Well known Belizean author, storyteller, and poet John Alexander Watler died this morning. Watler was born in 1938 in Monkey River Village in the Toledo District but was residing in Maryland Baltimore. Walter was in the writing business for over four decades of his life. In this timeframe Watler was one of the first writers of the Belize Times Newspaper. He was well known in the Belizean theater for his lively one man performances portraying Brer Anansi or one of his own pieces. His focus was folklore and captured his audiences through fascination and awe. Love news spoke to Karl Villanueva a close friend and coworker of Watler, via phone.
“I shook hands with Mr. John Watler. I was at the Chamber of Commerce at the time and he had an office next to us where he did his management for his restaurant. I shook hands with him and since then I saw him at the White Eagle in Chicago where he was performing at an event that was presented for the Prime Minister of Belize and it was a three day weekend and part of that was a forum at the YEO Banquet Hall and Mr.Watler was performing and he was doing an Anansi story and I was not aware that there were other people who had taken up the mantle from Mr.( George) McKesey and were doing Anansi stories. I thought his performance was terrific and I tried my best to get close to him after that and we were able to collaborate on a book called the Bamboo Codex.”
Among his publications were Cry among Raincloud, Boss of Dangriga, Bomba Codex, Sea Lotto, Bitter Sweet Revenge and Sci- Fi-book Blue Hole. Villanueva says that Watler was one of the best around and he told us what his writing skills were like.
“He knew how to plot a story and a novel. He was magnificent at connecting characters in the story throughout the timeline of the story and it was so beautiful how they all connected at the end. The Bamboo Codex is one example of his mastery in doing this. He had a grasp of words, there were a lot of times where he would correct me on the meaning of a word and he had an amazing memory, a really good grasp for visual and for people. He could describe these characters very beautifully, he was just good at setting up characters and having them interact throughout the stories.”
Watler had signed a contract with the government back in 2004 to tour the country and visit fifty schools telling stories. Universities in the USA, including Texas A & M, Marlborough College and Sterling College, have hosted John Alexander Watler as Literary Performer. Walter was also a part of the National Association of Black Storytellers where he served on the scholar’s panel at their 26 annual story telling convention back in 2010. Villanueva says that Watler always spoke about dying in his nineties but John Alexander Watler was age seventy seven when he passed. Watler had received a bypass surgery last year and died of medical issues.
It is with the most deepest of condolences that we here at Belizean Legends announced the passing of the legendary and noteworthy acclaimed Belizean writer, playwright, thinker and novelist, John Alexander Watler. From God we come, and to Him is all our return.
JOHN ALEXANDER WATLER : THE BELIZE THAT WAS TO BE OR NOT TO BE!
by Bilal Morris
He wrote the same way he spoke so expressively, and he was the epitome of the Belizean theater of the mind. He was the Belizean grio, and could tell any story from any part of Belize that you can think about. He was John Alexander Watler, who is one of Belize's most acclaimed writers of all times.
Belizean Creole folklore, as those told by John Watler, is embedded in the text of classical African experiences brought to the Caribbean and Central America by the narratives of the slave, and passed down through tradition and storytelling by those like George Mckessey, Gertude Stewart, Johnny Kwaku, and many others whom had come to grace Belizean shores as descendants of their African ancestors.
Watler was prolific in his style which was authentically Afro-Caribbean literature where characters took on animal forms to give a serious advice to the society, or to present a hilarious line of humor. His work celebrated the Belizean village life, and embraced Belize's multiculturalism as an instrument of change and enlightenment. He was a glimpse of Belize's Chinua Achebe of Nigeria, V.S. Naipaul of Trinidad, and Edward Kamau Brathwaite of Barbados all in one.
Watler wrote in prose, but he was much better at narratives. Besides Evan X Hyde's Amerikkan Blues and The Crowd Call UBAD, and Zee Edgell's Becka Lamb, Watler's literary works may be the only ones that can proudly stand among the latter of Belizean acclaimed writers. From my browsing through Belizean literary accomplishments in preparation for an possible interview with Watler, it had appeared to me that he is the only Belizean who has written so prolifically, and has authored more books today than most of his contemporaries.
In the conversations we had on Belizean culture, politics, music, and society, Watler presented strong arguments on the Belize that he would like to see, and the Belize that once was but is no more. He wrote about these things with imaginable perception, and presented an almost utopia of a Belize that can be. He was a dreamer who pushed his literary intellect to come to criticize the values of Belizean society that had been abandoned. As William Shakespeare so eloquently wrote, "to be or not to be", Watler may have believed deeply that the Belize that Belizeans gave up for its Americanization was not to be, since it was rooted in a solid culture that its forefathers paid for so darely to be. One may come to connect with these things once they may come to read one of his well written books.
Though it was not to be that John Alexander Watler and yours truly had come to discuss these matters more profoundly in an exclusive video documentary on his life and work, it's most sincerely to say that his story was one that had to be told. So in this small but awakening effort here, it's only prudent that from a spiritual standpoint now, that the mind and imagination of John Watler unfolds to you the Belizean audience.
Though you may not have known him, it's highly encouraged that Belizeans go find his books and read them. They are so many, and we hope that we may come to be truly free after we are done. Live on John Alexander Watler. Your journey has ended and its good to be home.