Minty Alley

First Published by Secker & Warburg, 1936

Minty Alley is seen as an early classic of modern Caribbean writing in English. Written while he was in Trinidad, it is the only novel written by C.L.R. James and belongs to the ‘Beacon period’ of Caribbean literature in the late 20’s and 30’s. C.L.R. James promised another novel after Minty Alley, first published in 1936, but that novel never emerged.

Minty Alley and James’s short stories establish the compassionate creative imagination that was to illuminate a brilliant social, political and historical analysis of the Caribbean and the world at large. They also underline a special dimension of the spirit behind his creative critical writing. As Kenneth Ramchand states in his introduction to a 1994 reprint, “Minty Alley offers an opportunity to sketch out some of the continuities in the West Indian literacy scene, and to introduce a new generation to an important and interesting work by the most distinguished West Indian of our time and his.”

As the George Padmore Institute explain, Minty Alley’s larger-than-life characters, vernacular dialogues, and local intrigues offer insight into a formative period of James’s thought. James remarked to the American critic Maxwell Geismar, in response to the latter’s praise of the novel’s humanity:

“The ‘human’ aspect of it which surprises so many people is the basic constituent of my political activity and outlook… The day I recognise that my instinctive response to any political situation is not a human one, then I know that my time for retiring has come, since all that I would do afterwards would be bureaucratic and fraught with mischief.”

(13.3.61 in Grimshaw, 94-95).

The novel is also an important reminder of James’s literary ambitions in the early stage of his career and of the connections between that literary work and his subsequent political writing.  James arrived in the United Kingdom in 1932, intent on a career as a writer and bearing the manuscript of Minty Alley, and found employment writing about cricket for the Manchester Guardian. However he soon became swept up in politics, leaving his literary ambitions behind.

A dramatisation of Minty Alley, by Margaret Busby, produced by Pam Fraser Solomon, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in December 1998.

As reported in the Trinidad Express, in 2012 proposals for a screen adaptation of the novel were put forward by Irma Rambaran to Trinidad and Tobago Film Company’s Literature Adaptation Call.

There have been several editions & publishers of Minty Alley including 1936 – London: Secker & Warburg, 1971 – London: New Beacon Books (paperback), 1997 – University Press of Mississippi (paperback) brought it to an American audience and there have been numerous reprints.

The book is available to purchase here.

Reviews, papers & essays

Minty Alley by the George Padmore Institute

Minty Alley by D. Elliott Parris

“Douglarise de nation” : Politicized Intimacies and the literary Dougla by Kaneesha Cherelle Parsard

Reading C.L.R. James as Novelist: Minty Alley by Chaman Lai