Wednesday, 27 May 2015

FATHER FIGURE: Cultural icon Easton Lee on aging, children, and his message for Jamaica

GOOD COMPANY: "We need to treat our children better," insists Lee, sharing a photo-op at the recent Talking Trees festival with Marjorie Reynolds.

Fact: Age ain't on Easton Lee's page. Well into his eighth decade on the planet, the cultural icon and living legend moves with the alacrity and purpose of a man several decades his junior and can recall age-old details at the drop of a hat. In conversation, the well-respected poet (Behind the Counter), playwright (The Rope and the Cross) and long-serving priest (the Anglican Church) is a pint-sized ball of fun, whether regaling a festival crowd with Jamaican folklore or reciting a piece of verse from his vast and impressively diverse oeuvre.

As he his newest book, the anthology Kiss Mi Granny (Bala Press), continues to rack up glowing critic and word-of-mouth reviews from Kingston to his adopted Florida - and attract fans from the new generation, Lee takes a moment to speak to TALLAWAH about raising smart and well-adjusted children, being a fan of other poets; work, and how we can keep Jamaica great.

TALLAWAH: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Lee: I try not to look at my life in that way. God put us here to work and that's what I focus on; using my talents to make a difference in people's lives. I enjoy it all - the poetry, the stories, the culture, my work in the church. I enjoy doing the work.

TALLAWAH: Speaking of the literary arts, what's your writing life like today?
Lee: I have been writing more! I am now retired, so I can sit down at the computer and work for hours. My children and grandchildren are like five minutes away, so I don't have to worry about a thing.

TALLAWAH: How do you feel about the state of the creative arts in Jamaica today?
Lee: Kingston is the only place I know of in the Caribbean where you can see four or five [theatre] shows in almost any given month. So we're doing something right. People in the arts talk a lot about the poor state of the economy being a hindrance to development, but that's a story in itself; that's something to get people talking through the arts.

TALLAWAH: This past weekend you shared the stage at Talking Trees in Treasure Beach with esteemed colleagues like Victor Chang and Prof. Eddie Baugh.
Lee: It was wonderful. They are people I've admired for years, and they each have written poems and stories that I wish I had written. We are all playing a role in documenting and celebrating Jamaican culture, and it's important work that must go on.

TALLAWAH: You write so much about the Jamaican family, especially the folks who raised you.
Lee: That to me has always been important. My mother is Chinese and my father is from Junction, just a little while from here, and that love of family and community and properly raising children was what they firmly believed in and instilled in us growing up. So when I hear of all these terrible crimes against children it saddens me. We need to treat our children better. We need our fathers in the families actively helping to raise the children, especially the boys.

TALLAWAH: What must Jamaicans do to keep the country great?
Lee: Educate our children. Instil in them good family values. Give them a solid foundation and the rest will take care of itself.

TALLAWAH: You're turning 86 next year. Describe the feeling.
Lee: I feel that I've been blessed. I firmly believe that I am living out my purpose. I've been married to a wonderful lady for 66 years now, raised four kids and nine grandbabies. What can I say, life has been wonderful.

> Talking Trees Report: Lorna Goodison delights and instructs festivalgoers




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