TRIBUTE TO WENTWORTH ERROL BOWEN
Zoom Memorial to his Life. September 27, 2020, 7.30pm. Hosted by Mark Bowen
I pay tribute to an esteemed colleague and friend, Wentworth Errol Bowen. I had the pleasure of communicating appreciation for his dedicated and effective service to the Institute of Social and Economic research (ISER) in 1987: that is over 30 years ago. It was the occasion in which he was leaving the ISER to take up an appointment as Senior Lecturer at the Caribbean Institute of Mass Communication (CARIMAC). I am sure that colleagues at the former ISER, SALISES — academic and non-academic staff — join me in in reaffirming these sentiments.
The beginnings of a respectful relationships
I cannot claim to be a childhood friend of Wenty. We met in the early 70s when he joined the staff of ISER at UWI, Mona then under the Directorship of Alister McIntyre to whom I had the honour to be Deputy. From this vantage point, our close professional relationship developed: he as Editor, and I, as Chair of the Editorial Board. I can attest to Wenty’s inestimable role in ensuring that the Social and Economic Studies Quarterly Journal established in 1953, maintained its reputation as a flagship of the University of the West Indies with its high reputation in the global arena of scholarly enterprises. Wenty as editor was like the rock of Gibraltar: calm, dependable and productive. His contribution however extended beyond the quarterly journal to overseeing the growing number of books, monographs and working papers with a range of outstanding research by internationally renowned UWI scholars [such as the late Professors Norman Girvan, George Beckford, Al Francis and Carl Stone]. Indeed our bonds of friendship and my respect for the talents of Wenty grew when he edited my first book, Race vs Politics, published under the imprimatur of ISER in 1978. My intensive interactions with him demonstrated at first hand, how an editor like Wenty is a precious resource. The glowing acknowledgements to Wenty given by the multitude of authors whose works he literally produced, are testimony to his incredible though underestimated contribution to scholarship at UWI and more generally in the Caribbean.
Recognizing the Enormity of talent and Creativity
Wenty was beyond classification as an editor. A highly regarded ISER colleague aptly referred to him as one who wore his intellectual gifts lightly. Yes! indeed! Overall, Wenty was a great communicator, a student of Caribbean affairs, a proponent of information science, an investigative journalist, a videographer and what I can only describe as a humanist. I witnessed all these attributes at close range.
As an illustration, we were part of a team of pollsters and election night commentators for RJR for the 1980 Jamaica general elections when Edward Seaga’s JLP won a landslide victory over Michael Manley’s PNP contrary to the predictions of our polls. Wenty’s performance on RJR during the election night broadcast was nothing short of insightful, pragmatic and gracious. With great aplomb, he helped the audience to comprehend the frailties of polling but the importance it plays in trapping peoples views at points in time.
Then, I am sure not many realize that Wenty’s creative talents extended to the production of classical Jamaican images including Christmas greeting cards. I came to this awareness while he was editing my first book. I actually purchased some of these cards [with themes like “Christmas Greetings to You from Us,” and “Three Wise Men”]. I specifically recall one that I gave to my late wife, Gloria that tickled her fancy and her endearment. It was titled “Me da carry straw feyu, gal”. What a Jamaican way of saying I adore and love you. Wenty’s cutting wit and satirical imagination are adequately captured in these sentiments relayed in Jamaican dialect (Incidentally, I can’t ever recall him speaking in this idiom).
But there are some other attributes in my reflections on his talents. When UWI and ISER celebrated their 50th anniversaries in 1998, Wenty produced what can only be referred to as an extraordinary video of ISER’s history and its contribution to the Caribbean. Few realized that ISER was inaugurated in 1948, the same year that UCWI was established and included among its initial Research Fellows, intellectual giants such as Roy Augier, Lloyd Braithwaite, Carleen O’Loughlin, M.G Smith and R.T Smith. That ISER 50th anniversary celebration hosted by Prof. Elsie LeFranc, Director (Mona) was a memorable event. Present among a wide range of attendees were former ISER Directors: Sir Alister Mc Intyre, Prof. Vaughan Lewis, Prof Jocelyn Massiah and me together with other current Directors: Prof. Selwyn Ryan (St Augustine) and Prof. Andrew Downes (Cave Hill). It is my fervent hope that this video is still available in the UWI archives as much for the conservation of ISER’s historiography as for the preservation of the brilliance of Wenty Bowen.
The fundamentals of his success
Wenty’s success was due to his unquenchable search for information and his propensity to maintain a functioning archive. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in his being able to unearth a 1975 unpublished article by H. P. Jacobs on Clarendon from his collection which he provided for the special issue of the Jamaica Daily News in 1981, dedicated to the life of H.P Jacobs. [H.P Jacobs born in England in 1912, emigrated to Jamaica in 1926, taught at Jamaica College. In 1936 he became a member of the Linguistic Society of America with a specialization in Teutonic and Creole languages. He was the Vice President of the National Reform Association (founded March 1938), a forerunner of the People's National Party, of which he was on the founding committee He died in Jamaica in 1981]
There is however so much more to this quiet, unassuming, gentle giant, which due to time constraints can only be summarized. Chief among them are his contributions to several publications of high repute and wide dissemination:
- Higher Education in the Caribbean: Past, Present and Future Directions by Glenford Howe, UWI Press 2000 to mark the 50th anniversary of UWI.
- The University Student Support for Caribbean Integration: A UWI four campus study paper prepared for the Caribbean Studies Association Conference, May 1993.
- Caribbean Social Studies for Secondary Schools. Bk.3, The West Indies and the World [Esmor Jones; Advisers Wenty Bowen, Carlyle Green, Rampeyari Lalla, London: Evans Bros 1983.]
- "Letter from Kingston," and “Confrontation Politics in Jamaica, Caribbean Contact No 6 (May 1978)
In addition, one of the most recent major contributions of Wenty that I know of, was his involvement as a documentalist and screenwriter in the promotion of the third in a 3-part series, SING YOUR SONG, including Harry Belafonte that premiered on the Opening Night of the Caribbean Film Festival at Frank Collymore Hall in Barbados on April 11th, 2012. I happened to be in Barbados at the time and shared his absolute joy and excitement.
Honoring his humanity and humility
When we spoke in July 2019 by telephone, I could not imagine that it would be the last time that I would hear that silken, distinctly cultured Barbadian accent and the graciousness of his presence and engagement. He spoke briefly of the void created by his wife Averil’s passing and the pride that he had for the boys:- Wayne, Colin and Mark. We had agreed to stay in touch and looked forward to doing so when I was due to be in Barbados in April 2020. COVID intervened and, now, his departure from this world we know.
Wenty died on September 6, 2020. We deeply mourn his loss. With such a life well lived , for the many lives he touched, for the magnitude of his contributions to UWI, Jamaica and the Caribbean, I ask his sons Wayne and Mark and their families as well as Colin and the rest of the family to be comforted by the good times you shared and for the legacy of this outstanding human being. No doubt he would wish you and indeed all of us to remember him as he was.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
Professor Edward Greene, former Director ISER
Wenty Bowen and Publishing at UWI
I first met Wentworth ‘Wenty’ Bowen in 1989 when I answered an ad for a desk-top publishing job at UWIPA, the University of the West Indies Publishers’ Association. Wenty was a key member of this very innovative, resourceful little organization consisting of the managing editors of all the journals put out by and at UWI. Wenty would have been the editor of Social and Economic Studies (SES), when he and the editors of Caribbean Quarterly (CQ) and other UWI journals founded UWIPA.
I could never have imagined then that one day I would be in the position that Wenty Bowen had occupied in the 80s. I have been the managing editor of SES since 1992 when the then editor, Janet Liu-Terry, migrated to Australia.
UWIPA, the editors’ cooperative Wenty was instrumental in founding in 1986, is worth dwelling on, as it is a reflection of his dedication to developing indigenous publications to replace the largely UK-authored and -published books and textbooks prescribed for UWI students. This was an ambition shared by many across the three campuses of UWI and the results could be seen in the number of publications emerging from various departments across the University. The problem was how to market these, how to make them visible and available to markets overseas.
UWIPA’s big innovation was developing and publishing an annual catalogue of all books and journals published at UWI and offering a common portal to prospective customers around the world to buy these. Previously a library in Canada or the UK would have to contact each of these publishers individually to acquire their publications. Now they could access them through UWIPA which accepted and fulfilled orders by passing them on to the various publishers. UWIPA is also important in being the premier lobby group for a university press to be established at Mona, something it succeeded in achieving when UWI Press (or The Press, UWI, as it was then called) came into being in 1992.
An ardent documentalist and archivist in addition to being a journalist Wenty meticulously recorded these histories in an article titled “The University of the West Indies Press and Academic and Textbook Publishing in the Caribbean: An Oral History”. Consisting partially of interviews with Linda Cameron, the founding director of the Press and Ian Randle, Wenty recorded the development and growth of the two scholarly publishing houses, their governance structures, their strategies in developing local material for the tertiary level, how they decided what to publish and the differences between them.
In the same article Wenty expanded on the fine points of textbook development as opposed to the development of an academic text, rued the lack of accurate statistics on the regional publishing industry, then moved into a discussion of journal publishing at UWI. The following quote captures the predicament Bowen and other journal editors found themselves in at the time and their proactive approach to solving these issues:
Back in 1983, three years before UWIPA was formally launched in January 1986, the editors who were responsible for the production of CQ, CJE and SES, Janet Liu Terry, Pam Mordecai, and Wenty Bowen, respectively -- began informal discussions about the common problems facing their journals. They agreed that their respective journals all needed to get more subscribers, and to be marketed in a more aggressive manner. They began circulating among themselves material of relevance to the editing and selling of scholarly Journals, such as the IASP newsletter, first brought to their attention by Nora Mailer of the university’s Planning Unit, who had herself been once involved with ISER’S publication unit.
Much of the thinking that went into the cooperation between CQ, SES and CJE was that while the expertise to edit and produce journals and books abounded on campus, what the individual journals did not have, and what it made no sense for each to develop individually, was a marketing arm. There needed to be developed an institution that would take on the marketing of all journals collectively, on behalf of all (291-2).
On a personal level Wenty was always elegant and soft-spoken, and looked as if he could have stepped out of a Bollywood drama. A man of few words, he ACTED, purposefully, quietly, without any fanfare, always pleasant, urbane and under-stated, a professional devoted to the region and its writers and thinkers. UWI was fortunate to have him, as was ISER. The world of writing and words in the Caribbean has lost a stalwart. Condolences to his three sons, Mark, Colin and Wayne, who are all personal friends.It is noteworthy that nearly 40 years later this dream of Wenty Bowen and his fellow editors, to have a central marketing agency for UWI journals, remains an aspiration.
Annie Paul, Publication Officer, SALISES Mona