Monthly Archives: January 2017

‘The Atmosphere Man’

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You know who I’d love to meet? Andrew Salkey. I already mentioned him way back when I wrote about Black History Month way back when. Salkey was our student in the 50’s and then went on to be a novelist, poet, journalist, broadcaster; a significant figure in Jamaican literature; it probably be easier to say what he wasn’t. And I also can say that he would be a great person to know. Sometimes I come across things he wrote for different Marjon’s publications where his wry humour was often employed to make excellent observations about contemporary life. I would say even more: I maintain that Andrew Salkey was an early post-colonial writer. Case and point: ‘The Atmosphere Man’- a story published in College magazine in 1957. It was no doubt inspired by his own experiences. The story shows a moment in a day of an employee of a coffee bar, that we assume is Salkey himself. This bar was set-up to create an ‘exotic’ atmosphere and Salkey was expected to be, in a way, a part of the furnishing. As a black man, he was to make his white clients as if they were visiting some distant part of British Empire, where a ‘local’ black man would serve them coffee. He is told by his employer not to be caught with The Times by the patrons because a black man pursuing intellectual endeavours would ruin the illusion. The story itself is a short but brilliant insight into the mindset of colonialism, a time capsule for outlook that is absurd for the modern sensibilities, yet it held on for so long nonetheless.
Well, I’m too late. Andrew Salkey died in1995. I’ll never have the pleasure of meeting him which is a great shame as he must have been a fascinating person to talk to.

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