By Karla Ingemann
Dr Angela Barry (nee Richards) has been in the writing game for a minute. A quick search through old local newspapers finds seven-year-old Angela Richards receiving top marks in creative writing.
A few decades later, and her talent for writing is still receiving accolades in the press. She has been described as an “acclaimed novelist,” “one of Bermuda’s foremost literary voices,” as well as a daughter of both the “soil” and “pink sand” of Bermuda – and she’s just getting into her groove.
An academic and an artist, Dr Angela Barry is not one to fit tidily into any box. Some would say this should be no surprise, as Dr Angela Barry comes from a close-knit family of high-flying mavericks. Her grandmother, Edna Louise Williams, was a poet who would become the first Black woman to vote in Bermuda. Her father, Sir Edward Trenton (E.T.) Richards was the first Black Bermudian to be knighted by the Queen, the first Premier of Bermuda, and a Bermuda National Hero.
Barry’s two elder siblings’ resumes are also quite remarkable. According to the family biography, recorded on the Bermuda Asset Management website, Barry’s sister, Patricia Dangor, is a UK-based judge; having the distinction of being the first woman to sit on the Bermuda Court of Appeals, and first judge of Afro-Caribbean heritage to be appointed to the Circuit Bench of England and Wales. Elder brother, E.T. Richards Jr. – better known island wide as Bob – is a success in the world of finance, and a former MP, Minister of Finance, and Deputy Premier. Her godmother was Dame Marjorie Bean, who helped found the Bermuda Public Services Union and was the first Bermudian woman appointed to the legislature.
Pedigree aside, Barry is a powerhouse in her own right. A scholar, writer, educator, promoter and super-fan of literature; Dr Barry’s love for the written word is inexhaustible. She is just as enthusiastic reading and discussing Shakespeare, as she is reading and discussing the works created by her students.
Her mother, Madree Richards, was her heart – and first supporter. Ever humble, Barry credits her creative spirit to genetics. “Both of my parents were good storytellers.” In fact, Mrs Richards knew her daughter was a creative writer before her daughter did, proudly sharing the letters Angela sent home with her friends.
The first story Barry wrote was about her maternal grandmother, and her great-grandmother, called The Message – a story that Dr Barry is still tweaking.It was the process of, “putting the words together” and “creating imagery of Bermuda,” which really fascinated her then, and still does today.
Born in Bermuda, young Angela attended the Central School, and the Berkeley Institute, before moving overseas to further her education.
She went on to graduate with honours from the University of York with a BA in English and Comparative Literature, a Master’s Degree in Language Arts and Education from the University of Sussex, and a PhD in English and Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Impressively, Barry also studied French at the Sorbonne in between earning her other formal degrees.
A gifted and inspiring lecturer with over forty years of experience under her belt, Dr Barry began her teaching career in the UK before wanderlust led her to visit the Gambia and Senegal frequently, and accept a teaching engagement in the Seychelles – before returning home to share her knowledge and experiences with local students.
While teaching in England during the early days of the multi-cultural movement, Barry became inspired to write. Reading materials about people of African and Caribbean heritage were scant, if not non-existent. This barrier turned into an opportunity for Barry, prompting her to write her own stories.
The first story she wrote for her students was called, Anansi in Babylon. The Anansi character is a spider who features prominently in Ghanaian and Caribbean folklore, playing the role of the wise, cunning trickster in the same mould as Brer Rabbit. These animal protagonists represented Black folks, and how they had to use their wits to survive and get the upper hand in a world where the dominant animals (White folks), held all of the power.
Around this time Barry became acquainted with the works of other Black oeuvres thanks to friend, writer, and fellow Bermudian, Ronald Lightbourne. Beginning with James Baldwin, Barry soon discovered African and Caribbean writers, and for the first time she felt the literature, “had a connection” to her, and “literature became a part of me and my story” – she points to her heart as she says this.
Her first essay was published in the UK, in 1988. It was followed up with two short stories, Song for Man, and A Cherry for Christmas, which were published in 1990 by the Bermuda Writers Collective. Since then, she’s had several short stories published both locally and overseas, and has written three novels; Endangered Species and Other Stories, 2002; Gor’ee: Point of Departure, 2010; and her latest book, and The Drowned Forest, in 2022, all published under the prestigious Peepal Trees Press banner.
Barry still holds a deep fondness for authors from our Caribbean Sister Islands. She’s introduced her students to literary luminaries such as Roger Mais of Jamaica, Derek Walcott of Saint Lucia, Edwidge Danticat of Haiti, and the man who would later become her literary mentor, George Lamming of Barbados.
Her respect and affection for her fellow Bermudian writers led her to spearhead the Survey of Bermudian Literature Module at Bermuda College. This first-of-its-kind course introduced new audiences to the works of previously unknown – or forgotten – local wordsmiths.
Brian Burland was one such artist. Barry, and a small team of tenacious co-admirers of his work, founded the Brian Burland Centre for Research at the Bermuda College. This undertaking ensures that the name, and complete catalogue (including paintings, doodles, and rough drafts) of one of Bermuda’s finest writers lives on in our collective memory.
Barry still dabbles in teaching, she is earnest when she says she’s inspired by her students, who, no doubt, feel the same way. “I always had a romance with words, but it never translated into stories. I never saw myself in that role. I didn’t think it was a possibility.” Yet here we are.