Rand Richards Cooper at Commonweal:
Journalist, teacher, and novelist, pan-Africanist historian and left-leaning political activist, Cyril Lionel Robert James is best remembered for The Black Jacobins, his 1938 account of the Haitian revolution. But he produced many other works, some of them groundbreaking. His 1932 pamphlet “The Case for West Indian Self-Government” was the first significant manifesto for independence in the British West Indies, and his 1936 Minty Alley the first novel published in Britain by a black Caribbean writer. Son of a schoolteacher, James was born in 1901, early enough to have relatives who recalled having been enslaved. From this modest family background, he rose to become an exemplary product of British colonial education. His varied and far-flung career included long sojourns in London, a 1939 meeting with Trotsky in Mexico, and fifteen years in the United States, capped by his 1953 deportation—and a study of Melville written while the author was detained on Ellis Island.
Yet it all began, as this memoir tells us, on a cricket field in Tunapuna, a town just outside Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain.