Harris, Wilson

Alternative names
Birth 1921-03-24

Biographical notes:

Guyana-born English author of novels, short stories, essays, literary criticism, and poetry.

From the description of Wilson Harris Collection, 1960-1997. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 145406004

(Theodore) Wilson Harris was born on March 24, 1921, in New Amsterdam, British Guiana (now Guyana), the son of Theodore Wilson and Millicent Josephine Glasford Harris. His mixed ancestry included Amerindian, African, and European. When his father died in 1923, Harris and his mother moved to Georgetown, where his mother remarried. In 1929, his stepfather disappeared in the Guyana rain forests and was presumed drowned. Harris, his mother, and his half-sister then moved in with his beloved grandfather, who died in 1937. Harris attended Queen’s College, also in Georgetown, from 1934 until 1938. He worked as a government surveyor from 1942 until 1958 and as part of that work led surveying expeditions from the coastlands into the country’s interior.

Harris married Cecily Carew in 1945; the marriage ended in divorce. Harris emigrated to England in 1959, and he met and married Scottish writer Margaret Burns that same year. Since then, he has been a full-time writer, with occasional employment lecturing and teaching creative writing classes at various universities in the United States and other countries. Harris and his wife lived in the Holland Park area of London, England, until 1985, when they moved to the Essex countryside.

Harris’s personal experiences with the complex Guyanese landscape and multi-racial culture influenced his writing. His novels, known for their abstract and experimental nature, are full of metaphors and complex symbolism, with an intermingling of time, reality, imagination, memory, and dreams; they have been called “psychical expeditions.” Harris’s early works were collections of poetry: Fetish (1951, under the pseudonym Kona Waruk), The Well and the Land (1952), and Eternity to a Season (1954). The Sun: Fourteen Poems in a Cycle was published along with prose sketches in the journal Kyk-over-al in 1955. In 1960, Faber and Faber published Harris’s first novel, Palace of the Peacock, which used the geography of Guyana as a metaphor for the landscape of the mind. It was followed by three more novels ( The Far Journey of Oudin, 1961; The Whole Armour, 1962; and The Secret Ladder, 1963), making up what Harris calls his "Guyana Quartet." Heartland, which includes characters from Palace of the Peacock, was published in 1964. Harris is also known for his Carnival trilogy, consisting of Carnival (1985), The Infinite Rehearsal (1987), and The Four Banks of the River of Space (1990). Harris’s concern with cross-cultural parallels is evidenced by Black Marsden: A Tabula Rasa Comedy (1972), which is set in Edinburgh, and its sequel, Companions of the Day and Night (1975), set in Mexico. The Age of the Rainmakers (1971) and The Sleepers of Roraima (1970) are reinterpretations of Amerindian myths. Resurrection at Sorrow Hill (1993) is set in a mental institution with patients representing the world’s greatest cultures. In Jonestown (1996), the 1978 Jonestown Massacre is interwoven with the fall of the Mayan culture. In addition to his novels, short stories, and poetry, Harris has published essays on colonialism and post-colonialism, as well as studies in literary criticism, such as Tradition, the Writer and Society: Critical Essays (1967) and The Womb of Space: The Cross-Cultural Imagination (1983).

Harris won the Guyana National Prize for Literature in 1987 and 2002.

From the guide to the Wilson Harris Collection TXRC07-A4., 1960-1997, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Experimental fiction
  • Authors, Caribbean
  • Caribbean fiction (English)
  • Guyanese fiction


not available for this record


not available for this record