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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 168

Edward Kamau Brathwaite (BRATH-wayt) has published scores of books, articles, and reviews as a historian and literary critic. Among his historical studies are The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (1971), which was his dissertation in college in the 1960’s; Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean (1974); Caribbean Man in Space and Time (1974); and History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone Caribbean Poetry (1984). His historical studies have delineated the historical pressures that have shaped modern-day Caribbean life. He is particularly interested in the transmission of African culture to the New World, the “’little’ tradition of the ex-slave,” and its promise to serve as a “basis for creative reconstruction” in postemancipation, postcolonial Creole society. His literary criticism has sought out the presence of African traditions in Caribbean literature and has helped to develop a vigorous, indigenous school of West Indian criticism. Brathwaite’s work as poet, critic, and historian has made available to a wide audience the rich cultural heritage of Caribbean people.

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed writers to emerge in the West Indies during the remarkable period in the region’s history and literature following World War II. He epitomizes the intensified ethnic and national awareness of his generation of writers—which includes Derek Walcott, Wilson Harris, Michael Anthony, Martin Carter, Samuel Selvon, John Hearne, and Austin Clarke, to name several of the more prominent—whose writing seeks to correct the destructive effects of colonialism on West Indian sensibility.

For his efforts, Brathwaite has earned a number of honors. He received an Arts Council of Great Britain bursary and a Camden Arts Festival prize (both in 1967), the Cholmondeley Award (1970) for Islands, a Guggenheim Fellowship (1972), a City of Nairobi Fellowship (1972), the Bussa Award (1973), a Casa de las Americas Prize for Poetry (1976), a Fulbright Fellowship (1982), an Institute of Jamaica Musgrave Medal (1983), the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (1994) and the Griffin Poetry Prize (2006) for Born to Slow Horses. He has served on the board of directors of UNESCO’s History of Mankind project since 1979 and as cultural advisor to the government of Barbados from 1975 to 1979 and again beginning in 1990. Over the years, Brathwaite has taught at a number of universities, including the University of the West Indies, University of Nairobi, Harvard University, Yale University, and New York University, where he became professor of comparative literature.


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Bobb, June. Beating a Restless Drum: The Poetics of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott. New York: Africa World Press, 1997. Exploring the commonalities and differences between Braithwaite and Walcott, this study focuses on their engagements with the history, culture, and mythology of the Afro-Caribbean experience and their contributions to the development of modern Caribbean poetics.

Brown, Stuart. The Art of Kamau Brathwaite. Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, Wales: Seren, 1995. This collection of critical essays presents some of the most informed and cogent ways to approach Brathwaite’s varied body of work. By looking at most of his work, it allows the reader to discover Brathwaite the critic, the historian, the poet, and the essayist.

Naylor, Paul. “Kamau Brathwaite: Tidalectic Rhythms.” Poetic Investigations: Singing the Holes in History. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1999. The author argues that Brathwaite’s work can be understood as a “creolization” of Caribbean, African, and Euro-American culture.

Pollard, Charles W. New World Modernisms: T. S. Eliot, Derek Walcott, and Kamau Brathwaite. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004. Pollard argues that the cosmopolitanism of postcolonial writers like Walcott and Brathwaite has been influenced and informed by Eliot’s modernist principles including tradition, poetry’s relation to speech, and the social function of poetry.

Reiss, Timothy J., ed. For the Geography of a Soul: Emerging Perspectives on Kamau Brathwaite. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2002. A large collection of essays on Brathwaite’s writings and his significance in poetry and literature, historical and sociological research, and cultural and literary criticism; includes three memoirs by fellow Caribbean figures close to him.

Rohlehr, Gordon. “Dream Journeys.” Introduction to DreamStories, by Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Essex, England: Longman, 1994. University of West Indies scholar Rohlehr combines critical and textual analysis with biographical and personal information provided by Brathwaite, clarifying the contexts and the substance of the dense, obscure dream stories.

Ten Kortenaar, Neil. “Where the Atlantic Meets the Caribbean: Kamau Brathwaite’s The Arrivants and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.” Research in African Literatures 27, no. 4 (Winter, 1996): 15-27. Brathwaite has acknowledged Eliot as a poetic precursor. Parallels between Brathwaite’s trilogy The Arrivants and Eliot’s The Waste Land are examined.

Torres-Saillant, Silvio. Caribbean Poetic: Towards an Aesthetic of West Indian Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. The author advocates a new system of canon formation and argues that Caribbean discourse in European languages is a discrete entity. Offers scholarly, in-depth studies of Brathwaite, René Depestre, and Pedro Mir.

Williams, Emily Allen. “Historical Empowerment in Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s The Arrivants.” In Poetic Negotiations of Identity in the Works of Brathwaite, Harris, Senior, and Dabydeen: Tropical Paradise Lost and Regained. Lewiston, Pa.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999. Williams explores the question of identity in Brathwaite’s The Arrivants.

_______, ed. The Critical Response to Kamau Brathwaite. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. An extensive collection of essays focusing on the poetry of Brathwaite arranged by decade since the 1960’s; it includes an interview conducted in 2002 as well as a chronology and introduction by the editor.

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Critical Essays