Notable alumni: Professor The Honourable Sylvia Wynter, OJ


Sylvia Wynter

Writer and academic

The Honourable Sylvia Wynter (Modern Languages, 1949; MA Spanish 1953) is one of the foremost Caribbean artists and thinkers. She is a playwright, novelist, public intellectual and celebrated scholar of Black Studies and the colonial and postcolonial condition.

Sylvia was born in Cuba in 1928, the daughter of an actress and a tailor. The family moved back to Jamaica when Sylvia was two. She attended St Andrew High School for Girls and, in 1946, was awarded the Jamaica Centenary Scholarship. This gave her the opportunity to read Spanish at King’s.

Sylvia travelled widely around Europe, meeting and marrying the Norwegian pilot Hans Ragnar Isachsen. They moved briefly to Jamaica and then Sweden before Sylvia returned to London. Back in the UK she began writing for theatre and radio drama for the BBC, often collaborating with her second husband, the Guyanese novelist Jan Carew.

After Jamaican independence in 1962, she became a Lecturer on Spanish literature at the University of the West Indies and a key contributor to the intellectual and artistic development of the new nation. She was commissioned by the first independent government to write a formal treatise on the Jamaican National heroes and a centenary play commemorating the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion, and she also produced numerous pamphlets for the public about Jamaican history, and literary, musical, and artistic traditions. In 1967, she began to bring together her intellectual commitments in a ground-breaking series of essays for the new Jamaica Journal, a scholarly and popular periodical which she had helped to establish. Soon after, her Afro-Jamaican play Maskarade, now considered a central example of post-Independence Jamaican theatre, was written for broadcast on television in response to the request of a young, gifted Jamaican director, Jim Nelson. Later stage versions of the play were produced in Cuba, Jamaica, the United States, and England.

In 1974, Sylvia began teaching in the United States in an interdisciplinary Third World program at University of California, San Diego and in 1977 she became Professor of Spanish and Chair of African and Afro-American Studies at Stanford University. She continues at Stanford today as a Professor Emerita.

Sylvia received an honorary doctorate from University of West Indies in 2009, and was awarded the Order of Jamaica in 2010. Sylvia has two children. In 2018 her son, David Carew, collected her honorary doctorate from King’s on her behalf.

Did you know? Sylvia was a keen dancer whilst at King’s and originally pursued a career as a dancer and an actress.