Edward Kamau Brathwaite Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Lawson Edward Kamau Brathwaite was born Lawson Edward Brathwaite in Bridgetown, Barbados, on May 11, 1930, the son of Hilton Brathwaite and Beryl Gill Brathwaite. He enrolled at Harrison College in Barbados, then in 1949, he won the Barbados Scholarship, enabling him to read history at Pembroke College, Cambridge University, in 1950. He received an honors degree in 1953 and the certificate of education in 1955.

His earliest published poems appeared in the literary journal Bim, beginning in 1950. The poems of that decade, some of which are collected in Other Exiles and, in revised form, in The Arrivants, portray an estranged world fallen from grace, a world that can be redeemed through poetic vision—a creative faith that sustains the more complex fashionings of his later work. Brathwaite shared with other West Indian writers of his generation a strong sense of the impossibility of a creative life in the Caribbean and the equal impossibility of maintaining identity in exile in England or North America. He understood this crisis of the present as a product of his island’s cultural heritage being fragmented among its sources: European, African, Amerindian, and Asian.

His reading of history at Cambridge heightened both his sense of the European culture that had been the dominant official culture of the West Indies and his need to understand the African culture that had come with the slaves on the Middle Passage. His search led him to Africa, where he served as an education officer in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana from 1955 to 1962. His career in Ghana (and in Togoland in 1956-1957 as United Nations Plebiscite Officer) provided the historical and local images that became Masks, the pivotal book of The...

(The entire section is 720 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The prolific and acclaimed Caribbean poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite was born Lawson Edward Brathwaite (BRATH-wayt) to Hilton and Beryl Gill Brathwaite. Raised in Bridgetown, Barbados, Brathwaite pursued an interest in both literature and jazz during his years at Harrison College in the late 1940’s. Brathwaite’s first significant publication, “Shadow Suite,” appeared in Bim, the Barbadian literary journal. His early poetry shows the influence of T. S. Eliot. Awarded the Barbados Island Scholarship to Cambridge University in 1949, Brathwaite continued his education at Pembroke College, where he received a history degree in 1953. During the mid-1950’s, he often read his poetry on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) program Caribbean Voices.

Brathwaite’s search for cultural roots led him to Ghana, where he worked for the Ministry of Education between 1955 and 1962. His poetry of this period was aired on the Ghana Broadcasting System, and in 1958 many of these pieces were published in Voices from Ghana. In Ghana, Brathwaite also wrote and directed plays intended primarily for children’s theater. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, he published literary criticism in Bim. He married Doris Welcome in 1960.

Brathwaite returned to the West Indies in 1962 and a year later joined the faculty of the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He journeyed to England for graduate work in 1965, shortly thereafter becoming editor of Bim and secretary of the Caribbean Arts Movement. He received his doctoral degree in history in 1968 for a thesis entitled “The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820.”

Brathwaite’s work of the late 1960’s explores the African diaspora. His extended poem Rights of Passage uses the journey motif to reveal the African American...

(The entire section is 763 words.)