Kamau, Kwadwo Agymah 1960(?)-

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KAMAU, Kwadwo Agymah 1960(?)-

PERSONAL: Born c. 1960, in Barbados; U.S. citizen. Ethnicity: "Afro-Caribbean." Education: Bernard M. Baruch College of the City University of New York, B.B.A. (magna cum laude), 1981, M.S., 1985; Virginia Commonwealth University, M.F.A., 1992.

ADDRESSES: Home—Norman, OK. Agent—Faith Childs, Faith Childs Literary Agency, 915 Broadway, Ste. 1009, New York, NY 10010. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: New York City Office for Economic Development, New York, NY, research assistant, 1983-85; New York City Department of Investigation, New York, statistician, 1985-86; New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, senior economist in Office of Tax Policy Analysis, 1986-89; New Virginia Review, editorial assistant, 1991-92; Richmond Free Press, Richmond, VA, copy editor, 1992-93; freelance copy editor and proofreader, 1993-94; writer, 1994—. Virginia Commonwealth University, adjunct professor, beginning 1989; University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, assistant professor, 2001—. Judge of writing contests. United Nations Secretariat, research assistant in international economic and social affairs, 1984.

MEMBER: Beta Gamma Sigma.

AWARDS, HONORS: Award from Wall Street Journal, 1981; James Michener fellowship, 1992; fellow of Virginia Commission for the Arts, 1992, 1997; Flickering Shadows was listed as one of the top twenty novels of 1996 by Library Journal; writer-in-residence at Centrum and Ucross Foundation, 1998; literary award from commonwealth of Virginia, book of the year award, ForeWord magazine, and listing as one of the top twenty-five books of 1999 by Village Voice, all 2000, all for Pictures of a Dying Man; Dewitt Wallace/Readers Digest Fellow, MacDowell Colony, 2000; Schloss Wiesersdorf fellow, 2001.


Flickering Shadows (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Pictures of a Dying Man (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.

Columnist for Beat Premier, 1991-92, and for InStyle and Nightmoves, 1992-94; author of book review columns in Richmond Free Press, 1992-93, and Gospel Times, 1993-94. Contributor of stories and articles to periodicals, including Callaloo, Richmond Afro-American, Style Weekly, and 328. Editor, Caribbean Vibes, 1992, and Beat Premier; coeditor of literary newsletter, African-American Writers' Collective, 1988-89.

SIDELIGHTS: Kwadwo Agymah Kamau's novels Flickering Shadows and Pictures of a Dying Man explore the tradition and folklore of his native Barbados. His format in these books is patterned on West Indian storytelling traditions, while his lyrical prose has been credited with summoning up the true cadence of island dialects.

Kamau took up residence in the United States in the late 1970s, and attended Baruch College of the City University of New York, where he graduated in 1981. He continued there as a graduate student while working as a research assistant at New York City's Office for Economic Development. He went on to hold posts in the city's Department of Investigation and in New York State's Department of Taxation and Finance and the Office of Tax Policy Analysis. Within a few years, however, he decided to resume his studies, earning a second graduate degree from Virginia Commonwealth University's fine arts program in 1992. It was during this time that he began seriously working on his writing. His first novel, Flickering Shadows, was published in 1996.

Set on a fictional Caribbean island, Flickering Shadows shows the process of transition from British colonialism to independent nation. Through the lives of the farmers, craftsmen, and others who populate a neighborhood known as The Hill, Kamau created "a brilliant microcosm in which ancient wisdom is juxtaposed with modern naivete, lust with love and pettiness with honor," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The story begins with the death of the narrator, Old Cudjoe. Thereafter the narration is carried on by his spirit, and throughout the book, the spirit world is presented as conjoined with that of the living. Cudjoe tries to intervene in the lives of his grandchildren and their families, but they are preoccupied with the imminent election of their country's first prime minister. A former resident of The Hill wins the election, but it soon becomes all too evident that he will sacrifice the best interests of the common people for money and power. Interspersed with the contemporary story are flashbacks to the island's slave history, emphasizing the modern characters' links with the past.

Flickering Shadows is written in the Creole dialect of Barbados, and it is "reverberating with the densely syncopated patois of its hardscrabble Caribbean setting," stated Jonathan Bing in his New York Times Book Review assessment of the book. Rick Henry, a contributor to Review of Contemporary Fiction, described the novel as "a welcome addition to the growing literature of the region," whose characters are "moved less by moral outrage at the atrocities than by a more abstract sense of imperfect and sporadic justice."

Kamau's second novel, Pictures of a Dying Man, was again set on a fictional island in the Caribbean. The story opens with a death, but this time it is the suicide of the island's prime minister. As the man's associates review his life, it becomes clear that he had made many enemies, and perhaps his death was not by his own hand after all. Shadowy facts about his life come to light, such as his tenure in New York, NY, where he was evicted from his apartment and may even have suffered a nervous breakdown. Through the exploration of one character, the author "imparts wisdom on issues of race, class, political corruption and reform, and moral decay in this multilayered puzzler about a man whom nobody really knew," reported a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Even if it had been "simply an exploration of the paradoxes of an individual's life, it would be a fine novel," mused Alan Tinkler in Review of Contemporary Fiction; yet, the critic added, the book "gains additional resonance through its subtle exploration of cultural identity" as well. "Kamau writes in a lilting, unaffected style with real compassion," stated Lisa S. Nussbaum in Library Journal. "This is a haunting, powerful, beautiful story."



AB Bookman's Weekly, March 30, 1998, review of Flickering Shadows, p. 28.

African American Review, winter, 1999, review of Flickering Shadows, p. 724.

Booklist, July, 1999, Vanessa Bush, review of Pictures of a Dying Man.

Caribbean Writer, 1998, review of Flickering Shadows, p. 279.

Library Journal, September 1, 1999, Lisa S. Nussbaum, review of Pictures of a Dying Man, p. 233.

New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1996, Jonathan Bing, review of Flickering Shadows, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, July 29, 1996, p. 71; August 23, 1999, p. 49.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 1997, Rick Henry, review of Flickering Shadows, p. 293; summer, 2000, Alan Tinkler, review of Pictures of a Dying Man, p. 171.

Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1999.*