The first book that I read by Cyril Everard Palmer (popularly known as C. Everard Palmer) was A Cow Called Boy. It was fascinating to me, from the front cover until the last page. What’s not to like: Josh’s farm pet follows him to school, disrupts school, is sold, and then Josh and his friends organize to get the bull-calf (read the book to find out why the title refers to it as a cow) returned to Josh. We read it in grade four I think, sometimes taking turns to read aloud in class and always stopping to discuss what was happening and to learn new words. Then came The Cloud with the Silver Lining and on my own I sought out his other children’s books. Most of Mr. Palmer’s books were set in rural Jamaica, an environment with which he was familiar being born and raised in Kendal, Hanover. His parents – Cyril and Vida – were “subsistence” farmers. I’m a city girl, born and raised in Kingston and St. Andrew, so Mr. Palmer’s books exposed to me a side of Jamaica I knew very little about. Then, before taking the Common Entrance Examination and in between the Nancy Drews, Enid Blytons, and Hardy Boys, it was just fun to read about what other children my age in my country could be doing; to learn about how my Grandparents grew up — things they didn’t talk about and that I simply didn’t ask about. I learned a good deal about what is probably now ancient traditional Jamaican life and living…people, things, and events about my country came alive on those pages to satisfy my growing appetite for reading. Later on I discovered The Broken Vessel (1960), a slim riveting novel about making life in hot, vibrant, dangerous Kingston (informed by his work as a Daily Gleaner journalist covering crime in Kingston?).
C. Everard Palmer died on June 16, 2013 in Mississauga, Canada. He was 82 years old. According to one puny hidden article that I found in The Jamaica Gleaner he is survived by his “wife Madge, children Dana, Darren and Craig, and sisters E.D. Roberts and Guinevere M. Murray.” He also leaves granddaughter Tiana, grandson Wells, and great-grandson Silas. A memorial service was held on June 22 in Canada.
He chose to write for children and used a rural setting because his own childhood of helping with farm chores, riding donkeys, and fishing in streams is what was most memorable and meaningful; it was vivid so he decided to borrow from it generously to create his stories. He claimed that as a young man not only was he shy, but that he was afraid to speak and when he did so “did it poorly.” But he was an “avid reader” who enjoyed Western novels and so turned to (and perhaps was encouraged to) write instead. He began writing when he was a teen. In the early 1950s he completed teacher training at Mico Training College and taught for a time at Kendal High School. While at Mico he published his first story in the school’s magazine and was soon writing fiction for the Sunday Gleaner. By the early 1960s and after the publication of The Broken Vessel he submitted story ideas to a Government of Jamaica program meant to fund publication of books “for Jamaican children that featured the island’s culture and history.” One of his story idea was selected and The Adventures of Jimmy Maxwell, his first book for young readers, was published in 1962. The Cloud with the Silver Lining (1966), Big Doc Bitteroot (1968), The Sun Salutes You (1970), The Hummingbird People (1971), A Cow Called Boy (1972), The Wooing of Beppo (1972), and My Father, Sun-Sun Johnson (1974) are among the other books for young readers that followed.
In 1973 he earned a B.A. from Lakehead University in Canada. It is unclear to me when he emigrated to Canada but it seems likely that he did that around the time of earning this degree or the latest in the early 1980s. He settled In Canada and taught in the public school system, and he continued to publish children’s books. Many of those books continued to be set in rural Jamaica though he did write some set in Canada (A Dog Called Houdini (1981) and Houdini, Come Home (1981)). Altogether, Mr. Palmer published approximately 15 children’s books, his most recent work being A Time to Say Goodbye (2006), the concluding book in the trilogy featuring Rami Johnson (Rami first appeared in My Father Sun-Sun Johnson and then in Full Circle (2003)).
Thankfully before his death, he was recognized for his work. He has been awarded the Certificate of Merit from the Jamaica Reading Association (for his contribution to Jamaican children’s literature), and the 1977 Silver Musgrave Medal for Literature from the Institute of Jamaica. In 2001 he was honoured for his work as an author by the Hanover Historical Society and Museum, and an exhibition of his books was displayed at the Hanover Museum. He called that 2011 honour “extraordinary since nothing like [that] had ever happened to me,” noting too that it was “overwhelming” to find himself in the limelight having “sneaked in and out of Jamaica many times before.”
Mr. Palmer may not have captured the attention of Jamaicans as Miss Lou did but I think he is no less an important literary figure in Jamaican history and culture. He was, simply, a very good storyteller. He told our stories. He seemed a quiet man, content to write about the part of Jamaica he knew well. But I think it is remiss of us to allow his passing to go so unremarked and unremembered. It seems to me that he was one of our many “nation builders” whose work is an enjoyable and necessary record of Jamaican life as few now know it. So, I guess I have tried to do that here, to mark down as best as I can about his work and about his contribution. Most of his books are still available and are recommended reading in Jamaican schools. There is some question about whether books like those written by C. Everard Palmer are relatable to (and I guess appropriate for?) young Jamaicans (see Kei Miller’s post “In Defense of Maas Joe” about that) but there is no question in my mind that his work is important and shouldn’t be condemned to the dusty corners of our national consciousness and personal memories.
*Though the National Library of Jamaica lists Mr. Palmer’s birth year as 1940, several other sources claim that he was born on October 15, 1930. Because a 2010 Google Groups Forum wishes him “Happy 80th” and because it is unlikely that he warned a teaching diploma on or around age 15, it seems to me that he was born in 1930 so I am using that year. Also, what seems to be the family’s official memorial page, hosted by a funeral home, lists his birthdate as October 15, 1930.
Sources (including photographs)
Glen Oaks Memorial Chapel and Reception center (lots of moving words from friends and family about Mr. Palmer)
‘A Time To Say Goodbye’ – C. Everard Palmer Leaves Rich Heritage Of Caribbean Literature (The Jamaica Gleaner)
Hanover honours author C. Everard Palmer (The Jamaica Gleaner)