The Caribbean has lost another literary and cultural icon. Jacques Compton, Saint Lucian author, literary and art critic, newspaper columnist and former Director of Culture in Saint Lucia, passed away July 18 following a period of illness.
Born July 25, 1927, Jacques (as he we was fondly called by all and sundry) was a cousin of former Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, the late Sir John Compton. He was educated in Europe where he read literature and studied journalism and arts administration and later worked there as a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster for several years.
He delivered numerous lectures on Caribbean literature, culture and history at universities, colleges and secondary schools in the UK, Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, as well as the Caribbean.
In the UK he founded his own cultural group which put on theatrical performances in several parts of the world. In the process he made his mark as impresario, providing a platform for many Caribbean and African performing artistes in the UK.
From 1977 to 1979 he was manager of Radio Saint Lucia, his island’s national radio station, and introduced several pioneering new programmes, including radio plays and short stories by Caribbean and African writers, news in French Creole and a weekly programme entitled Voix Sainte Lucie (Voice of St Lucia).
Following a change of government in 1979, he was relieved of that post and subsequently he returned to England. There he joined the Civil Service as an arts officer with offices based in Wembley in the London Borough of Brent, Middlesex.
In 1985 he returned to Saint Lucia to take up the appointment of Director of Culture in the civil service. He represented Saint Lucia at several international and Commonwealth Cultural Festivals and conferences including some in the Far East, Latin America and the Caribbean.
In January 1982 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and in June 1990, the Government of France appointed him a Chevalier De L’Ordre Des Arts Et Des Lettres. In January 2008 the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies, St. Lucia presented him with an Award in recognition of his contributions to culture and the arts in Saint Lucia.
A prolific writer and voracious reader, Jacques was well known for his ardent love of books. St Lucian writer and founder of local cultural and entertainment company, Jako Productions, Anderson Reynolds remembers him as a man who was exceptionally well read and always happy to chat about literature and the art of writing, to the extent that he became a nurturing and paternalistic figure to aspiring writers in St Lucia and the wider Caribbean.
“Jacques’ home was open to all almost any hour of the day. Beginning poets of the Writers Forum who were in the process of stringing together their first lines were just as welcomed as the elite group of St Lucian artistes. And you never found him in a bad mood, he was always ready for a chat on art and literature. … [His] library held probably the largest private collection of books in St Lucia and he had read every single one of them, and he knew the exact shelf location of every single book. He was a living encyclopaedia of St Lucia and world literature. Any book you couldn’t find, you just had to check Jacques and more often than not you would not be disappointed,” said Reynolds.
He added: “Your ideas were never put down. No matter what you presented to him, he would read, proofread and provide comments and encouragement. He never missed a book launch, a book reading, an art exhibition, or a play. Wherever art was being created, presented or launched, he was there. And without any prompting, without any coaxing he never failed to write a review which was promptly printed in the nation’s newspapers. Jacques Compton had an artistic sensibility that was all inclusive.”
Over the years, Jacques had written two full-length folk ballets, ’Erzulie Doudou’ based on the life of Erzulie, the goddess of love and beauty in Haitian folk mythology and ‘The Chosen One’ based on the Shango, the religion of the Yoruba people of Eastern Nigeria but reflecting its adaptation by Shango worshipers in Trinidad & Tobago.
Three of his books were published by the UK-based Hansib Publications in 2008 – the novel A Troubled Dream, and a textbook on Theatre Arts, entitled An Introduction To Theatre Arts, for secondary school students taking that subject for the CXC, and a scholarly work entitled The West Indians – Portrait of a People. A fourth, a short work entitled Community Arts and Cultural Identity in the West Indies—Saint Lucia, A Case Study had also been completed but not yet published. Several of his short stories were published in the UK and the Caribbean over the years. He had also completed the manuscripts for five novels which are yet to be published.
In recent years, Jacques had worked full time at his writing, contributing articles, book and theatre reviews to the local newspapers and doing commentaries on educational and cultural matters on a local TV station.