Born in South Trinidad on 20 May 1923, Samuel Dickson Selvon, the son of an Indian father and a half-Indian, half-Scottish mother, graduated from San Fernando's Naparima College in 1938. Selvon grew up in Trinidad's multiracial society and regards himself as a creolized West Indian, as he has suggested in more than one interview. But he has a strong sense of displacement, and this feeling sometimes emerges as a subtle theme in his fiction. He began to write fiction and poetry while he worked as a wireless operator for the Royal Navy Reserve during World War II. When the war ended, he turned to journalism and served as the fiction editor of the literary magazine of the Trinidad Guardian newspaper until 1950, when he left for England in search of other employment. In London his short stories began to be published in journals and newspapers, and in 1954, before the publication of his second novel, he was awarded his first Guggenheim Fellowship. Six additional fellowships and assorted scholarships, including a second Guggenheim (1968), followed, and in 1969 the Trinidad and Tobago government awarded him the Humming Bird Medal for literature. Selvon married Draupadi Persaud in 1947, was later divorced, and married Althea Nesta Daroux in 1963. He has one child from his first marriage and three from his second. .
Sam Selvon died suddenly in his native Trinidad on 16 April 1994, in his seventy-first year. He had lived in Calgary, Alberta, since moving to Canada from London in 1978 and was about to return there when he was taken ill. His fellow Trinidadian, the critic and editor of Ariel, Victor Ramraj, described him in a graceful eulogy at a memorial service in Calgary as "the laughing philosopher, touched by the sad lot of humans but not overwhelmed by it." Ramraj's words capture an essential quality of both the man and the work, one that enables us to distinguish him among that remarkably gifted band of Caribbean writers who set sail for London, fame, and variable fortune in the fifties.