The UWI Regional Headquarters, Jamaica. Tuesday, January 12, 2021. The University of the West Indies (The UWI) joins the Belizean community in mourning the passing of Professor Zelma "Zee" Edgell on December 20, 2020 in the USA where she resided.
Professor Edgell was the recipient of an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from The UWI Cave Hill Campus, in 2009. The citation on the occasion of the award noted that “for such great writers the country is the muse of the writer, and the writer in tum becomes the muse of the country and the people.”
Born in Belize City, the capital of the former British Honduras, now Belize, well before independence, Professor Edgell was educated at the St. Catherine Academy in Belize, learnt the gems of journalism at the Daily Gleaner in Jamaica, and earned her diploma in journalism from the Polytechnic of Central London. She returned home to teach at her alma mater, and started a newsletter which blossomed into The Reporter, a leading Belizean newspaper.
In 1968, she married American Al Edgell, whose career in international development took the family around the world, to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Britain, Nigeria, Somalia and other places, before returning to Belize.
Her first novel, Beka Lamb, published in 1982 set in the context of the early years of the national movement in pre-independent British Honduras, explored the emotions of 14 year old Beka Lamb, and drew on the struggles of the new nation, symbolised in the eyes of many by the struggles of young Beka. It was the first novel from Belize to reach beyond its borders and it won Britain's Fawcett Society Book Prize—a prize for a work of fiction that contributes to an understanding of women's position in society. It was also listed as a CXC literature text from 2009 to 2011.
Her three other novels In Times Like These (Heinemann, 1991), The Festival of San Joaquin (Heinemann, 1977) and Time and The River (Harcourt/Heinemann, 2006), all portrayed the struggles and feelings of Belizean women in conditions of challenge and change—slavery, colonialism and independence. And the search for the heroines' freedom intertwines with the struggles of the people and the country for freedom.
Applauded and recognized internationally, Professor Edgell travelled to various universities to talk about her work and her books, and was regarded as an ambassador for Belize.
She also served as the Director of the Women’s Bureau in the Government of Belize (1981-1982), and later as the Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs (1986-1987). She lectured at the University College of Belize from 1988-1989, and was a Visiting Writer in the Department of English at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia in 1993. Her short story, “My Uncle Theophilus,” also won the Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for short fiction published in The Caribbean Writer, Vol. 12, 199.
The holder of a Master’s degree in Liberal Studies and a Professorship in the Department of English at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, Professor Edgell also contributed extensively to the Belizean Writers Series, published by local publishing house Cubola Productions. She edited and contributed stories to the fifth book in the series, Memories, Dreams and Nightmares: A Short Story of Anthology of Belizean women writers, published in 2004.
She was made a Member of the order of the British Empire in the 2007 Queen’s Birthday Honour List.
The University extends condolences to the family and friends of Professor Edgell, including her daughter Holly and son Randall, on behalf of The UWI community.
About The UWI
For over 70 years The University of the West Indies (The UWI) has provided service and leadership to the Caribbean region and wider world. The UWI has evolved from a university college of London in Jamaica with 33 medical students in 1948 to an internationally respected, regional university with near 50,000 students and five campuses: Mona in Jamaica, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, Cave Hill in Barbados, Five Islands in Antigua and Barbuda and an Open Campus. As part of its robust globalization agenda, The UWI has established partnering centres with universities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe including the State University of New York (SUNY)-UWI Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development; the Canada-Caribbean Institute with Brock University; the Strategic Alliance for Hemispheric Development with Universidad de los Andes (UNIANDES); The UWI-China Institute of Information Technology, the University of Lagos (UNILAG)-UWI Institute of African and Diaspora Studies; the Institute for Global African Affairs with the University of Johannesburg (UJ); The UWI-University of Havana Centre for Sustainable Development; The UWI-Coventry Institute for Industry-Academic Partnership with the University of Coventry and the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research with the University of Glasgow.
The UWI offers over 800 certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Food & Agriculture, Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Science & Technology, Social Sciences and Sport.
As the region’s premier research academy, The UWI’s foremost objective is driving the growth and development of the regional economy. The world’s most reputable ranking agency, Times Higher Education, has ranked The UWI among the top 600 universities in the world for 2019 and 2020, and the 40 best universities in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018 and 2019, then top 20 in 2020. The UWI has been the only Caribbean-based university to make the prestigious lists. For more, visit www.uwi.edu.
(Please note that the proper name of the university is The University of the West Indies, inclusive of the “The”, hence The UWI.)