Jamaican plans to hold special events and provide special activities to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the nation’s cultural icon Louise Bennett-Coverley, better known as “Miss Lou.” Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, announced the plans during the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives. Miss Lou would have turned 100 on September 7, 2019, and the country will celebrate her life as a poet, advocate, social commentator, and top proponent of the Jamaican language with tributes across the island. According to Minister Grange, the Ministry has arranged for the University of the West Indies to use the celebrations as a way to encourage a national dialogue about the status of Jamaica’s patois language. This is expected to have an impact on the position of patois in official and social discussions. Grange also announced the creation of a proclamation marking the date March 21st of each year as National Poetry Day.
Louis Bennett-Coverley – Miss Lou – was born on September 7, 1919, in Kingston. She was the only child of Augustus Bennett, a baker in Spanish Town, and Kerene Robinson, a dressmaker. Following the death of her father in 1926, she was raised chiefly by her mother and attended elementary school at Ebenezer and Calabar, moving on to St. Simon’s College and Excelsior College, in Kingston. In 1943, she enrolled at Friends College in Highgate, St. Mary for studies in Jamaican folklore. Also in 1943, she published her first poem. Bennett was the first black student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and in 1945 she received a scholarship from the British Council.
During her long career, Bennett worked with reparatory companies and revues throughout England. She was the host of two radio programs on the BBC and served on the Jamaica Social Welfare Commission from 1955 to 1959. She taught folklore and drama at the University of the West Indies from 1965 to 1982. She hosted several radio programs in Jamaica, including a series based on her belief “that ‘de pickney-dem learn de sinting dat belong to dem’ (that the children learn about their heritage).”
Bennett wrote several books of poetry in Jamaican patois as well, which helped the language be recognized as a “nation language” on its own. Her works had an influence on other writers such as Mutabaruka, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Yasus Afar,
She married Eric Winston Coverley, who was an early promoter and performer in Jamaican theater. They had one son, Fabian. She spent the last ten years of her life in Scarborough, Ontario.
Miss Lou died in 2006 at the age of 86 in Canada.