- In Search of Asylum: The Later Writings of Eric Walrond ed. by Louis J. Parascandola and Carl A. Wade
The work of Eric Walrond has long been admired by readers and critics; yet, he remains an understudied and frequently overlooked writer. The publication in 1926 of his short-story collection, Tropic Death, saw him lauded as one of the best of a new generation of black authors. Scholars have continued to praise his work. Robert Bone has argued that “the stronger tales in Tropic Death must be counted among the most effective of the Harlem Renaissance,” while Kenneth Ramchand called the story collection “one of the startling treasures in the lost literature of the West Indies.” In general, however, Walrond has suffered from a lack of visibility in the critical field, occasionally noted or anthologized in works on Caribbean or Harlem Renaissance literature, but often treated as a marginal figure, a one-hit wonder who shone too briefly to be worth more than passing mention. His cause has not been helped by the fact that Tropic Death has been out of print since 1972.
In recent years, however, there has been an upsurge of interest in Walrond’s mercurial talents. Louis Parascandola’s 1998 reader, Winds Can Wake Up the Dead, made available many of the stories from Tropic Death, as well as selections from Walrond’s journalism and other writings. This year will see Walrond’s 1926 master-work reprinted in full (by Norton), plus the publication of a volume of scholarly articles (also edited by Parascandola and Wade), and a biography by James Davis. In Search of Asylum is a welcome addition to this phalanx of Walrond-related output. [End Page 470] Aiming to dispel the misconception that he simply stopped publishing after leaving North America in 1928, the collection showcases Walrond’s later work, including short stories, journalism, and historical sketches. Many of the writings presented here were originally published in The Roundway Review—a monthly pamphlet circulated by the Roundway Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Wiltshire, England, where Walrond was a “voluntary patient” from 1952 to 1957 (Introduction xxi). The best stories in the volume provide an eloquent reminder of Walrond’s qualities as an author. Set in the Caribbean, Panama, the U. S., and England, his fiction captures the experiences of working-class peoples, often migrants, as they confront the depredations of colonialism, racial prejudice, and economic exploitation.
Born in British Guiana in 1898, Walrond migrated to Barbados with his mother and siblings in 1906 before moving on to Colón, Panama in 1911 (Walrond’s father had traveled to Panama two years earlier to work on the Panama Canal, then under construction by the United States). After jobs as a clerk, and then as a reporter for The Panama Star and Herald, Walrond moved to the U. S. in 1918. In New York he became associate editor for Marcus Garvey’s Negro World and began publishing fiction. Following the success of Tropic Death, he was able to secure a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. He left New York and traveled to several countries in the Caribbean and Central America in order to gather material for further stories. He was also reputed to be working on a study called The Big Ditch, about the building of the Panama Canal. Although the fate of this manuscript remains a mystery, In Search of Asylum does contain extracts from a piece entitled “The Second Battle,” which provide “tantalizing glimpses,” as the editors put it (xliv), of the direction of Walrond’s study.
In 1929, Walrond moved to Paris, where he joined a large community of migrant black artists and threw himself into life on the Left Bank. He left for England in 1932, settling first in London before moving to Wiltshire at the outbreak of World War II. It is unclear why Walrond entered Roundway Hospital, although in the autobiographical sketch included in this anthology he speaks of himself as “a ‘depression casualty’ in the years following the Wall...