Prof. PETER F. NAZARETH, Writer
When Professor Peter Nazareths first novel In a Brown Mantle was launched In Kampala Uganda in 1972, little did anyone realize that the novel would prophesy the expulsion of Asians by General Idi Amin just nine days later.
Nazareth was born in 1940 in Uganda to a father born in Goa and a mother born in Malaya to Goan parents and hence the topics of layered identities figure prominently in his writings. He obtained his undergraduate degree in English from Makerere University Among his close colleagues in Makerere were Ngugi wa Thiongo, Kenyas best known writer, and Mr. Ben Nkapa, currently President of Tanzania. in 1962, did his postgraduate at the University of Leeds UK, and rose to Senior Finance Officer In the Ministry of Finance in Uganda, being responsible for the state lottery. The expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972 carried a significant threat for government insiders such as Nazareth, but enduring this personal terror as well as the hardship of being stripped of his Uganda citizenship, he was eventually able to leave Uganda with his wife and two daughters to take up a fellowship at Yale University. But his problems were not behind him yet. He moved to the University of Iowa to lecture, but after one term the position reverted to a part-time one and he and his family had to survive on less than what people earned on Welfare in Canada. Finally he was offered a full-time lectureship and also joined the International Writing Program established by Paul Engle with the university. He has remained in Iowa, where he is currently Professor of English, and was recently Chair of the African-American World Studies Program.
Nazareth, one of the foremost Goan writers of fiction, is also claimed by Uganda as one of its best writer and his novels are part of the English program in Makerere University. His first novel In a Brown Mantle addresses the quest of Goan identity in Africa, through the story of a new independent country Damibia, a fictional country in East Africa. Nazareth is clearly a Ugandan nationalist, but one who loves his Goan roots. His second novel The General Is Up, published by TSAR Publications in Toronto in 1991, is also about the problems of post-independence Damibia and is based on the expulsion of Asians from Uganda. Both his novels include the full caste of ethnic characters in East Africa, including Africans, Goans, other South Asians, Britishers etc.. The novels provide one of the few pictures of Goan life in these countries, the Goan Institutes playing a strong role, both for Goan socializing, and a point where the different peoples formed friendships. Nazareth has also published two anthologies, four books of literary criticism, and several articles and short stories in journals.
Nazareth is well known in the USA and around the world, but perhaps for issues other than his writings. In 1992, at the urging of a colleague, he offered a degree course in the University of Iowa entitled Elvis As Anthology. As coincidence would have it, the first day of class was January 8, two weeks after being featured in an article published by the Wall Street Journal. In the next six weeks Nazareth would go through the excitement and hell of being interviewed by three TV stations and two hundred radio stations; articles were written about it as far away as Germany, Thailand and Australia. The phenomenon has not yet played itself out. Since the initial year Nazareth has been presented with the Keys to the city by the Mayor of Memphis, he has been intervi ewed by Canada AM and As It Happens, and more recently he was invited to the University of Tel Aviv to give a lecture on Elvis. An artocle from the course is the major feature of the book In Search of Elvis published by Westview Press in January 1997. The groundbreaking course appears to have validated the process of taking popular music as an expression of contemporary culture and similar courses on other music have emerged He recently wrote the foreword to a the book Elviss Man Friday written by Gene Smith, Elviss close cousin and friend.
Paradoxically, the recognition and opportunity to do his best work as a Goan and African has been presented in the USA. The most important opportunity presented itself through his involvement with the IWP, a program which gathers authors who have already achieved some recognition in their home countries, offering a one semester residency for mutual exchange and critical dialogue. The program has had illustrious authors such as Ngugi, Wole Soyinka and Margaret Atwood. The authors, coming from different cultural backgrounds, problems of conflict, and dislocation, have found in Nazareth an empathetic person with his background and this has added a further dimension to the idea of literary life.
One of his anthologies was Goan Literature, A Modern Reader, a special issue of the Journal of South Asian Literature of Michigan State University published in 1985. When he was first asked to edit the issue his comment was What do I know about Goan literature? An Indian writer Dhilip Chitra, who was attending the International Writing Program in 1981, persuaded him to take it on by saying If not you, then who?. The four-year project was a journey into discovering the depths of his Goan roots. The anthology of about forty Goan authors from around the world, including poems, culture, short stories, history, is credited by many as revitalizing the Goan literature scene in the English medium.
Being so close to Toronto, he has taken the opportunity to present papers at the International Goan Festival organized by the GOA in 1988, and the Goan Academic Conference organized by the IGO in 1990.
In his undergraduate days Nazareth represented the university in hockey, cricket, badminton and table-tennis. Between 1966 and 1971 he had served as President of the Entebbe Goan Institute three times before he was thirty-two years of age. In 1985/86 he was the President of the African Literature Association. Nazareth is married to Mary and they have two children Kathleen and Monique.
Based on a biography written by John Scheckter.