Home Creative writing Jamaica Kincaid Talks Colonialism, Writing Influences Reading Phillis Wheatley

Jamaica Kincaid Talks Colonialism, Writing Influences Reading Phillis Wheatley


In the short story “Biography of a Dress”, Antiguan-American prose writer Jamaica Kincaid describes the protagonist’s yellow poplin dress, linking it to themes such as mother-daughter relationships and identity. Wearing a yellow poplin dress on stage, the autobiographical elements of her work come to life as she takes us into her world.

Kincaid, who is also a professor of African and African-American studies at Harvard University (Mass.), delivered the fourth annual Phillis Wheatley Reading Creative Writing Program on September 19 at White Hall’s Goodrich C. White Auditorium. Tiphanie Yanique, an associate professor of English and creative writing, described Kincaid as a writer of fiction “with the air of a poet and the eye of a journalist” and “one of the most important writers in the world today”. . She highlighted the relevance of Kincaid’s work in making connections between the humanities – from women’s and gender studies and psychology, to political science, history and religious studies.

Yanique quoted literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s analysis of Kincaid’s work: “Kincaid never feels the need in his writings to claim the existence of a black world or a feminine sensibility,” quoted Yanic. “She takes them both on…so we can get to the deeper themes of how black people love and cry and live and die, which after all is what art is.”

Kincaid’s works include “Annie John” (1985), “A Small Place” (1988), “Lucy” (1990), “The Autobiography of My Mother” (1996) and “My Garden (Book)” (2001) . His writing is much appreciated. Kincaid received the Guggenheim Award for Fiction in 1985, the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction in 1999, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004.

Born on the Caribbean island of Antigua and later living in New York, her work draws from her diverse geographic identities, often critiquing and exploring the impact of colonialism and mother-daughter relationships.

Colonialism being at the heart of Kincaid’s work, it was natural for her to open the discussion with a commentary on the death, whom she called a “great actress” and a “front for the criminal enterprise of the British Empire”. It’s Jamaica Kincaid: honest, unapologetic and absolutely hilarious.

Being able to read at the age of three enabled Kincaid to consume a wide range of books.

“I used to pretend I wrote ‘Jane Eyre’,” she added, her eyes sparkling. As she spoke, she was playful, often making fun of herself.

Kincaid’s writing is also known for its long sentences, which encompass many themes. For example, in “Biography of a Dress”, the dress is “the same shade of yellow as boiled cornmeal, a food my mother always looked forward to for me to eat”. Some of her influences include older authors, like Homer, and older texts, like “Paradise Lost” and the Bible, which she attributes to her well-known use of long sentences.

She read her 1992 short story “Biography of a Dress”, which she described as “a tale of colonial enterprise about a child”.

“I turned two, and to commemorate it, my mom took me to a photographer to have my picture taken,” Kincaid said. “I wasn’t tall enough to stand alone on the floor, so I had to be placed on the table so I could fit into the photographer’s background, and my mother was about two, three feet from me, and I was sure the gap between us could never be bridged and she would never hold me back.

The specificity of his descriptions – the “loose folds of aged skin”, “the cream-colored skin spoiling” and “what did his insides look like?” – built on ideas that dealt with the internal and external worlds, youth and aging.

For Kincaid, the effects of colonialism are personal and extend to clothing, one of his areas of interest. In response to an audience member’s question about fabric and colonialism, she spoke animatedly about her outfit, supporting fair trade and her favorite color – yellow.

I remember studying Kincaid’s novel “Annie John” in ENGCW 272W: Intro to Fictionl. It’s a novel about personal identity in relation to both mother-daughter and family dynamics as well as the dynamics between people and place. As someone who is fascinated by concepts related to roots and identity, this got me thinking about the role of a place in forming a person, no matter how much you think it doesn’t define you. . The novel, which is semi-autobiographical, also sparked class discussion about the uses of point of view.

Responding to a question about point of view at the event, Kincaid said she preferred writing in the first person. Instead of seeing him as her own ‘me’, however, she saw him as a more universal and collective ‘me’, allowing for the formation of more intimate bonds between writer and reader.

“There is no singular truth,” Kincaid said. “There are many truths. There are many, and they are all true. Just hear them.