Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1549
Jamaica Kincaid 1949–-
(Born Elaine Potter Richardson) Antiguan-born American novelist, essayist, short story writer, memoirist, editor, and nonfiction writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Kincaid's career through 2000. See also At the Bottom of the River Criticism.
Acclaimed for her lyrical prose and powerful voice, Kincaid is also known for the postmodern, stridently anticolonial stance discernable in her work. Most of her fiction is autobiographical, reflecting her belief that masters of whatever ilk are despicable, while slaves are always noble. Driven by anger and hostility toward the world of her native Antigua and its adopted British culture, Kincaid has explored the psychic side of island life through short stories in At the Bottom of the River (1983), while the public and personal aspects have received attention in the essay A Small Place (1988) and the novel Annie John (1985). Kincaid has also won critical praise for her novels Lucy (1990) and The Autobiography of My Mother (1995).
Born Elaine Potter Richardson in St. John's, Antigua, Kincaid attended government schools from the age of three, after having learned from her mother how to read and spell simple words. Within six months, she was attending school for a full day. She won a scholarship to attend the Princess Margaret School but left before taking her final examinations. Though she was the eldest of four children and a gifted, if somewhat rebellious, student, only her brothers were encouraged to aspire to a university education. Kincaid left Antigua at age seventeen and went to the United States to work as an au pair in Westchester County, New York. She had planned to pursue a nursing education, but once in the United States studied photography at the New School for Social Research in New York City and also attended Franconia College in New Hampshire. In 1973 she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid so that she could write anonymously. Her work came to the attention of George W. Trow, who wrote the “Talk of the Town” column in the New Yorker. Kincaid worked as a staff writer at the magazine from 1976 to 1995, contributing to and eventually writing the “Talk of the Town” column herself. Encouraged by William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker, Kincaid began writing fiction as well. In 1979 she married composer Allen Shawn, the editor's son; they had two children, Annie in 1985 and Harold in 1989. Kincaid resides with her family in North Bennington, Vermont, and has recently appeared as a visiting professor at Harvard University. Kincaid's first book, At the Bottom of the River, won the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Her novel Annie John was followed by a group of prose sketches, Annie, Gwen, Lilly, Pam and Tulip (1986). Angered by the legacy of colonialism that she found when she returned to Antigua for the first time in twenty years, Kincaid wrote the book-length polemic A Small Place. Subsequent to the publication of Lucy, Kincaid was awarded honorary degrees in 1991 from both Williams College and Long Island College, and in 1992 she received the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund annual writer's award. The Autobiography of My Mother was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1997. The memoir My Brother (1997) also received a National Book Award nomination that year.
Most of Kincaid's works are characterized by an exploration of mother-daughter relationships, which serve as a metaphor for the relationship between colonial powers and the countries they rule—between the powerful and the powerless and the mature and the struggling to mature—all informed by betrayal. At the Bottom of the River contains a series of sketches, considered prose poems by some readers;...
(The entire section contains 76389 words.)
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- Critical Essays