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.)