Papers offer an overview of Selvon's writing process, with an emphasis on his published novels. Drafts for six of his eleven novels are present, along with supporting correspondence and items relating to his career. No materials relating to Selvon's personal life are present.
Series I, arranged alphabetically by title, consists of holograph manuscripts, original and carbon typescripts, book proofs, and notebooks for six novels by Selvon-- The Housing Lark (1965), I Hear Thunder (1963), Moses Ascending (1975), The Plains of Caroni (1970), Those Who Eat the Cascadura (1972), and Turn Again Tiger (1958). A few titles are represented by completed typescripts only, marked with minor holograph revisions and printer's marks. However, early manuscript drafts of novels such as Those Who Eat the Cascadura and Moses Ascending, initially written in a manuscript notebook, are present. Of particular note is the way these notebooks document Selvon's writing technique--first holograph drafts were written from front to back on the right-hand side of a notebook, and subsequent drafts were written from back to front on the left-hand side of the notebooks. These notebooks also contain additional drafts of radio and television plays, and an untitled, unpublished novel. An additional working notebook contains early fragments of Moses Ascending, and drafts of radio and television plays that were produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation; a note attached to the front of the notebook by Selvon lists the titles and dates of each work.
Series II contains correspondence from publishers, broadcasting companies, literary agents, periodicals, students, and other authors, arranged alphabetically. There is only one outgoing piece of correspondence in the collection--a cablegram from Selvon to his English publisher, R. G. Davis-Poynter. The most comprehensive correspondence in Series II follows Selvon's association with the British Broadcasting Corporation over ten years, and contains letters referring to current projects, suggesting story ideas, and telling him of recent broadcasts of his work. Also of significance are letters from Marion Saunders, Selvon's literary agent. Her eight letters from 1952 to 1957 trace the process of finding publishers and American magazines for Selvon's early novels and short stories. Correspondence from West Indian authors such as Garth St. Omer and John J. Figueroa is also present.
Series III consists of a cashbook listing Selvon's travel expenses to research background information for upcoming novels, short stories, and radio/television plays.
Open for research
Purchase, 1976 (R7293)
Christopher D. Filippi, 1995; Sarah Demb, 1996; Jennifer Peters, 1996
Samuel Selvon Papers--Folder List