Michelle Cliff Analysis

Other literary forms

Michelle Cliff writes in a wide variety of genres including essays, novels, short stories, and literary criticism as well as poetry. She began writing after having read an article about Jamaica that she felt did not portray Jamaica as she had known it. In all of her writings, she depicts the real Jamaica as she believes it to be and elucidates what it means to be Jamaican. Throughout her works, she addresses the problems of oppression, colonialism, postcolonialism; prejudice in regard to color, race, gender, and sexual orientation; and the loss of oral history. In her novels, in particular, she treats the need for revising mainstream history to include the lost oral history of the oppressed and ostracized. Cliff is also recognized as an important literary critic.


Michelle Cliff is considered one of the most important writers addressing the issues of race, color, feminism, sexual orientation, and heritage and identity, particularly as faced by mixed-race individuals in a postcolonial society. Through her fictional works and prose poetry, she has made an important contribution to the “rewriting” of history by revealing the “other” history that has been omitted from official history. She is also esteemed for her literary criticism. Cliff received a MacDowell Fellowship (1982), National Endowment for the Arts grants (1982, 1989), a Massachusetts Artists Foundation Fellowship (1984), an Eli Kantor Fellowship from Yaddo (1984), and a Fulbright Fellowship (1988).

Other literary forms

In addition to being a novelist, Michelle Cliff is a poet, essayist, short-story writer, and literary critic. Her first writing was a response to an article about Jamaica that, in her opinion, contained inaccuracies. In her poems, short stories, and essays, she portrays the “real” Jamaica and what it is like to be Jamaican. A collection of her essays, If I Could Write This in Fire, was published in 2008. Cliff examines oppression, lost oral history, and sexual and racial prejudice, and she addresses the importance of revising official history. Her novels treat these same issues and concerns.


Michelle Cliff is recognized as one of the most significant writers of fiction exploring the complex issues of race, color, sexual orientation, and feminism as well as the postcolonial concerns of identity and heritage for people of mixed race. She has played a critical role in revealing the “other,” or unofficial, history in her novels, and in a sense has been rewriting history. Cliff also is respected as a literary critic. In 1982, she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a fellowship for study at MacDowell College. In 1984, she won a Massachusetts Artists Foundation award and was named an Eli Kantor Fellow.


Adisa, Opal Palmer. “Journey into Speech: Writer Between Two Worlds—An Interview with Michelle Cliff.” African American Review 28, no. 2 (1994). In this special issue on black women’s culture, essays explore Cliff’s work on race and oppression in Jamaica and her ideas on resistance as a form of community and the significant role of women in the history of political resistance.

Agosto, Noraida. Michelle Cliff’s Novels: Piecing the Tapestry of Memory and History. New York: P. Lang, 2000. Examines Cliff’s depiction of memory as repressed history and the attempt to reclaim this history through memory.

Barnes, Fiona R. “Resisting Cultural Cannibalism: Oppositional Narratives in Michelle Cliff’s No Telephone to Heaven.” The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 25 (Spring, 1992). Examines Cliff’s use of the Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) in a Caribbean setting as a means of critiquing colonialism.

Browdy de Hernandez, Jennifer. Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 2003. Cliff is one of eighteen women whose work—including their writing—against all forms of oppression is examined in this book. The focus is on Latin American and Caribbean women who have used literature and other...

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