Born July 3, 1947, in Cornwall, England
Two children: Drum Drummond, Luke Ennevor
Education: University of West Indies, BA, 1969
Teacher, Kingston College, Jamaica; Advertising and Public Relations Officer, LAI Corp., 1969-71; Research Officer, Sugar Cane Consultants, Barbados, 1979-80; Director of Advertising, Caribbean Broadcasting Corp., 1980-82; freelance editor, Heineman Publishing (Caribbean); author.
Rachel Manley is known not only for her poetry, but also for her non-fiction trilogy about one of Jamaica’s most influential families – her own. Manley was born in Cornwall, England, on July 3, 1947. She was the first child of Michael Manley and Jacqueline Kamelard-Gill. Michael Manley was a charismatic man who served as Jamaica’s Prime Minister between 1972 and 1980, and then again between 1987 and 1992. Rachel’s parents divorced when Manley was two, and she was sent to Jamaica to live with her grandparents, Norman Washington Manley and Edna Manley at Drumblair, the family estate. Michael Manley was married five times, providing Manley with several stepmothers and siblings. Her grandparents, who led extremely active public lives, managed to provide Manley with the stable family life. As she told Maclean’s, “They were all mine.” Forced to share her father with several different families and his demanding political career, Manley often felt very distant from him.
Manley’s grandfather, Norman Washington Manley, was the founder of Jamaica’s People’s National Party, and one of the key figures in the Jamaican struggle for independence. An athlete and a Rhodes scholar, Norman was also a World War I hero. After the war, he returned to Jamaica to practice law, and, after entering politics rose to the post of Jamaica’s chief minister in 1955 and became its first and only Premier when Jamaica gained self-government before Independence. Manley’s grandmother, Edna Swithenbank, a well-known sculptor, was also a prominent figure in Jamaica’s cultural life. Edna and Norman were first cousins, and this fact caused much public discussion. To make things even more complicated, Norman was from the “brown” side of the family, while Edna was from the “white” side of the family, thus producing a mixed marriage. Adding to family turmoil was the fact that Norman’s cousin, Alexander Bustamante, led a rival political group, the Jamaican Labor Party.
Rachel, who attended boarding schools, had a solitary but relatively pleasant childhood in Jamaica. In 1969, when Manley was 22, Norman Manley died. Three years later, in 1972, Michael Manley was elected prime minister of Jamaica, a position that he held three times over the following twenty years. In 1975 Rachel moved to Barbados, and eventually settled in Canada.
Her first memoir, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, published in 1996, won the Canadian Governor General’s Award for non-fiction. In Drumblair, Manley focuses on the lives of her grandparents, Norman and Edna Manley.
Although Rachel always perceived her father as a distant, elusive figure, in the late 1990s she moved back to Jamaica to be at his side after he became terminally ill with cancer. She told that story in her second memoir, Slipstream. “After a lifetime of chasing my father’s attention like a fleeting phantasm, I needed to be with him now”, she said. When her father died in 1997, Manley was devastated.
Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers, is the second work in the trilogy. It is devoted to the political and private life of her father. Manley the Jamaica Gleaner that she chose that title for the book about her father because, “a slipstream is the strong current left in the wake of two giant propellers … my father’s parents were the propellers and he came in their wake; by extension we (his children), are caught in his wake and so I thought the title appropriate.” For Manley, writing about her father was cathartic. Manley’s writing in Slipstream has been described as “straightforward and elegant, never dense or unfathomable; the prose is beautifully poised, deceptively easy on the senses, eye, ear, and sensibility. It is joyously disturbing and disturbingly joyous.”
Rachel, who in 1989 had edited Edna’s diaries and published them as Edna Manley: The Diaries, published the final book in her trilogy to focus solely on Edna Swithbank Manley. In the final volume, Horses in Her Hair, Rachel presented another intimate, yet historical, view of Jamaica. In the prologue to the first of the trilogy, Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, Manley declared, “This is not history–this is memory.”
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