by Petamber Persaud
IN NOVEMBER 1997, the University of the West Indies awarded him the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of his services to Caribbean sugar, sport and literature.
In 1986, he received a Guyana National Award, the Golden Arrow of Achievement.
In 1992, he won the Guyana Prize for Literature for Best Book of Poetry with the collection, ESSEQUIBO, and repeated that feat in 2004, this time with the book, BETWEEN SILENCE AND SILENCE. In 1991, he was awarded THE CARIBBEAN WRITER’S Prize for Poetry. He won the Royal Society of Literature Prize for best regional novel with his first and only novel, THE HUMMING-BIRD TREE. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL) since 1970.
Trinidadian by birth, Guyanese by adoption, he describes himself as West Indian by conviction. He is Dr. Ian Archie McDonald, born in Trinidad in the year 1933 with ancestral links to Antigua and St. Kitts. His father, John Archie McDonald, was born in St. Kitts and his mother, Thelma McDonald (nee Seheult) was born in St. Augustine, Trinidad.
McDonald received his secondary education at Queen’s Royal College in Port-of-Spain. Here he showed a penchant for History and English, going on to obtain distinction in both subjects in the Higher School Certificate. Later, 1951 – 1955, he read History at Cambridge University securing a B.A. degree with honours.
In 1955, he came to British Guiana with the Booker Group of Companies. He has lived and worked in Guyana ever since, frequently retreating into the Essequibo for relaxation and finding, as he says, a continual source of beauty and peace in the garden which his wife, Mary, has created over the years.
Poet, playwright, novelist, editor, book publisher, sportsman, business executive, columnist, McDonald seems to have the right words and moves to suit each occasion.
As well as a lengthy career in the sugar industry, he holds directorship in the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Company, the Mercy Hospital, the Institute of Private Enterprise Development, and the Theatre Company of Guyana. He was a member of the first Management Committee of the Guyana Prize for Literature, and was the Regional Chairman (Canada and the Caribbean) on the panel of judges for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 1991. Between 1990 and 1995, he was a member of the Guyana Book Foundation. He is a member of the Management Committee of the National Art Gallery, Castellani House.
In 2005, he celebrated fifty years of service in the sugar industry, rising to Administrative Director with Bookers, going on to hold the position of Director of Marketing and Administration with the Guyana Sugar Corporation when Bookers was nationalised in 1976 until he retired from the new entity in 1999. McDonald also held the position of Chairman of Marketing of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean from 1990 – 1999. He’s presently the Chief Executive Officer of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean.
As a sportsman, McDonald played tennis at Wimbledon in the 1950s (the only player from Trinidad or from Guyana so far to do so). From 1956 to the early 1970s, he was a champion of Guyana and captained the Guyana Lawn Tennis team. In 1957, he was Guyana’s ‘sportsman of the year’ with George DePeana. He has also represented Guyana in squash. He played in the West Indies first ever Davis Cup team in 1953 and in the 1950s and 1960s, captained the West Indies Davis Cup team in international tennis matches around the world.
His love for literature and writing manifested itself very early in life when his first poems were published in 1950. His first collection of poems, SELECTED POEMS, was published locally, Georgetown, Guyana, 1983.
His first novel, THE HUMMING-BIRD TREE, was first published in 1969 by Heineman and recently re-issued in a new edition by Macmillan. It has been widely used as a textbook in schools in the region and abroad and was made into a BBC film in 1992.
His first play, THE TRAMPLING MAN, was produced at the Theatre Guild in Guyana in 1969. Since then, it has been staged throughout the West Indies and in London.
McDonald is the author of four other collections of poem, MERCY WARD, ESSEQUIBO, JAFFO THE CALYPSONIAN and BETWEEN SILENCE AND SILENCE. His poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies of the region, Britain and North America and is studied in schools of the region.
His short stories, which first surfaced in KYK-OVER-AL, have appeared in essential anthologies like the PENGUIN BOOK OF CARIBBEAN SHORT STORIES and the FABER BOOK OF WEST INDIAN STORIES.
Apart from his own writing, he was responsible for the publication of numerous books which he edited, co-edited or helped to compile. He edited the book, AJS at 70, a tribute to A. J. Seymour. He co-edited Martin Carter’s SELECTED POEMS and THE HEINEMANN BOOK OF CARIBBEAN POETRY IN ENGLISH with Stewart Brown. He helped to compile and edit THEY CAME IN SHIPS, an anthology of Guyanese East Indian Writings, with Lloyd Searwar, Laxhmi Kallicharan, and Joel Benjamin.
Between 1987 and 1992, he was Chairman of Demerara Publishers Limited, Georgetown, Guyana, which produced and printed books by Guyanese.
He is the current editor of the literary journal KYK-OVER-AL which was started by A. J. Seymour in 1945. He has written a weekly column ‘Ian on Sunday’ for the Stabroek News since the newspaper started publication in 1986 and his thoughts on cricket are well respected in the region.
He is editing jointly with Stewart Brown a book of poems by Martin Carter to be published in August this year by Macmillan and is also helping to compile and edit an anthology of West Indian cricket writing in time for 2007 Cricket World Cup.
He is married to Mary Callender and they have two sons, Jamie and Darren. McDonald has a son, Keith, from a previous marriage. A large percentage of the poems in his prize-winning book, BETWEEN SILENCE AND SILENCE, is devoted to the family – his family.