Monday, 24 September 2007

Writer of the month: Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid asserts that "I was always being told I should be something, and then my whole upbringing was something I was not: it was English." Our education system here in the English-speaking Caribbean is based on the English system, and many of our sensibilities are linked to that culture. As a child I was more familiar with imaginary crows and jackdaws than with the local bananaquits and kiskadees; my mental landscape consisted of bogs, heaths, and the grimy streets of Victorian London; tulips, daffodils and primroses populated the gardens of my imagination, rather than the heliconias and hibiscus in the hedges all around me.

I fully understand Ms. Kincaid's ideological dilemma.

Jamaica Kincaid was born in 1949 as Elaine Potter Richardson on the island of Antigua. In 1965 she migrated to New York, and attended Franconia College in New Hampshire for a year. Her first writing was a series of articles for Ingenue magazine. In 1973, she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid because her family disapproved of her writing. For twenty years (1976 - 1995) she was a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine.

In the novel A Small Place Kincaid expresses her anger both at the colonists (England) and at the Antiguans for failing to fully achieve their independence. In many ways, the identity Kincaid has developed is a result of English upbringing and the lack of a native culture due to colonialism.

In her other novels, Kincaid explores the mother-daughter relationship and the phenomenon of female bonding. Annie John, Autobiography of My Mother, and At the Bottom of the River provide the opportunity to explore Kincaid's relationship with her own mother as well as her development of identity.

A visiting professor and teacher of creative writing at Harvard University, Jamaica Kincaid has this to say about writing: "I'm someone who writes to save her life. I mean, I can't imagine what I would do if I didn't write. I would be dead or I would be in jail because - what else could I do? I can't really do anything but write. All the things that were available to someone in my position involved being a subject person. And I'm very bad at being a subject person."


aka_lol said...

I know for a fact that some people were confused that Jamaica was from Antigua.

I think good writers know how other people feel about situations and can feel this way in slow motion so that they can put it down on paper. Jamaica Kincaid seems to have perfected this talent. I think she is under-appreciated in the Caribbean but that is a great part of what people in the Caribbean do. UWI honored her with a degree but when you consider the bitter Naipaul is calling for University English Departments close down in order to free up manpower to drive buses, it's really no big a deal. Jamaica Kincaid is a great writer and doesn't need honors to say so.

To really achieve as a Caribbean writer you would have to step out of the Caribbean and then look back at what you felt. Staying in the Caribbean dims your objectivity.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

The first book of hers I read was "Lucy". I love her writing.

wordtryst said...

aka_lol, the name confused me at first, too. Being from the Caribbean, you know that lack of appreciation for local talent is a strange foible of our people; it is only when our talented artists receive international recognition that we embrace their worth. I'm not bashing our people, just stating what we know to be the truth. As for Naipaul, he's an old curmudgeon, but what a talent. That's the thing with artists, especially the great ones: we have to focus on their work, ignore their personalities, because their flaws are so often commensurate with their talent.

Nyc/caribbean, Annie John is the only one I've read, and I loved that one. Lucy and the others are on my 'to be read' list.