Cyril Dabydeen was born in the Canje, Guyana, in 1945, a locality which also produced his contemporaries Arnold Itwaru and Jan Shinebourne. Like most young Indo-Guyanese of his generation and background he was an active supporter of Cheddi Jagan’s Marxist PPP, and his politics remain true to those radical ideals.
He began writing and won the Sandbach Parker Gold Medal for poetry in 1964; his first collection of poems, Poems in Recession, was published in 1972.
In the early 1970s, he left Guyana for Canada for a higher education, and he obtained a BA (First class Hons) at Lakehead University, an MA (his thesis was on Sylvia Plath) and an MPA (Master of Public Administration, Queen’s University). In his early years in Canada, he worked in a variety of casual jobs, most importantly as a tree planter in the Canadian forests of the north where he worked with Native Canadians. It was this experience which was part of the process of the drawing of imaginative connections between Guyana and Canada, both with large ‘unpeopled’ hinterlands and surviving native peoples.
In 2000, he was a literary juror for Canada’s Governor’s General Award for Literature; the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (Univ. of Oklahoma), and the the James Lignon Price Competition (the American Poets University & College Poetry Prize Program).
He has been a finalist four times for Canada’s Archibald Lampman Poetry Prize, as well as for the Guyana Prize. He received the City of Ottawa’s first award for Writing and Publishing, and a Certificate of Merit, Government of Canada (l988) for his contribution to the arts.
He has worked for many years in human rights and race relations in Canada, and currently teaches in the Dept. of English, University of Ottawa.