UWI Tribute to Edward Baugh

by December 15, 2023

The University of the West Indies (UWI) mourns the passing of Emeritus Professor of English, Edward Alston Cecil Baugh, a quintessential scholar and gentleman who exemplified the ideals of The University of the West Indies, both as a student and later as an academic who spent thirty-five immensely productive and intellectually impactful years here as a teacher, writer, administrator, and scholar. His death on December 9, 2023 represents an immense loss to Caribbean literary studies. A Renaissance man, Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh, was a poet, scholar, teacher, actor, and relentless proselytizer for Anglophone Caribbean literature and criticism.

According to Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, “Professor Edward Baugh blazed a trail across the cosmos of Caribbean literature, generating along the journey a silver light that illuminated paths for those around and to come. His style was without hurry; he was super-cool, calm, and caused no heat. It was a magical performance from the maestro. Those of us who basked in his glow were amazed by the dignity of everything he said and did. The bar was set too high for those in haste. He was to be admired and not imitated. He was the bearer of our collegial standard; gentility at its finest; as much saint as scholar. Blessings upon the soul of ‘Baugh the Bright’. May his light shine on through eternity.

Reacting to Professor Baugh’s passing, Principal of The UWI Mona Campus, Professor Densil A. Williams said, “Professor Edward Alston Cecil Baugh epitomized the best of global academia that sprung from our textured Caribbean space.  As a proud Caribbean man, he took his pride of place in the world through his indomitable reading and presentation of the written word.  As a public orator, he presented his work with panache and wooed many to UWI graduations who craved a front row seat just to hear is delivery of the honorary graduands. It was a joy to listen to him. His voice will surely be missed in the literary world as audience globally looked forward to hear his readings of “It was the Singing.” We will surely continue the singing as we celebrate your life and work, Prof. In the spirit of the ancestors, Walk Good our Dear Professor, Teacher, and Scholar extraordinaire.”

Born in 1936, in Port Antonio, Baugh attended Titchfield High School, and subsequently the University College of the West Indies where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1957. Next, he attended Queens University in Canada, gaining the MA English (1959), and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom for his PhD (1964).  Returning to the Caribbean, he taught at The UWI Cave Hill campus from 1965 to 1967, and then at the Mona campus where he had a long and storied career from 1968 to 2001 as a brilliant scholar, inspiring teacher, and fine poet who established and adhered to the highest standards of excellence.

A master teacher, Baugh provided consistent and forward-looking academic leadership that helped to transform the colonial curriculum into a more diverse and inclusive one that fostered critical and scholarly engagement with a range of national and regional literatures and genres. He introduced literary theory courses into both the undergraduate and graduate curricula, thus ensuring that literary studies at UWI kept abreast of contemporary currents in the discipline. His embrace of the new was balanced by a judicious understanding of the need to also maintain courses from the traditional Western canon. His pedagogical philosophy was humanist and cosmopolitan in every sense of the term, firmly rooted in the local but always engaged with the global. His deservedly stellar reputation as a critic of anglophone Caribbean literature rests on this broad and deep foundation.

As an academic critic, Baugh covered all literary genres but temperamentally he was attracted to the criticism of poetry, particularly the poetry of Derek Walcott whose creative and metaphorically complex engagement with language, landscape, history, race, originality and mimicry resonated with Baugh’s own perception of the role of Caribbean writers and critics. His scholarship enhanced the university’s reputation as a centre for excellence in Caribbean literary studies. His authoritative and incisive survey of West Indian poetry, West Indian Poetry 1900-1970: A Study in Cultural Decolonisation (1971), provided a roadmap to the aesthetic and thematic evolution of the genre, and it announced his presence as an important and influential Caribbean literary critic. His interest in the symbiotic relationship between criticism and creative writing informed his editing of Critics on Caribbean Literature (1978), and his contribution as Caribbean Editor for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures. He cemented his reputation as an internationally acclaimed expert on Derek Walcott’s work with the publication of magisterial studies such as Memory as Vision (the first book-length study of Derek Walcott’s poetry), an erudite and definitive annotated edition of Walcott’s Another Life (2004), an encyclopedic overview of Derek Walcott’s oeuvre, Derek Walcott (2005), and a short biography of Walcott, Derek Walcott (2017).  Baugh also published a definitive study of another influential Caribbean literary figure titled, Frank Collymore: A Biography (2009).

His multifaceted and multitalented qualities were also expressed in poetry. He was a fine poet with a particularly lyrical and elegiac sensibility as evidenced in his three collections of poetry: A Tale from the Rainforest (1988), It Was the Singing (2000) and Black Sand: New and Selected Poems (2013).

His contribution to administrative and public service at UWI was outstanding: he served multiple terms as Head of the Department, and Dean of his Faculty. He also served as Chairman of the University Library Committee, Chairman of the Mona Library Committee, Chairman of the Mona Campus Committee for Higher Degrees and its successor, the Committee for Graduate Studies, and Chairman of the Mona Campus Committee on Examinations. He also served on the University Appointments Committee and as the Mona Academic Board representative on the University Academic Committee. He was an eloquent and magisterial Public Orator for seventeen years (1985- 2002), and the quality of his oratory is evident in a published selection of citations, Chancellor, I Present (1998). His unstinting commitment to public service saw him serving on the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica, the Board of Management of the National Library, the Council of the Institute of Jamaica, and as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Institute of Jamaica Publications. Since 2013 he was Chair of the Poet Laureate Committee of the National Library of Jamaica.

He received a Vice-Chancellor’s award in 1995 for teaching and administration, and a Commander of the Order of Distinction (CD) in that same year for his stellar contributions to Literature, Education, and the University of the West Indies. The Institute of Jamaica awarded him a Silver Musgrave medal in 1998 and a Gold Musgrave Medal in 2012 for his contribution to Literature, and the UWI Guild of Graduates gave him the Pelican Award in 1999 for his outstanding contribution in literary studies and oratory.

Baugh was an internationally respected scholar and writer who received numerous invitations to lecture about Caribbean literature and to read his poetry in many countries. He held visiting appointments in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He was a referee for senior appointments or promotions in various universities including Amherst College, Boston University, the University of South Carolina, the University of Michigan, York University, the University of Ibadan, and the University of Malaya. He served as a judge for the prestigious Commonwealth Poetry Prize and the Guyana Prize for Literature. He was an active and important member of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, and he chaired the Organizing Committee for its 9th Triennial Conference.

Baugh’s achievements were many and significant, and a significant part of his legacy lies in the intellectual mentoring and nurturing of several generations of students, some of whom have gone on to become notable scholars in their own right.  His loss is felt by his past students, former colleagues, and most deeply and poignantly by his family. The University of the West Indies mourns with them while also saluting the intellectual and creative giant who has passed. Rest in peace, Edward Alston Cecil Baugh. Rest in peace, Eddie.