FORT LAUDERDALE — Déjà vu Theatre Productions, Inc. is producing a tribute to a Caribbean icon — the Hon. Dr. Louise Bennett-Coverly (“Miss Lou”), a woman who inspired many Caribbean poets to follow in her footsteps.
Miss Lou’s creative poetry pieces and a dramatic performance is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 28 at 5 p.m. at the African-American Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Call the Welcome Desk at 954-357-6210.
Miss Lou adopted her ancestors’ language and turned it into a means of cultural expression through poetry. In part because she did not waver when she was told, “You can’t speak like that,” the controversial dialect known as “Jamaican Patois,” is recognized and imitated all over the world.
The Jamaican poet, folklorist, writer and educator was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on Sept. 7, 1919. Writing and performing her poems in what was known as Jamaican Patois or Creole, Bennett-Coverley was instrumental in having the language of the people given literary recognition in its own right. Located at the heart of the Jamaican poetic tradition, Miss Lou influenced many other poets, including Mutabaruka, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Trinidad’s Paul Keens-Douglas.
On a British Council scholarship, she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she studied in the late 1940s. After graduating, she worked with repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield and Amersham, as well as in intimate revues all over England.
She traveled throughout the world promoting the culture of Jamaica through lectures and performances. Although her popularity was international, she enjoyed celebrity status in her native Jamaica, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Her poetry has been published several times, most notably the volumes Jamaica Labrish (1966), Anancy and Miss Lou (1979).
Her most influential recording is probably her 1954 rendition of the Jamaican traditional song Day Dah Light, which was recorded by Harry Belafonte as Day O, also known as the Banana Boat Song.
In 1986, she appeared as Portia in the comedy film Club Paradise, starring Robin Williams, Jimmy Cliff and Peter O’Toole.
Louise Bennett married Eric Winston Coverley on May 30, 1954 and has one adopted son, Fabian Coverley. She died on July 26 2006 in Toronto, Ontario, where she resided for the last decade of her life,.
In 1960, Louise Bennett was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her work in Jamaican literature and theater. In 1974, she was appointed to the Order of Jamaica. The Jamaican government also appointed her Cultural Ambassador at Large for Jamaica.
Among numerous other awards, she received the Institute of Jamaica’s Musgrave Silver and Gold Medals for eminence in the field of Arts and Culture, the Norman Manley Award for Excellence (in the field of Arts), an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of the West Indies (1983), an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from York University, Toronto.
On Jamaica’s Independence Day in 2001, Bennett-Coverley was appointed as a Member of the Jamaican Order of Merit for her invaluable and distinguished contribution to the development of the Arts and Culture.
Sharon Cummings, founder and president of the not-for-profit, Caribbean/American-infused Déjà Vu Theatre Productions, formed in April 2002 in Fort Lauderdale, says her dream is to unite the Caribbean community and its non-Caribbean friends in one cause: to form a local theatre company that offers an outlet for young people to showcase their talents, and learn discipline, commitment, and creativity.