Sheila King – ‘For Bettin’ or Worse’ Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
October 8, 2006

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SHEILA King, who recently celebrated her four-score-and-fourth birth anniversary, is the most senior Guyanese woman writer, born and bred in Guyana and still residing in the land of her birth. And she is preparing another treasury of her work to mark the occasion. In fact, many of her pieces whether poetry, fiction or drama, are usually penned to celebrate or mark special events, local or international. ‘The Cruellest Test’, an adult short story won the first prize in the Human Rights Year Short Story competition held in 1968. In the same year marking the Human Rights event, her poem, ‘Triumph of the Martyrs’, was included in an anthology of poems, `VOICES OF GUYANA’, a P. E. N. (Guyana) initiative, edited by Donald Trotman.

The writing career of Sheila King blossomed during the flowering of women writing in Guyana in the 1960s. Numerous women writers surfaced during that period, including Evadne D’Oliviera, Cecile Nobrega, Doris Harper-Wills, Rajkumari Singh, Syble Douglas and others. That group of women writers became a force to be reckoned with, pioneering many aspects of Guyanese Literature. King was part of what may be the first Guyanese anthology of stories. That slim book, `STORIES FROM GUYANA’, was produced to coincide with Expo ’67 in Canada.

Incidentally, coming out from Expo’67, was a humorous poem, ‘Delightful Delinquent Millie’, written by King about the macaw that made history on that occasion. In fact, the poem became so popular locally that it was produced on stage in one of the Brink Shows of the 1960s.

Another groundbreaking literary effort King was involved in (with other women writers) was the publication of `GUYANA DRUMS’, a collection of poems prepared for the first Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta) held in Guyana, 1972. That book has gone down in our history as the first anthology of Guyanese women writers.

In 1993, King published a small number of copies of her poems in a slim volume entitled `OUR HOMES SPRING POETRY’.

But she made contribution to Guyanese literature in other genres of writing. Two of her plays, `A MATTER OF POLICY’ and `HANDS ACROSS THE RIVER’ were produced for radio. And ‘FOR BETTIN’ OR WORSE’ was produced on stage at the Theatre Guild Playhouse, Kingston, Georgetown.

King also acted in plays such as N. E. Cameron’s `JAMAICA JOE’ and George Bernard Shaw’s `ANDROCLES AND THE LION’. She was a co-director for the Cameron’s production of `THE TRUMPET’.

She was also associated with another great man of letters – Wilson Harris. At a tender age, King was part of an informal literary circle comprising of Harris and Malcolm King, discussing mainly Shakespeare, Milton, and Camus.

Career public servant, poetess, playwright, children writer, Sheila Lucille King was born in September 1922. This Libra-born woman was the second of five children, product of parents who were admixtures of European, African and Amerindian ancestry.

At age 19, a well-spoken and Sheila King entered the Public Service, a move that led to a remarkable career, resulting in a number of firsts. In 1951, she was appointed the first female Probation & Welfare Officer. In 1965, she became the first female Labour Officer.

In 1972, she was made the first Organising Secretary of the newly formed Council on the Affairs and Status of Women in Guyana (CASWIG). In 1975, she was appointed first female Assistant Chief Labour Officer.

Her greatest satisfaction was when, in support of Eileen Cox’s letter and on behalf of CASWIG, King was instrumental in getting government to remove a ban on the employment of married women in the Public Service.

In 1984, Sheila Lucille King was honoured by the government with a Medal of Service award for outstanding service beyond the call of duty in the field of social service.

She is still writing and winning prizes but lately she has focused her attention on producing literature for children. Perhaps, picking from where she left off some forty years ago when her children story ‘Princess Sunshine’s Golden Necklace’ was adjudged a winner. Or perhaps because that story was recently republished in an anthology of children stories edited by Janet Jagan, another prolific writer of children literature. Sheila King has approached her writing with such fervour that she won the newly established Henry Josiah Writing Short Story for Children in two consecutive years, offering stiff competition to all and sundry – young and old.

Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email:

Guyanese Literature Update:

1. Under preparation by this author is A HANDBOOK OF GUYANESE LITERATURE. Information supplied on any aspect of our literature will be duly acknowledged.

2. GUYANA, the first official book showcasing this country, is now on sale at bookstores in Georgetown