By Sofia Muñoz
This week Dorian’s Angels had the privilege and honor of meeting with renowned Belizean author, Zee Edgell. She is the first Bealizean author whose work gained international recognition. Mrs. Edgell gave a book reading for the first time to students at San Pedro High School on Wednesday, March 9, and the Angels were right there to capture the emotions.
Zee Edgell’s first novel, Beka Lamb, was published in 1982 and has since become a Caribbean classic. Beka Lamb also gained an international audience when it won Britain’s Fawcett Society Book Prize. An entire generation of people in the Caribbean read Beka Lamb as part of their High School literature curricula. The book has been translated into German, is taught at universities in the United States and the Caribbean, and is enjoyed by readers around the world.
Although Mrs. Edgell’s visit on Wednesday was not her first to the island it was her first to San Pedro High. Mrs. Edgell had been a guest speaker for a graduating class of San Pedro High in the 80’s and this week students of SPHS had the privilege of being addressed by Zee Edgell. She addressed four Second Form classes of San Pedro High who are currently reading Beka Lamb as part of their curriculum and the seniors of San Pedro High who will be taking the CXC Examination.
Edgell addressed the many questions that the students had. It was quite a memorable occasion as it is very rare that one gets to personally meet the author of book and questions them about their writing. One of the most common questions that was asked to Mrs. Edgell was whether if the book was based on her life, and although it wasn’t based on her life it was inspired by an incident that occurred in the neighborhood where she grew up.
In speaking with Mrs. Edgell we learnt that she started writing Beka Lamb in Nigeria, continued writing in Afghanistan and finally finished it in Bangladesh. (She lived in diverse places as these since her husband’s career in international development kept them out of Belize.) In 1982, Beka Lamb was published and the Minister of Education of Belize at that time, Mr. Said Musa, pushed for the book to be used at schools in Belize.
“My favorite part of Beka Lamb would definitely be chapter one,” commented Mrs. Edgell to Dorian’s Angels. “There it talks about a trip in St. George’s Caye, the words for that chapter just flowed out of me very easily as I considered it a gift having gone there.”
Mrs. Edgell also mentioned to us that the original title for the novel was “A wake for Toycie” but the publishers did not accept it. She then changed it to Beka Lamb, Beka – a childhood friend and Lamb – her grandmother’s last name. “‘A wake for Toycie’ was the original title for my novel. At the beginning of the novel it says it’s a wake, people are mourning and it’s a farewell,” commented Edgell. “In the book I expressed the confusion I felt in those years as one does not understand what it is to mourn until one gets older. The names of the characters have personal meanings to me, they all mean something special.”
It was indeed a great pleasure having met with Mrs. Zee Edgell. The staff of Ambergris Today was more than excited to have met her and talk about the book which we all read in high school as part of our literature curriculum. We will definitely pick up another copy and read it again! If you haven’t read Beka Lamb be sure to get yourself a copy of it!
About Zee Edgell
Zelma I. Edgell, better known as Zee Edgell, MBE, was born on October 21, 1940 in Belize City. After attending the local St. Catherine's Academy in Belize City (the basis for St. Cecilia's Academy in Beka Lamb), Edgell studied journalism at the school of modern languages at the Polytechnic of Central London and continued her education at the University of the West Indies.
She worked as a journalist serving as the founding editor The Reporter. She served as Director of Women’s Affairs for the Government of Belize, and lecturer at the former University College of Belize (Now – University of Belize. As a professor of English at Kent State University, Edgell taught creative writing and literature.
Queen Elizabeth II bestowed upon her the honorary title of Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) on the 2007 Queen’s Birthday Honor list. In 2009 the University of the West Indies conferred upon her an honorary doctorate in literature at graduation ceremonies in Cave Hill, Barbados.
Other great works of Zee Edgell include: In Times Like These (1991), Time and the River (2007) and The Festival of San Joaquin (2008).
Upon retirement in 2009 Zee Edgell and her husband, Al Edgell, moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Their children and grand children all live in Belize City.
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