Caryl Phillips was born on March 13, 1958, in St. Kitts, then a Caribbean colony of Great Britain. Shortly after his birth, the family, which later included four more children, migrated to England, establishing a home in Leeds, Yorkshire. Both parents stressed the importance of a good education; however, they were divorced when Phillips was eight years old. As a child Phillips lived with his mother, who worked in an office and attended night school to earn a teaching degree. As a teenager he lived with his father, a social worker who had a strong, positive influence in his life. An immigrant and a black child in a school in which most students were working-class whites, young Phillips was painfully aware of being an outsider. He was a good student, however, and was encouraged by his teachers to further his education. He was accepted at Queens College of Oxford University.
At Oxford, Phillips was a well-rounded student, an accomplished athlete and head of the drama society. Nevertheless, he was deeply troubled by an ugly racial incident that undermined his confidence. His initial goal was to become a film director, but he became immersed in the theater and directed six plays in just more than a year, ranging from the works of William Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen to those of Tennessee Williams. After his second year at Oxford, he went to the United States, where he experienced firsthand the racial problems of American blacks. His traditional British...
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