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Sun, 09.07.1919

Louise Bennett, Jamaican Poet born

Louise Bennett

Louise Bennett was born on this date in 1919. She was a Black Jamaican poet.

Louise Bennett was born in Kingston, Jamaica, where she was affectionately known as "Miss Lou," and where she remains a household name, a "Living Legend," and a cultural icon. Her first dialect poem was written when she was 14 years old.  She received her education from Ebenezer and Calabar Elementary Schools, St. Simon’s College, Excelsior College, and Friends College (Highgate).  A British Council Scholarship took her to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she studied in the late 1940s. Bennett had a for and won a scholarship. After graduation, she worked with repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield, and Amersham as well as in intimate revues all over England.

She has been described as Jamaica's leading comedian, as the "only poet who has really hit the truth about her society through its own language," and as an important contributor to her country of "valid social documents reflecting the way Jamaicans think and feel and live.” Through her poems in Jamaican patois, she raised the dialect of the Jamaican folk to an art level that is acceptable to and appreciated by all in Jamaica.

In her poems, she was able to capture all the spontaneity of expression of Jamaicans' joys and sorrows, their ready, poignant, and even wicked wit, their religion, and their philosophy of life. Although she lived in Toronto, Canada, for years, she still received the homage of the expatriate West Indian community in the north as well as a large Canadian following.

On her return to Jamaica, she taught drama to youth and adult groups both in social welfare agencies and for the University of the West Indies Extra Mural Department. She has lectured extensively in the United States and the United Kingdom on Jamaican folklore and music and has represented Jamaica all over the world. She was married to Eric Winston Coverley in 1954 and had one son and several adopted children.

Her contribution to Jamaican cultural life has been honored with the M.B.E., the Norman Manley Award for Excellence (in the field of Arts), the Order of Jamaica (1974), the Institute of Jamaica's Musgrave Silver and Gold Medals for distinguished eminence in the field of Arts and Culture, and in 1983, the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies. In September 1988, her composition "You're going home now," won a nomination from the Academy of Canadian Cinema ad Television, for the best original song in the movie, "Milk and Honey."

In 1998, she received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from York University, Toronto, Canada. The Jamaican government also appointed her Cultural Ambassador at Large for Jamaica. On Jamaica’s Independence Day 2001, Bennett-Coverly was appointed as a Member of the Order of Merit for her distinguished contribution to the development of the Arts and Culture.

Louise Bennett died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 26, 2006.

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