Louise Bennett was born on September 7, 1919. She was a Jamaican poet and activist. From Kingston, Jamaica Louise Bennett remains a household name in Jamaica, a “Living Legend” and a cultural icon. She received her education from Ebenezer and Calabar Elementary Schools, St. Simon’s College, Excelsior College, Friends College (Highgate).
Although she lived in Toronto, Canada for the last decade she still receives the homage of the expatriate West Indian community in the north as well as a large Canadian following.
She was described as Jamaica’s leading comedienne, as the “only poet who has really hit the truth about her society through its own language”, and as an important contributor to her country of “valid social documents reflecting the way Jamaicans think and feel and live” Through her poems in Jamaican patois, she raised the dialect of the Jamaican folk to an art level which is acceptable to and appreciated by all in Jamaica.
In her poems she was able to capture all the spontaneity of the expression of Jamaicans’ joys and sorrows, their ready, poignant and even wicked wit, their religion and their philosophy of life. Her first dialect poem was written when she was fourteen years old. A British Council Scholarship took her to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where she studied in the late 1940’s.
Bennett not only had a scholarship to attend the academy but she auditioned and won a scholarship. After graduation she worked with repertory companies in Coventry, Huddersfield and Amersham as well as in intimate revues all over England.
On her return to Jamaica she taught drama to youth and adult groups both in social welfare agencies and for the University of the West Indies Extra Mural Department.
She lectured extensively in the United States and the United Kingdom on Jamaican folklore and music and represented Jamaica all over the world. She married Eric Winston Coverley in 1954 (who died in 2002) and has one stepson and several adopted children. She enjoys Theatre, Movies and Auction sales.
Her contribution to Jamaican cultural life was such that she was honored with the M.B.E., the Norman Manley Award for Excellence (in the field of Arts), the Order of Jamaica (1974) the Institute of Jamaica’s Musgrave Silver and Gold Medals for distinguished eminence in the field of Arts and Culture, and in 1983 the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of the West Indies. In September 1988 her composition “You’re going home now”, won a nomination from the Academy of Canadian Cinema ad Television, for the best original song in the movie “Milk and Honey.”
During her life Bennett was the recipient of many awards and honours: MBE (1960), the Silver and Gold Musgrave Medals (1965, 1978), the Norman Manley Award for Excellence in the Arts (1972), the Order of Jamaica (1974), the National Black Arts Festival’s Living Legend Award (1992), the Gabriela Mistral Commemorative Award from the Chilean government (1996), Hon. D. Litt from the University of West Indies (1983) and York University (1998), and the Jamaican Order of Merit (2001). In 1990 she was appointed Cultural Ambassador at Large by the Jamaican government. Bennett died on 26 July 2006 at the Scarborough Grace Hospital in Toronto. Although she and her husband had moved to Canada in 1987, she never forgot her homeland. Their bodies were interred together in Kingston, Jamaica on 9 August 2006.
At Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, Miss Lou’s Room (a reading and activity space for children) was opened to the public in July 2007 on the first anniversary of her death.