Discovering James Berry

‘Someone really quite special’ passed the way of Chiswick Village

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James Berry


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When Police became concerned for the welfare of an 'elderly male' earlier this month they issued a missing person appeal. Little did Trevor Hamilton know that the appeal or the 'elderly male' in question would end up having a profound effect on him.

Trevor told, "Imagine my shock to find a little old man standing silently in my flat as I went to leave for an appointment. He was searching for his girlfriend Martha and wasn't for leaving until he had found her.

"He was very well spoken but looked like he was trying out for a part in Tom Sawyer with his West Indian colour, dishevelled baggy suit and straw hat. He seemed absolutely charming except that he shrugged my gentle guiding hand away rather firmly when I tried to lead him out into the hall.

"So James Berry OBE came to visit me and has returned home safe and well with the help of the local constabulary.

"He was very confused and I doubt I would have got much sense from the poor man but I can't help feeling someone really quite special has passed my way if only fleetingly."

Trevor's recount of his meeting with James Berry, who suffers from Alzheimers, led him and other locals to go in search of some of the famous poet's work.

"I have been reading some of his work as a result of his impromptu visit," said Trevor "I'll probably never know how far back in his life his "girlfriend" Martha comes from or if my flat in Chiswick Village has some historical significance to him (it would have to have been more than 25 years ago) or just a totally random visit."

He added, "The one thing I do know is this terrifying indiscriminate decease has robbed us of a wonderfully creative mind."

James Berry spent his childhood in a village in Jamaica, before working in the United States, finally settling in Britain in 1948 where he has remained ever since. One of the first black writers in Britain to achieve wider recognition, Berry rose to prominence in 1981 when he won the National Poetry Competition.

His five collections of poetry and his stories and poems for children have been widely acclaimed. As an editor of two influential anthologies, Berry has been at the forefront of championing West Indian / British writing and his role as an educator has had a significant impact in mediating that community's experience to the wider society. Berry was awarded an OBE in 1990.

June 30, 2009

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