Mary Geo Quinn, reflexively and enduringly referred to as the Grand Dame of Antiguan and Barbudan Poetry (not an official title, as there is no official title for writers in Antiguan and Barbuda, but an honorific respected by the literary community of which she was a part and by the wider community in recognition of her status as one of our local literary elders), has died (June 13th 2019). I learned about it a few minutes ago when the condolences started appearing in my social media. Mrs. Quinn was up in years, yes, but death continues to be as surprising as it is inevitable. I hope she was with family in the end and that she knows that the words she worked to put out in to the world were not in vain. I’ve been in the room (sharing platforms with her) and seen how children responded to her folk-leaning poetry. It’s one of the reasons I booked her when asked to organize authors for the National Reading Festival one year and asked her to participate in the 2006 Word Up! Wadadli Pen/Museum fundraiser and literary showcase in which she paid no attention to my imposed time restriction. The opening image of this post, by photographer Laura Hall, is from the latter event. Her popularity aside, I sensed some frustration (beginning when I, as a young one desperate to get published, found myself in a room with her, a much older one similarly hopeful/hungry, awaiting the outcome of some writing competition or other – the details are blurry but that’s the first time I remember our paths crossing and I remember some frustration with the outcome). That’s normal and inevitable for any writer but especially as a writer trying to get some footing in a country where the literary arts are at best an afterthought (with token nods to development) and in a wider world where you are near-invisible. The last event I was at where she was recognized was a Culture Department event a couple of years ago, where she was presented, I believe, with a plaque (accepted by her son Paul, for her contribution to the literary arts). I have mixed feelings about that event and about the Culture Department’s gestures re the literary arts for a number of other reasons but not the recognition for Mrs. Quinn. I remember, as I write this, that round about 2004, she was one of the writers (myself included) who received a plaque from the local UNESCO office for her contribution to the literary arts.
The Readers Choice Book of the Year initiative (for which her last book was in the running) aside, I last posted about Mrs. Quinn here on the blog when she launched her last book Hol’ de Line and Other Stories in 2017. She was 85 at the time.
Over the years, Mrs. Quinn, a beloved local-folk poet, has picked up some external recognition for her writing – including winning a 1961 competition organized by the Venezuelan Embassy in Barbados with her story ‘By Hook or By Crook’ and, in 2000, the King of Redonda Prize for her Recollections about the relocation of the village of Winthorpes to make way for the American Base when she was a child, and being highly commended for her short story ‘Joe’ in the 2002 Commonwealth Short Story competition, one of only a couple (literally) of Antiguans and Barbudans to earn any recognition in that still ongoing international competition.
As a poet, the genre she’s most known for, she has self-published (because independent publishing was and is still often the only option available to writers from a small space and for some emerging writers the preferred form – as publishing continues to shift globally) – more than are listed here (going back to the 1970s) because they were often prints rather than traceable/researchable publications. She had more traditionally published work in her later years – Reflections with Macmillan Education in 2003 (I haven’t seen a copy of this but it is listed on their website though without a cover and out of print) and Hol’ de Line (for which her family gave her the full author treatment).
Mrs. Quinn, regular listeners to Observer Radio’s Voice of the People might remember as the lady from the Observer library who late host Winston Derrick name checked daily at the start of his show – with her thoughts/words (was it the thought of the day or the word of the day?). Born in 1931, she worked as a teacher from age 15 and retired as head teacher.
I apologize that this is somewhat all over the place-I admit that I am growing tired of writing these art obits (as I age up) and it is rushed (it is late at night and I have to work, remember Wadadli Pen is not a paying gig, and no time to do proper research), but I didn’t want to leave Mrs. Quinn unsung at her passing.
When the Caribbean Compass article announced her victory in the (seemingly one-off) regional King of Redonda Prize, it quoted a judge as saying, “Recollections should rank as a West Indian classic.” – something that could also be said of the late Antiguan and Barbudan poet.
Rest in Peace, Mrs. Quinn.
As with all content on Wadadli Pen, unless otherwise indicated, this is written by author and Wadadli Pen founder and coordinator Joanne C. Hillhouse. Do not re-post or re-use in whole without permission nor excerpt without crediting and, where possible, linking back. Respect copyright. All rights reserved.