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JOHN CLIFFORD SEALY

November 8th, 1927 – September 20th, 1991.

 

Poet, editor, playwright, political activist, short story writer, founder of THE BOOK SHOP, he was one of the finest inspirational figures to the literary and dramatic community in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

His was not a privileged childhood. Clifford lived a varied and intense life and was involved prior to 1950 in the radical political and social movements of the time. He published in several magazines and the daily press. He edited a paper called The Forward, organised and addressed several political meetings. Clifford was an active participant in the WHY-Not? Group, a group of young radicals mainly from Queen’s Royal College, founded by Lloyd and Edward Brathwaite. In the literary field Clifford in 1948 with George Lamming and Cecil Herbert formed THE READERS AND WRITERS GUILD. The Guild produced material in verse, short story and drama. Several of his productions were aired on the BBC.

 

The period to 1959 was spent in London where he produced two unpublished novels, one of which was called The World of Her Own. During the same period, he married Doreen Hamilton and attended St. Luke’s College, Exeter where he pursued studies in Art and Divinity.

 

In 1959 Clifford returned to Trinidad and Started THE BOOK SHOP. THE BOOK SHOP was the concretising of an aspiration he had for the reading public of Trinidad and Tobago. He encouraged the exposure of indigenous literature and made available literature on a wide range of subjects. THE BOOK SHOP, in addition to ordering the private libraries of many of us, provided also a Socratic environment where the personality of Clifford Sealy was encountered. There was a man, short in stature, erect in posture, with piercing eyes who, if engaged, displayed aan uncanny precision in the use of language. He was a master of the art of the dialectic and his knowledge of history, politics, art, science and philosophy astounding. Shiva Naipaul in Beyond the Dragon’s Mouth captures graphically the nature of an encounter with THE BOOK SHOP:

 

"My new friend seemed to know something about everything. It was he who introduced the word (polymath) into my vocabulary. Our conversation – or, rather his conversation was wide-ranging and studded with erudite reference…

 

No matter what the subject – literary, scientific, philosophical, political – he was never at a loss for something to say."

 

In the sixties and seventies Clifford was active in the literary field. He edited a literary journal called Voices giving voice to the works of young writers such as Roger Mc Tair, Victor Questel, Barbara Jones, Wayne Browne, Anson Gonzalez, to name a few. He was also Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Branch of the international organisation for ports, playwrights, editors and novelists, PEN. Several of his short stories and poems were published in English, Canadian and West Indian journals. He was an early contributor to BIM. In 1966 he won the BBC World Wide Short Story Competition. His works can be found in collections such as Breaklight, edited by A. Salkey (NY, 1973) and Caribbean Medley, a collection of West Indian poetry.

 

Clifford also produced two plays. The Professor, a one act social comedy, was performed by the Company of Players in 1967 in San Francisco both on stage and television. His second play, Smell of Damp, a satire on middle class ways in Trinidad, was staged by the Strolling Players in 1983.

 

Clifford’s life was for those who encountered him a bridge between the pure aspirations of the thirties and the responsibilities of the present. He waxs a man who cared deeply for self and world, exhibiting the intensity of a lover’s concern for the beloved. In his poem ‘the Flame’ he inquires:

 

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Excerpted from CSMF News, the newsletter of the John Clifford Sealy Memorial Foundation, founded by Garth Alleyne et al. The piece may be written by Garth Alleyne.