Caryl Phillips Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 568 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in St. Kitts, Caryl Phillips was raised in England, where his family moved shortly after his birth. They originally settled in Leeds. Throughout Phillips’s developmental years he lived in a variety of working-class neighborhoods and attended predominantly white schools. His status as a racial minority contributed to his later concern with migration and identity. The civil unrest that occurred in London in 1976, when police and blacks clashed, sharpened his understanding of racial difference.

At Queens College, Oxford University, Phillips initially focused on courses in psychology but later switched to an English concentration. He became active in the drama group, directing a number of plays by such authors as Henrik Ibsen, William Shakespeare, and Tennessee Williams. At Oxford, Phillips met Rhodes scholar Emile Leroi Wilson, an African American who encouraged him to broaden his understanding of race relations by traveling to London and the United States. In London Phillips became more acquainted with black life through film and social interaction.

In the late 1970’s Phillips’s brief sojourn in the United States, where he visited Harlem and Los Angeles, deepened his awareness of racial issues. Influenced by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) and especially Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), Phillips decided to attempt to become a professional writer. His literary career began taking shape during his last year at Oxford. One of his first literary works was a teleplay for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Although it was ultimately rejected, Phillips was not deterred from pursuing a literary career.

After graduating from Oxford with honors in 1979, he relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he worked as a stagehand during a period of personal economic hard times. He continued to pursue dramatic writing, producing Strange Fruit, staged by the Sheffield Crucible in 1980. Strange Fruit explores racial ambivalence and the differing attitudes of two brothers toward race consciousness. Another of Phillips’s...

(The entire section is 857 words.)