James Berry (1924 - 2017)

The Jamaican poet James Berry died in the morning of 20 June 2017.  Berry was a pioneering writer, educator, editor and activist - a wonderful poet whose writing for both adults and children was characterised by compassion, humour and an acute eye for the political and social factors that shaped his life, and the lives of others.  He came to Britain in the postwar era of Jamaican emigration, sailing on the SS Orbita, the second ship after the Windrush.  As a writer arriving in the first wave of Caribbean settlement in England, Berry was influential to the generations of poets that followed, including John Agard, Grace Nichols, Sandra Agard, Maggie Harris, and in the current decade, Dean Atta and Raymond Antrobus.

In 2004 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's but despite the serious nature of his illness and its worsening over the years, he would on many occasions enjoy listening to poetry, engage the people around him in conversation, and respond with warmth and delight to music. In 2013, a trust was set up in his name by his partner Myra Barrs, and over twenty poets, performers and organisations pooled together to mark his contribution to literature with a fundraising benefit at the Tabernacle (read about the benefit here).  

At 93, Berry was one of the last surviving literary voices of the early Windrush Generation.  His funeral will take place on July the 4th. He will be sadly missed by family, friends and the many readers and listeners who have savoured his writing and wordplay over the years.  

Words taken from texts by Hannah Lowe and Melanie Abrahams