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Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid

A significant voice in contemporary literature, Jamaica Kincaid (born 1949) is widely praised for her works of short fiction, novels, and essays in which she explores the tenuous relationship between mother and daughter as well as themes of anti-colonialism. A native of the island of Antigua, Kincaid is considered one of the most important women Caribbean writers. Over a career that has spanned more than three decades, Kincaid has earned a reputable place in the literary world for her highly personal, stylistic, and honest writings.

Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson on May 25, 1949, in the capital city of St. John's on Antigua, a small island in the West Indies that was colonized by the British in 1632 and achieved full independence in 1981. Her mother, Annie Richardson, was an emigre from Dominica. Her stepfather, David Drew, was a carpenter and cabinetmaker. Kincaid's maternal grandmother, a Carib Indian, also played an important role in her early life. Kincaid's biological father, Roderick Potter, was never involved in her upbringing. Her family was poor: they had no electricity, running water, or plumbing in their home.

Kincaid was an only child until she was nine, at which time the first of her three brothers was born. Until their birth, Kincaid had enjoyed the sole attention of her mother, who taught her to read when she was three and had given her a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary when she turned seven. However, with the arrival of her brothers, Kincaid's relationship with her mother changed dramatically. She was no longer a dependent young child and her importance in her mother's eyes was severely diminished because she was female.

Although Kincaid was intellectually gifted, she was not given encouragement in the British public school she attended on the island. Her teachers frequently found her attitude rude and considered her a troublemaker. Nevertheless, she was an avid reader and spent much time at the city's library, getting to know and admire the young librarian who worked there. Kincaid's love for books was so fierce that she stole some from the library and hid them under her family's porch. The bookish and small child was not well liked by her peers, who often picked fights with her and beat her up. Discussing this period in her life, Kincaid recalled in a Kenyon Review interview with Moira Ferguson in 1994, "I would come home with my clothes in tatters and my face scratched up, and my mother would take me back to the person who had beaten me up and say 'fight, fight' and I couldn't fight. I would just cry and cry… ." Eventually, after years of abuse, when she was 11, Kincaid finally did fight back and win. After that, she was no longer tormented and she actually took on a leadership role.

As a girl there were few options available for Kincaid. She would have liked to have attended university in Antigua and remained there after becoming a teacher or a librarian, but she was not given that opportunity. Despite the shortcomings of her early education, she did acquire a strong background in English literature, studying the works of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, and the King James version of the Bible. Kincaid especially loved the works of Charlotte Bronte, reading Jane Eyre numerous times.

Self-Exile in the United States

In 1966, shortly after turning 17, Kincaid was sent to the United States to work as an au pair for an affluent family in Scarsdale, New York. She was expected to send money home to her family, but she would not. She received letters from home, but she did not open them. It was in this state of self-exile that Kincaid would shape her new life away from the unhappiness she had felt in Antigua. Shortly after leaving her job in Scarsdale, Kincaid found work for an Upper East Side family in New York City. After this move, she left no forwarding address and was cut off from her family until her return to Antigua 20 years later. While working in New York, Kincaid continued her education at a community college, earned a high school equivalency diploma, and began taking photography courses at the New School for Social Research. She later studied photography at Franconia College in New Hampshire on a scholarship, though she never earned a college diploma. When asked in a 1996 interview with Dwight Garner in Salon if she had any aspirations to become a writer when she came to the United States, she stated flatly, "None. Absolutely none. [When] I first arrived I was incredibly depressed and lonely. I didn't know there was such a world as the literary world. I didn't know anything, except maybe how to put one foot in front of the other."

Although Kincaid was not fully aware of her literary ambitions during her childhood and early years in New York, she had gained much from her voracious reading, all of which was of an English literary tradition. She had never been exposed to West Indian literature. When speaking to Ferguson, she acknowledged that as a child she would imagine stories and conversations in her head, but she never wrote them down. It was her experiences in photography that finally made her aware of writing. After watching the French film La Jete and reading Alain Robbe-Grillet, Kincaid felt her burst of inspiration. She told Ferguson, "I began to write poems. I began to write of my photographs—what I would take and [how] I would set them up. I would look at what I had written down, and that is how I would take the photograph. I would write down what I thought the picture should feel like. And I would try to take a picture of what I had written down."

Entrance to Literary World

After three years as an au pair, Kincaid left to become a secretary, model, and backup singer in a New York club. In 1970, with bleached blond hair, Kincaid enjoyed a freewheeling city lifestyle, sharing with Garner that she once attended a Halloween party dressed as Josephine Baker with only some bananas wrapped around her waist. She began to contribute pieces to Ingenue, a teen magazine. Her first published work, "When I Was Seventeen," was an interview with Gloria Steinem about the notable feminist's own teenage years. In 1973, Elaine Potter Richardson changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid mainly to keep her anonymity since she feared her family would disapprove of her writing and mock her efforts. After her contributions to Ingenue and the Village Voice, Kincaid began to make contacts with members of New York's literary society. One friend, Michael O'Donoghue, who was a founding writer for Saturday Night Live, introduced Kincaid to George Trow, who wrote the "Talk of the Town" column for New Yorker magazine. A strong friendship developed between the two and Kincaid began to accompany Trow when he researched bits for his column, adding her observations. William Shawn, editor of the New Yorker, ultimately asked Kincaid to write her own "Talk of the Town" piece. She submitted notes of her observations of the West Indian Day parade, and Shawn published the notes as a finished column. Beginning in 1976, Kincaid contributed regularly to the magazine as a staff writer under Shawn's mentorship. In 1978, she published her first work of fiction, the short story "Girl," in the New Yorker.

Kincaid acknowledged that Shawn helped her develop her voice and encouraged her to continue writing stories. Along with the significant development as a writer Kincaid received while working at the New Yorker, she also met Allen Shawn, a classical composer and son of Ted Shawn. They were married in 1979.

Literary Celebrity

In "Girl" and nine other sketches, often denoted "prose poems" by critics, that appeared in the 1983 collection At the Bottom of the River, Kincaid plumbed her early life in Antigua, developing a series of "fictional narratives" centering on a young Caribbean girl. The stories were marked by a lyrically poetic, incantatory, rhythmic voice. Perhaps the most-discussed piece in the collection is "Girl," which is one sentence uttered by a mother to her child, listing in repetitive scrutiny a series of commands. Her breakthrough collection earned Kincaid the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Kincaid followed the publication of At the Bottom of the River with the slim novel Annie John in 1985. In this work, Kincaid writes a coming-of-age tale that focuses on the life of a young Caribbean girl. The theme of the mother-daughter relationship in which a mother devastatingly severs her bond with her daughter is at its core. This work was well received and critics praised its rhythmic quality, evocative images, and universal themes. Many critics have noted that her most significant theme, that of the mother-daughter bond, represents the larger issue of the powerful and the powerless, particularly as this relationship operates in a colonial culture.

The personal nature of so much of Kincaid's fiction is one of its salient features, and she admits that her difficult relationship with her own mother inspired her writing, though she maintains it was an act of salvation to write her thoughts down. "Writing is really such an expression of personal growth," she admitted to Ferguson. "I don't know how else to live. For me it is a matter of saving my life. I don't know what I would do if I didn't write. It is a matter of living in the deepest way." Noting the autobiographical element to her writing, she asserted that "My writing has been very autobiographical. The events are true to me. They may not be true to other people. I think it is fair for my mother to say, 'This is not me.' It is only the mother in the books I've written. It is only the mother as the person I used to be perceived her… . For me it was really an act of saving my life, so it had to be autobiographical."

Angry Voice Divided Readership

With the publication of her nonfiction work A Small Place in 1988 and her third fictional work, Lucy, in 1991, Kincaid was no longer the darling of the literary world. Reviewers were divided over the angry tone expressed in both works. In A Small Place, described as "an anti-travel narrative," Kincaid returns to Antigua after having been gone for 20 years. She ultimately skewers the white tourist who visits Antigua with no thought to the poverty and the long-endured oppression of the colonized natives, while also pointing out the corruption of the post-independent Antiguan government. Bob Gottlieb, editor of the New Yorker at the time, refused to publish any of the work in the magazine due to its angry tone. In her native Antigua, the government issued an informal ban on Kincaid, restricting her visits to the island from 1985 to 1992. Seemingly unaccepting of her resentment and frustrations, V.R. Peterson of People compared Kincaid to West Indian writer V.S. Naipaul, maintaining that "where Naipaul is humane and appreciative of the dark corners of the human condition, Kincaid seems only vituperative and intemperate."

Kincaid drew similar criticism for the novel Lucy. Annie John ends with the protagonist leaving Antigua at the age of 17, and Lucy begins with the eponymous protagonist leaving the Caribbean at age 19 to come to the United States to work as an au pair for a wealthy New York City family. Commentators note a more bitter tone to this novel in which Lucy will not bend to the powers that hold sway. However, most still commend Kincaid's storytelling abilities. Reviewing the novel, the Newsweek book critic summarized "Vinegary Lucy doesn't bother to be likable, but her shrewdness and her gumption make her good company all the same."

Familial Bonds

Kincaid returned to her familiar theme of the mother-daughter relationship and the cruel outcomes of colonization with her dark portrayal of seventy-year-old Xuela Claudette Richardson, the narrator of her novel The Autobiography of My Mother published in 1996. The novel, set on the island of Dominica, presents the life of the narrator and the mother whom she never knew who had died in childbirth. Xuela's life is mired in loss, and, as Andrea Stuart noted in the New Statesman, "[ Autobiography of My Mother] is simultaneously one of the most beautifully written books I have read, and one of the most alienating." In 1997 this complex novel was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and the PEN Faulkner Award.

In 1997 Kincaid published My Brother, a memoir of her youngest brother Devon Drew, who died of AIDS in 1996 at the age of 33. This highly personal work addresses not only the relationship Kincaid had with her brother—the two were alike in personality though they had spent little time together—as well as the continued themes of her resentful relationship with her mother and the devastating outcomes of a post-colonial culture. Reviewing the work in Time John Skow laments that while "there is deep, honest feeling here … it seems long past time for this gifted writer to tell us something new." In response to such criticism, Kincaid related to Garner, "I am not troubled … to be seen to be of one whole cloth—that all that I write is a further development of something. Perhaps it is musical in that way. My work is a chord that develops in many different ways. I couldn't help but write these books." Central to this work is Kincaid's discovery after Drew has died that he was homosexual and the oppressive secret he had kept throughout his life. Kincaid's ability to address the personal themes within a memoir that, according to Brad Goldfarb in Interview, is "an almost ruthless desire to get at the truth" and still relate them to such universal themes as familial bonds and the overarching question of post-colonial issues, helped her earn a nomination for a National Book Award.

Fragrant and Thorny

As a child, Kincaid had been surrounded by plants on Antigua, and her interest in gardening developed steadily throughout her adult life. In 1985, when her husband accepted a teaching position in Bennington, Vermont, the couple moved to this idyllic community with their two young children, Annie and Harold. Leaving the confines of the city, Kincaid had ample space to garden, and she published My Garden (Book) in 1999. This collection of essays marks a departure from the embittered tone of her previous works and was heralded as entertaining yet intelligent due to Kincaid's artful connection between gardening and philosophical and poetic reflections. While most reviewers concede that all of Kincaid's works, despite at times her harsh tone, are complex and stylistically unique, with My Garden (Book), Kincaid seemed to have expressed similarly profound observations in a more gentle, even humorous tone.

Mr. Potter, Kincaid's tenth book, is a return to a West Indian setting and characters from her family background. The narrator, Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson, ruminates over the empty life of Roderick Potter, her father who has had no part in her life. Acknowledging the characters' obvious connections to Kincaid's own life, Susan Walker asserts in the Toronto Star that "it's unlikely any reader will mistake these characters for actual people. They are too encased in literary language, too distilled, almost mythic in the way they come to represent the way many people's lives are shaped by history."

While many of Kincaid's works are short in length, they have never failed to elicit respect, if at times reluctantly. Kincaid herself is a forthright person who speaks candidly. After she left the New Yorker in 1995, she spoke quite openly about her disgust at the "vulgarity" that the magazine produced under the editorship of Tina Brown. Her frankness, however, is always tinged with humor as she told Garner, "[Brown's] actually got some nice qualities. But she can't help but be attracted to the coarse and vulgar. I wish there was some vaccine—I would sneak it up on her."

Kincaid has been awarded honorary degrees from Williams College (1991), Long Island College (1991), Amherst College (1995), Bard College (1997), and Middlebury College (1998). She continues to write from her home in Bennington, teaching creative writing at Bennington College and Harvard University.

Books

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 13, Gale, 1994.

Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography Supplement: Modern Writers, 1900-1998, Gale, 1998.

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2001.

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 4, Gale, 1993.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, 2002.

Contemporary Novelists, 7th ed., St. James Press, 2001.

Feminist Writers, St. James Press, 1996.

Notable Black American Women, Book 1, Gale, 1992.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd ed., St. James Press, 1999.

Periodicals

Advocate, December 9, 1997.

Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 1996.

Essence, March 1996.

Interview, October 1997.

Kenyon Review, Winter 1994.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002.

Library Journal, October 1, 1999.

Literary Cavalcade, February 2001.

Maclean's, June 3, 2002.

Mother Jones, September/October 1997.

Nation, June 15, 1985; February 18, 1991; February 5, 1996; November 3, 1997.

New Statesman, October 11, 1996.

New York Times Book Review, December 5, 1999.

Newsweek, October 1, 1990.

People, September 26, 1988; December 15, 1997.

Salon, January 13, 1996; December 20, 1999.

Time, February 5, 1996; November 10, 1997.

Times, July 20, 2002.

Toronto Star, May 27, 2002.

Women's Review of Books, March 2000; September 2002.

Online

"Jamaica Kincaid," BBC World Service,http://www.bbc.co.uk (February 11, 2003).

"Jamaica Kincaid," Voices from the Gaps: Women Writers of Color,http://voices.cla.umn.edu (February 11, 2003). □

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Kincaid, Jamaica 1949–

Jamaica Kincaid 1949

Writer

At a Glance

Became Resentful of Subordination

Became a New Yorker Contributor

A New Voice in Black Literature

Mothers and Daughters, Slavery and Rebellion

Selected writings

Sources

Writer Jamaica Kincaid has been called an Instant literary celebrity in the New York Times Magazine for her sudden rise in the world of arts and letters. Kincaids intensely personal stories and novels about her homeland of Antigua and her experiences as an emigre have carved out a singular literary niche, according to Emily Listfield in Harpers Bazaar. Listfield added that Kincaids lyrical and intelligent work has won a discriminating following. Kincaids books may be brief, but no one could call them small.

Much of Kincaids work is semi-autobiographical, reflecting both the lilting language and the colonial legacy of her island home. Her writings achieve universality through their themes: a daughters ambivalent feelings for her parents, a naive expatriates confrontations with urban America, a black persons rebellion against white rule and white liberalism, and a woman finding herself and learning to live with rage. Jamaica Kincaid just happens to write short, exquisite little novels, noted Audrey Edwards in Essence. And while the themes may be... personal, the writing is so eloquent and original, specific in details yet universal in truths, timeless and transforming that it demands attention and respect. Like other Black women for whom writing is both an act of liberation and salvation, Kincaid says she writes to save her lifethat if she couldnt write, she would be one of those people who throw bombs, who spout revolution, who would surely be in jail or perhaps even dead. Or maybe just insane.

Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson on the tiny West Indian island of Antigua. She grew up in poverty, the daughter of a carpenter and a loving but over-bearing mother. Her home in the islands capital city of St. John had no electricity, running water, or bathroom. As a young girl, Kincaid made trips to a public pump twice a day or more for the water her family used, carrying it home in buckets. She described her youth in the New York Times Magazine as tightly restricted, revolving around her home and her mother. You grow up in a street and its a tiny street, she said. The street might not be as big as this yard out there, but it becomes your world, and its the only thing you know, it unbelievably well, with this thickness, this heaviness, and you have no interest in anything else. It would not occur to you that there might be something else.

When Kincaid was nine, the first of her three brothers was

At a Glance

Born Elaine Potter Richardson, May 25, 1949, on St. Johns, Antigua, West Indies; immigrated to United States, 1966; daughter of a carpenter and Annie Richardson; married Allen Shawn (a composer); children: Annie, Harold. Education: Attended a community college in New York City and Franconia College, New Hampshire. Religion: Methodist.

Writer. Worked as a nanny in Scarsdale, NY, and as an au pair in New York City during the 1960s.

Selected awards: Morton Dauwen Zabel Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1983, for At the Bottom of the River; Ritz Paris Hemingway Award nomination, 1985, for Annie John.

Addresses: Home Bennington, VT. Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 19 Union Square W., New York, NY 10003.

born. Her Mothers focus shifted from her to the baby, and the additional mouth to feed only enhanced the familys poverty. I was thought I was the only thing my mother truly loved in the world, and when it dawned on me that it wasnt so, I was devastated, Kincaid told Harpers Bazaar. At almost the same time, Kincaid was beginning to mature. Separated from her mothers love, she took solace in reading, stealing books and hiding them under the front porch of her house. I was sullen, she remembered in the New York Times Magazine. I was always being accused of being rude, because I gave some back chat. I moved very slowly. I was never where I should be. I wasnt really angry yet. I was just incredibly unhappy.

Became Resentful of Subordination

Although most of the books she craved came from British authors, Kincaid was gaining an awareness of her status as a subject of white rule. This consciousness of subordination heightened her resentment. The author told the New York Times Magazine that none of her teachers recognized her potential as a student, and none of them offered her any praise or encouragement. It was a colonial situation, and everybody was angry, but nobody knew why, she said. So if I wrote a good essay, my teachers would just say, Ha! At least one of you did it right. I remember my teachers as very angry people.

Angry and bitter herself, Kincaid began to feel stifled by life on Antigua. I didnt know anyone who was as unhappy as I was, she stated in Essence. I felt different, but I didnt know that was alright. I just wanted to get out. I didnt know that I would.

In 1966, at the age of 17, Kincaid saw her opportunity and took it. She left Antigua to work as a nanny for a family in Scarsdale, New York. She told the New York Times Magazine that as the northbound airplane rose into the sky, she looked out the window at the island she was so determined to leave. I remember seeing it. How beautiful and small it was. I didnt know it was so small! she recounted. From the air it was just this tiny place. And it looked very green, whereas on the ground it looks very brown.

Kincaid decided to burn all her bridges. She refused to open letters from home and did not write any herself. When she left the job in Scarsdale after only a few months, she did not give a forwarding address. In fact, she would not return to Antigua for 19 yearsand by that time she was famous.

Became a New Yorker Contributor

From Scarsdale, Kincaid moved to New York City, where she took a position as an au pair, or live-in nanny, with a wealthy family. For three years she cared for the four children of writer Michael Arlen and attended night classes at a local community college to upgrade her island education. She received a high school equivalency diploma while working for the Arlen family and took photography courses at night. At the time, the idea of becoming a writer, of mining her past experiences and putting them into words, had not even occurred to her.

By 1970 Kincaid was dissatisfied with the menial jobs she was able to holdincluding a stint as a secretary in a photography studioand she accepted a full scholarship to Franconia College in New Hampshire. After only a year at the college, she returned to New York City, dyed her hair blonde, and began to conduct interviews for a magazine for teen-age girls. In 1973 she changed her name from Elaine Richardson to Jamaica Kincaid. The author told the New York Times Magazine that the name change was a way for me to do things without being the same person who couldnt do themthe same person who had all these weights.

Gradually Kincaid made friends among New Yorks literary community. One of these acquaintances, George Trow, was a contributor to the New Yorkers Talk of the Town column. Trow began to invite Kincaid along with him as he researched Talk of the Town pieces, and he even began to incorporate her observations into his column. Eventually, New Yorker editor William Shawn asked Kincaid to write a Talk of the Town piece of her own about the West Indian Day parade held annually in Brooklyn. She submitted the essay to Trow as notes from which he could craft a column. Instead, Trow gave the notes to Shawn, who published them in the New Yorker verbatim. When I saw it, and it was just what I had put on paper, Kincaid recalled in the New York Times Magazine, that is when I realized what my writing was. My writing was the thing that I thought. Not something else. Just what I thought.

Kincaid became a regular contributor to the New Yorker four years before she began to write fiction. When I first started to write, I had no money and slept on newspapers in an apartment, she told Essence. I used my money to buy a desk and a typewriter; I had nothingno shelf for my books or records. I didnt even have a chair to sit on, but I had a chair for my desk. At that desk, Kincaid eventually began to experiment with fiction, and a veritable dam burst when she set free her searing memories of her mother, herself as a child, and the island she had fled with such loathing.

A New Voice in Black Literature

Kincaids first story filled a single page of the New Yorker. Published on June 26, 1978, it was called Girl and consisted of a string of commands issued by a mother to her daughter. Other short stories followed, and by 1983 Kincaid released her first book-length collection, At the Bottom of the River. Critics such as Ms. correspondent Suzanne Freeman praised the work for its singsong style and its images that are as sweet and mysterious as the secrets that children whisper in your ear. Village Voice reviewer David Leavitt noted that the stories move with grace and ease from the mundane to the enormous, adding, Kincaids particular skill lies in her ability to articulate the internal workings of a potent imagination without sacrificing the rich details of the external world on which that imagination thrives. The collection won the prestigious Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Kincaid followed At the Bottom of the River with another collection of interrelated stories entitled Annie John. The pieces in Annie John revolve around a young girl in Antigua as she establishes independence from her mother, overcomes a serious illness, and decides to immigrate to England. New York Times Book Review contributor Susan Kenney observed that in the work Kincaid has packed a lot of valuable insight about the complex relationship between mothers and daughters.

Ironically, Kincaids relationship with her own mother failed to improve substantially over the years. The author told the New York Times Magazine that her mother has never taken me in as someone shed want to talk to in the world. Its really painful because some people might actually be rather proud of me. But it doesnt enter my mothers mind. She continued: It really is a mystery to me how I came to be the person I am.

For many years Kincaid has lived in Bennington, Vermont, with her husband, composer Allen Shawn, and her two children. A daughter, Annie, is named after Kincaids mother, but Kincaid told Essence that the relationship she shares with her daughter is far different from the one she endured with her own mother. We have a lot of intimacy, the kind that was never possible with my own mother. I want to see if its possible to be a strong person and still raise a healthy daughter.

Mothers and Daughters, Slavery and Rebellion

Kincaid returned to the subject of familial relationships and the colonial experience in her 1990 novel Lucy. The story is presented as the flashback of a young black woman who leaves the West Indies for the United States to work as an au pair for a wealthy but troubled white family. In a Los Angeles Times review, Richard Eder commented that Kincaid, whose life closely resembles that of her title character, has gone far beyond autobiography. At best, a biographical or autobiographical protagonist will be vivid and true. Lucy has ascended into fiction: She is vivid, true and necessary. Her voice in this harsh and graceful book tells us in the only possible wayat least while we are reading itwhat it is to be a colonized subject, a Third World sensibility in the United States, a child battling with her past and a woman battling with her identity.

Kincaid, who never changed her Antiguan citizenship, makes universal themes immediate. She addresses such topics as the insights of a black colonial subject in a Third World country, the scars of childhood inflicting wounds on an adult, and the search for identity and self-worth. The author remarked in Harpers Bazaar, Im just one of those pathetic people for whom writing is therapy.

Im someone who writes to save her life, Kincaid expressed in the New York Times Magazine. I mean, I cant imagine what I would do if I didnt write. I would be dead or I would be in jail becausewhat else could I do? I cant really do anything but write. All the things that were available to someone in my position involved being a subject person. And Im very bad at being a subject person. The author added that she never wants to be at peace, that she remains acutely aware ofand bitter abouther familys past as slaves, and she wants to continue to explore her feelings in art. Im never satisfied, she confided in USA Today. Im always complaining. And I hope I stay that way.

Selected writings

At the Bottom of the River (stories), Farrar, Straus, 1983.

Annie John (stories), Farrar, Straus, 1985.

A Small Place (nonfiction), Farrar, Straus, 1988.

Annie Gwenn Lilly Pam & Tulip, Knopf, 1989.

Lucy (novel), Farrar, Straus, 1990.

Contributor to New York magazine, 1976.

Sources

Books

Black Writers, Gale, 1989.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 43, Gale, 1987.

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal, October 21, 1990.

Essence, May 1991.

Harpers Bazaar, October 1990.

Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1990.

Ms., January 1984.

New York Times Book Review, January 15, 1984; October 28, 1990.

New York Times Magazine, October 7, 1990.

USA Today, November 8, 1990.

Village Voice, January 17, 1984.

Washington Post, November 2, 1991.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Kincaid, Jamaica

Jamaica Kincaid, 1949–, West Indian–American writer, b. Antigua as Elaine Potter Richardson. She immigrated to the United States at 16 and later became a U.S. citizen. Changing her name (1973), she became a New Yorker staff writer in 1976, working there until 1996. Kincaid first became known for her lush tales of Caribbean life—in her first short-story collection, At the Bottom of the River (1983), and in Annie John (1985), a semiautobiographical series of related stories that explore the complexity of mother-daughter connections. Her later fiction continues the style and themes of these works. Dark and personal, they often feature clear-eyed yet lyrical portraits of everyday reality in the postcolonial West Indies. Her novels include Lucy (1990), The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), Mr. Potter (2002), and the stream-of-consciousness, apparently semiautobiographical dissection of a marriage's dissolution, See Now Then (2013). Kincaid has also written nonfiction, notably A Small Place (1988), a long and angry essay on Antigua, and My Brother (1997), an incantatory memoir of her brother's death from AIDS. An enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener, she is also the author of many essays on the subject and of My Garden (Book) (1999).

See studies by M. Ferguson (1994), D. Simmons (1994), H. Bloom, ed. (1998), L. Paravisini-Gebert (1999), L. Golmore (2000), and S. A. J. Alexander (2002).

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Kincaid, Jamaica

KINCAID, Jamaica

Nationality: American. Born: Elaine Potter Richardson in St. John's, Antigua, 25 May 1949. Education: Princess Margaret girls' school, Antigua; New School for Social Research, New York; Franconia College, New Hampshire, Family: Married Allen Evan Shawn; one daughter and one son. Career: Since 1974 contributor, and currently staff writer, The New Yorker. Awards: American Academy Morton Dauwen Zabel award, 1984. Honorary doctorate: Williams College, 1991; Long Island College, 1991; Amherst College, 1995; Bard College, 1997; Middlebury College, 1998. Address: The New Yorker, 25 West 43rd Street, New York, New York 10036, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels

Annie John. New York, Farrar Straus, and London, Pan, 1985.

Lucy. New York, Farrar Straus, 1990; London, Cape, 1991.

The Autobiography of My Mother. New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1996.

Short Stories

At the Bottom of the River. New York, Farrar Straus, 1983; London, Pan, 1984.

Annie, Gwen, Lily, Pam, and Tulip, illustrated by Eric Fischl. NewYork, Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1986.

Talk Stories. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Autobiograph of a Dress," in Grand Street Magazine.

Other

A Small Place. New York, Farrar Straus, and London, Virago Press, 1988.

My Brother. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.

Poetics of Place (essay), photographs by Lynn Geesaman. New York, Umbrage Editions, 1998.

My Garden Book, illustrations by Jill Fox. New York, Farrar StrausGiroux, 1999.

Editor, with Robert Atwan, The Best American Essays 1995. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Editor, My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love. New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998.

*

Critical Studies:

Jamaica Kincaid: Where the Land Meets the Body by Moira Ferguson, Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1994; Jamaica Kincaid by Diane Simmons, New York, Twayne Publishers, 1994; Jamaica Kincaid, edited by Harold Bloom, Philadelphia, Chelsea House, 1998; Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion by Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1999.

* * *

Jamaica Kincaid is a talented writer, who has so far published five arresting books of fiction: At the Bottom of the River; Annie John; Lucy; Annie, Gwen, Lily, Pam, and Tulip; and The Autobiography of My Mother. Her nonfiction work includes an extended essay on her homeland, A Small Place; a meditation on her brother's 1996 death from AIDS, My Brother; and My Garden Book, which considers her particular relationship to gardening and the history of horticulture. Kincaid's work has been described variously as elegant, beguiling, gentle, graceful, dazzling, poetic, and lyrical.

Her fiction is sensuous, evocative, and sometimes erotic. The meanings are elusive in her first, second, and fourth books, and they emerge gradually from an almost hypnotic litany marked by repetition, echoes, and refrains as well as by brilliant descriptions of people, objects, and geography. The third book, Lucy, and Kincaid's most recent novel, The Autobiography of My Mother, depart from this style with their more direct prose. In the first two books Kincaid uses the narrative voice of a girl preoccupied with love and hate for a mother who caresses her only child one moment and then berates her as "the slut you are about to become." The child's father, thirty-five years older than her mother, is seldom with his wife and daughter and has had more than thirty children by various women, who jealously seek his wife's death through obeah rites. In the ten meditative sections of At the Bottom of the River, neither the child nor her homeland, Antigua, have names; in Annie John both do. In Annie John, Annie ages from ten to seventeen, giving the second book greater continuity and a more specific chronology. In both books the narrator describes her experiences and reflects upon them in monologues that complement one another but could stand separately. In both of these episodic works Kincaid achieves a degree of aesthetic unity through her careful and sparse selection of characters, an emphasis on the relative isolation of the child, a preoccupation with the mother/daughter relationship, and the use of a distinctive narrative voice. Kincaid reflects the childlike simplicity and apparent naiveté of the speaker, even while she conveys Annie John's sophisticated vision of her cultural milieu, her sexual awakening, her responses to nature, and her sensitivity to events, persons, and influences possessing symbolic overtones. Hypnotically talking to herself, Annie John uses parallel phrases reminiscent of biblical poetry. She is keenly receptive to sense impressionssounds, scents, and colors. These two books offer insight into the nature of a typical girl's growth to maturity, but they also offer analysis of an atypical and highly sensitive child as she moves inevitably toward psychological breakdown, which occurs when she is fifteen.

Annie John lives in constant conflict with her unpredictable mother. She must choose always to submit or to resort to lies, trickery, and even open rebellion. In both books, transitions from everyday school and home life into the psychic are lacking as Kincaid shifts abruptly from realistic depiction of the Caribbean milieu to disclosure of the child's dreams and fantasies. At the most intense crisis of her protagonist's experiences Kincaid approaches the mythic and archetypal. She projects the unusual and timeless aspects of the mother/daughter relationship as an alternate merging and separating of two spirits. Annie John also views the strength of a mature woman symbolicallyas the shedding of the skin, so that a woman stands up naked, vulnerable, and courageous before the world and leaves her protective covering rolled into a ball in the corner. The child in both books recites rules dictated by her mother, defining the female role in household routines and in social behavior. Some of these chants are ominous: "This is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you." The narrator in At the Bottom of the River parodies the commandments as she mischievously recites, "this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn't fall on you."

The protagonist in both books moves into the disordered and the surreal as in dreams she walks with her mother through caves, empty houses, and along the shores of the sea. She dreams of happy marriage to a "red woman," who seems to be her mother (or an idealized mother-substitute), who wears skirts "big enough to bury your head in," and who will make her happy by telling stories that begin with "Before you were born."

In At the Bottom of the River the most notable explorations of the visionary and contemplative mind of the child occur in the sections entitled "Wingless" and "My Mother" and most disturbingly in "Blackness." In Annie John the girl's narrative of her mental and physical breakdown, marked by hallucinations, appears in "The Long Rain," and her illness is concurrent with rain that continues for ten weeks. Annie John's mother and maternal grandmother treat her with medications supplied by a British physician, but they also usein spite of her father's objectionsvarious obeah potions and rituals. In her fantasy the child never loses all contact with reality. At the bottom of the river of her mind, trust exists as cold, hard, and uncompromising as rocks embedded below moving water. Moving into the surreal or unconscious, she does not quite abandon her world of household routine, the rigors of her life at school, or her sensitivity to the details of external nature. In the midst of a visionary passage, she startles the reader with a meditative statement based upon her observations of concrete realities: "I covet the rocks and the mountains their silence." On the closing page of At the Bottom of the River, the girl finds direction and substance, not so much in her visionary flights as in familiar objects: books, a chair, a table, a bowl of fruit, a bottle of milk, a flute made of wood. As she names these objects, she finds them to be reminders of human endeavor, past and present, though in themselves they are transient. She identifies herself as part of this endeavor as it betokens a never-ending flow of aspiration and creativity. She declares: "I claim these things thenmineand now feel myself grow solid and complete, my name filling up my mouth." Annie John admires the courage and wildness of an imaginary "red girl," whom her mother denounces. Near the close of Annie John, the girl moves away, implying that Annie John no longer needs this double. Such kinshipeven with an imagined role modeldetermines her positive self-identity in the last analysis as a human being and as a part of nature. As she leaves at seventeen to study nursing in England, she stands quietly and stoically on the ship, watching her mother become a mere dot in the distance.

The protagonist of Lucy similarly leaves Antigua at nineteen to become an au pair, caring for the children of a rich white couple in New York, and studying in night school, with nursing as a possible goal. Lucy Josephine Potter's mother is considered to be saintly, although Lucy suspects she angrily named her Lucifer at birth. Her father, like Annie John's, is a philanderer, with mistresses who have borne his many children and who jealously threaten his wife through obeah schemes. But Lucy, except for occasional moments in this novel, presents herself as a relatively unemotional, detached, and self-centered woman, far different from Annie John. Her tough cynicism may arise primarily from resentment of her parents and from her anger at what she perceives as an oppressive island background. She despises the negative impact on her education of historic British imperialism, the exploitation of the island's beauty by Antiguan promoters of tourism, and the corruption of Antiguan politicians. At home she was punished for her healthy refusal to regard Columbus as a hero for his part in the "discovery" of West Indies, and she suffered silently the failure of books and teachers to recognize black African heritage in Antiguan students.

In general, however, Lucy's emotional repression is so great that she is a far less vibrant character than Annie John, whose imagination, passion, amusing impudence, and open laughter and grief make her unforgettable. Annie John's sensitive response to surroundings transformed the most mundane and familiar objects into art, but Lucy in her new surroundings allows herself to notice and remember only a few selected scenes. Protectively, she closes her mind and heart to new people and events, as if to cut herself off from the future and the present. She has already cut herself off from the past in her refusal even to open any letters from home. Only for a moment does she feel guilt upon learning a month late of her father's death. She sends her penniless mother a little money, but no message, and then burns all the unread letters from home. Yet when Peggy, her Irish apartment-mate, speaks of having "outgrown" her parents, Lucy is startled. She thinks she has never known anyone who could think of parents as pests, rather than as people "whose presence you are reminded of with each breath you take." At such rare moments, Lucy reveals the difficulty with which she maintains her cold isolation from emotion and intimacy. In all of her relationships, she seeks to appear detached. When her employer, Mariah, who is forty confides that her marriage is breaking up, Lucy simply wants to declare, "Your situation is an everyday thing. Men behave in this way all the time. Men have no morals." Lucy contends she and Peggy have nothing in common except that they feel at ease when together. She manages to learn to love only one of the four children she cares for. Her companionship with Peggy and Peggy's sister lessens; her evenings with young men she meets at night school provide welcome and exciting sexual experience but no warmth and love. She remains always critical in evaluating their skill in arousing her but never viewing them as people worthy of love. On the last page we glimpse Lucy without her protective mask. She lies alone in her bed and on the first white page of a book Mariah has given her, she writes: "I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it." Her tears fall on the page and blur the words. Kincaid's writing stylea plain prose lacking the imagery, cadence, and brilliant descriptions of the earlier booksreinforces the rigidity of the mask that Lucy hides behind throughout most of the novel.

Kincaid's fourth book of fiction, Annie, Gwen, Lily, Pam, and Tulip, blends literature with visual art in the evocative meditations of five young women in this collaboration with the artist Eric Fischl. Kincaid's text and Fischl's full-page lithographs of the womennude, loosely draped, or shadowedappear on alternate pages in this beautifully designed fine-press book. Kincaid's interest in photography flourished in university night classes in New York before she began publishing stories, and in her effort to blend her writing with visual art, she feels kinship with Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and other modernists. The speeches of the five women resemble the style of At the Bottom of the River, and bear close resemblance also to the Song of Solomon in their relating of the beauty of women's bodies to nature imageryanimals, birds, mountains, and valleys. The influence of Woolf, particularly in The Waves, may also be evident. Though usually idyllic, the tone becomes ominous at times. As their thoughts dip into the unconscious, one senses their loving concern for one another, but the meanings are elusive and the abstraction of the poetic monologues seems to demand the abstraction of the visual artistry of Fischl's lithographs.

The Autobiography of My Mother continues Kincaid's charting of the interior lives of intelligent yet stifled women and their ambivalences about the choices they make. Via the now familiar form of a first-person monologue, seventy-year-old Xuela Claudette Richardson engages in an extended retrospective meditation on the direction of her life, and the choices she has made. While the title might suggest a narrative return to the conflicted mother/daughter relationships common in Kincaid's work, in fact in this novel the exploration of mothering is fundamentally different, in its complete absence of mothers as characters. The novel opens with Kincaid "killing off" the narrator's mother: "My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity." Furthermore, Xuela refuses to bear children, recognizing that: "I would bear children, but I would never be a mother to them I would destroy them with the carelessness of a god." Her aborting of her pregnancy then, is not a refusal of the unborn child, but an acknowledgement of her inability to engage in the act of mothering. Like all of Kincaid's fiction there is an element of the autobiographical at the center of her fictional plot; in this instance it is her belief that her mother should not have had children. However, The Autobiography of My Mother should not be dismissed as a mere therapeutic exerciseit is far more compelling. Like Lucy, Xuela longs for love, but the only person to whom she extends her love is her mother. Others she is unable to sustain connections with, and in old age she admits: "All the people I knew intimately from the beginning of my life died. I should have missed their presence but I did not." Emotionally distant, Xuela admits growing "to love not loving my father" and in another instance admits to the reader that this act of withholding is not passive: "He did not look like anyone I could love, and he did not look like anyone I should love, and so I determined then that I could not love him and I determined that I should not love him." Whether Xuela's inability to love anyone who exhibits the imperfections of humanity is a response to her childhood is almost irrelevant; the novel is about how Xuela asserts herself and her independence in the face of her inherited lot. Vivid characterization and mesmerizing lyrical prose chart her development from an observant child to an introspective adult, her relationships with others entering, but never defining, her life story. If, as some observe, Kincaid is continually rewriting the story of the difficulties of moving from childhood to womanhoodnegotiating sexuality, power, colonialism, patriarchy, and other forcesthen in the elderly Xuela she brings that story to a close for the first time. Yet as the novel ends, and Xuela is alone contemplating her life, there is no sense of an unqualified resolution in her life. Instead the novel reproduces the ambivalence common to all of Kincaid's endings, as Xuela asserts "Since I do not matter, I do not long to matter, but I matter anyway."

All the definitive themes of Kincaid's fiction are reworked in her nonfiction, which assumes the musing circular style of her novels. Her fierce criticism of colonialism and its legacy assumes full force in A Small Place, where she takes aim at the legacy of colonialism, as well as the continuing imperial exploitation of Antigua via tourism, and the failure of Independence to take seriously the needs of the people. Cultural exchange, Kincaid argues, must be measured and weighed, bringing the nation to task for adopting Europe's emphasis on capitalism instead of that on education. Likewise, My Garden Book, examines the cultural exchange of gardening via colonialism, and the history of attempts at cultivation in, or exportation from, foreign climes. Exceptionally perceptive, Kincaid examines the function of gardens as sites of luxury, and as repositories of history and memory, sometimes oppressive. While Kincaid favors hollyhocks, for instance, as a cousin of the cotton plant they elicit memories of childhood labor, and the institution of slavery. However, for Kincaid, memory is inescapable, and any event can generate an opportunity for exploration of the past and both its personal and larger meanings. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Kincaid's My Brother, where the dying of her brother becomes an opportunity to revisit the fraught familial relations that haunt much of her writing. A return not only to the past, the moving memoir is also a return to the "what might have been" had she not found greater opportunities elsewhere, or perhaps if her brother had. While Kincaid's nonfiction prose is powerful enough to stand as such, these personal meditations also read as powerful companions to her works of fiction.

Margaret B. McDowell,

updated by Jennifer Harris

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Kincaid, Jamaica

Kincaid, Jamaica

May 25, 1949


Born Elaine Potter Richardson in St. Johns, Antigua, author Jamaica Kincaid moved to New York at the age of sixteen, ostensibly to become a nurse. Working first as an au pair and then at other odd jobs, she spent brief periods studying photography at New York's School for Social Research and at Franconia College in New Hampshire. She began her career as a writer by conducting a series of interviews for Ingénue. From 1974 to 1976 she contributed vignettes about African-American and Caribbean life to The New Yorker. In 1976 she became a staff writer for The New Yorker, which two years later published "Girl," her first piece of fiction. Most of Kincaid's fiction has first appeared in the magazine, for which she also began to write a gardening column in 1992.

Kincaid's first volume of stories, At the Bottom of the River (1983), has a dreamlike, poetic character. Her early interest in photography, evident in this volume, also undergirds the rest of her work with its emphasis on condensed images. The choice of the short-story form allows her to isolate moments of heightened emotion. Published separately, the stories that make up the novel Annie John (1985) string such brief glimpses together to explore a defiant Annie's growing up in Antigua and especially her relationship to her mother. Themes of mother-daughter conflict are central to Kincaid's work and can be extended into metaphorical relations, such as that between the Caribbean island and those who leave it. For those who visit it, A Small Place (1988) is an extended essay on contemporary Antigua, an essay directed toward the tourist. Its tone is alternately cynical and wise, its information painful to accept, but its characteristically careful wording entices the reader as much as any poster of island beauty. Lucy (1990) combines the vigor of this Antiguan commentary and the embryonic artistic sensibility of Annie John into an extended allegory of the colonial relation set in the contemporary period. Lucy Josephine Potter, a young woman from the Caribbean entrusted with caring for four blond children, brazenly charges through her new world until the blank page confronts her with the fragility of her own identity.

Kincaid's colorful personality and life history, perhaps best exemplified in the selection of her assumed name, propel critical interest in her biography. Like many black writers, especially women, she is burdened both with the expectation that she will represent not merely herself but her community and with the assumption that her stories will be true and factual. The insistent presence of the first person in Kincaid's work is a challenge to that combined requirement. Filtering every perception through an individual, even selfish, lens, her stories are not autobiography; only the depth of feeling is. Kincaid has maintained that she is uninterested in literary realism. Borne by her plain-speaking prose, her audacious girl/woman protagonists gain an audience they might never have gotten in life.

Kincaid lives in Bennington, Vermont, with her husband and children. She has taught creative writing at Bennington College and continues to write, publishing My Garden Book in 1999, Talk Stories in 2001, Mr. Potter in 2002, and Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya in 2005.

See also Caribbean/North American Writers, Contemporary; Literature

Bibliography

Bloom, Harold, ed. Jamaica Kincaid. New York: Chelsea House, 1998.

Cudjoe, Selwyn R. "Jamaica Kincaid and the Modernist Project: An Interview." In Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference. Wellesley, Mass.: Calaloux Publications, 1990, pp. 215232.

Murdoch, H. Adlai. "Severing the (M)other Connection: The Representation of Cultural Identity in Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John." Callaloo 13, no. 2 (spring 1990): 325340.

Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Simmons, Diane. Jamaica Kincaid. New York: Macmillan, 1994.

gina dent (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005

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Kincaid, Jamaica

KINCAID, Jamaica

Born Elaine Potter Richardson, 25 May 1949, St. John's, Antigua

Daughter of Annie Richardson; married Allen Shawn, 1979; children: Annie, Harold

Until she was sixteen, Jamaica Kincaid spent her life on the nine-by-twelve-mile island of Antigua. Her father was a carpenter; her mother ran the household and became the dominant figure in Kincaid's childhood. Kincaid excelled in her government schools and was an avid reader and library user. However, she felt stifled and isolated on her small island, and at sixteen she left for New York City as an au pair. Realizing she would need a high school diploma, she obtained one in New York and subsequently attended Franconia College for one year. She then moved back to New York City and began writing. With the publication of her first story in 1973, she changed her name from Elaine Potter Richardson to Jamaica Kincaid.

In the mid-1970s Kincaid became a staff writer for the New Yorker, where editor William Shawn provided immense help and support. Ten of the stories she wrote for the magazine became her first book, At the Bottom of the River (1983). Kincaid married Shawn's son Allen and in 1985 the couple moved to North Bennington, Vermont. They have two children, and Kincaid divides her life between her family, writing at home, and giving lectures and readings.

Kincaid's books closely reflect her island culture and experience, and are a blend of fiction and autobiography. Her fictional style has progressed from the dreamlike images in her early stories to a more linear narrative form in the novels Annie John (1985) and Lucy (1990). Her voice, however, remains uniquely lyrical and exotic. Often her sentences repeat phrases in musiclike cadences, lulling the reader into Kincaid's very special poetic rhythms. Critics have heard in her work the voices of Caribbean folktales.

At the Bottom of the River begins with her most frequently anthologized story, "The Girl," a one-page sentence of combative dialogue between mother and daughter. This love-hate relationship continues in others of these stories and throughout Kincaid's work. Fantastic folklike images appear and disappear: a mother becomes a lizard, yet she also makes her daughter a mat from her own hair. The book is both a child's nightmare and a vision of bliss and innocence. As in all of Kincaid's writing the sense of place and the rhythms and colors of the Caribbean are powerful.

Annie John, a penetrating look at a perceptive and vulnerable adolescent's world, recollects similar childhood images and themes, but is written in a simpler, more narrative style. The intimacy ten-year-old Annie feels with her mother evolves into anger and fear as Annie is told by her mother that she can no longer be "a little me." She rebels, trying on new "forbidden" relationships, deciding finally to depart from her island home. The end of the novel finds her on a boat headed north.

Antigua is seen from a different, and far more bitter perspective in A Small Place (1988), a work of nonfiction. The reader is a tourist, the "you" of the essay who plucks the beauty of the island, yet remains blind to the reality of its poverty and foreign domination. Kincaid describes Antigua as a "prison of beauty" where, despite the end of slavery and the departure of the English "criminals," political corruption persists. She sees little hope for positive change.

Kincaid's anger continues to ferment in her second novel, Lucy (1990), told through the eyes of a young woman newly arrived from "an island" and now an au pair to four blond sisters. Lucy's penetrating observations of the family's white world relentlessly uncover their mirages and self-deception. She sees the family's white culture as domineering, both within their home and as far-reaching as the domination of her own island, and suffers as she discovers she is just as detached from this family as she was from her own. Lucy remains critical and separate. Her mother's letters are unopened, and even after her father's death, she chooses to stay away from her mother. At novel's end, she begins to write.

Kincaid's career has developed and expanded into new forms in the early 1990s, including an adaptation of a Chekhov short story for public television. She has also written for the newly revamped journal Transitions and continues to publish frequently in the New Yorker.

Whereas her previous novels portrayed a mother who was cruel, selfish, willful, and only sporadically capable of maternal love from the daughter's point of view, in Autobiography of My Mother (1996), the mother tells her own story. The title, however, is somewhat misleading; the narrator's mother died in childbirth, and though that mother is endlessly grieved, it is not her story. Rather it is Xuela Claudette Richardson's story, the story of a fertile woman who chooses not to bear children. Kincaid has explained that although she is glad to have been born, she believes her own mother should never have had children, and with this book Kincaid created an alternate life story for her mother.

As she recounts her anguish and loss-filled childhood in Dominica, her colonial schooling, and her first sexual experiences, the only emotion Xuela allows herself is contempt. Exercising her incredible will, Xuela creates herself, but the act of creation is one of negation as she defines what she won't do or be. Her pivotal act of self-definition is a messy, painful, self-inflicted abortion. Autobiography ends with Xuela in her 70s; she has surmounted all obstacles, submitted to no one, and her hatred is unabated.

In My Brother, her 1997 memoir tracing the life and death of her brother in Antigua, Kincaid embraces a much wider range of emotions. This is another story of family and its inescapable pull, and at the center, once again, is a formidable mother figure. Again Kincaid expresses her ambivalence toward the Caribbean, its beauty, poverty, and distorted sexuality. And of course the story's familiar heroine, the daughter who flees, is Kincaid herself.

Critics welcomed the emotional breadth of My Brother and praised Kincaid's unsparing honesty. As Kincaid follows the arc of her brother's life, she examines her emotions with scientific precision, seeking to identify and name each one. "Love always feels better than not-love," she says, but she decides her own intense feelings for her brother, disguised by anger, are finally less than love. Kincaid's language continues to dazzle. Corresponding to the nonlinear nature of memory, she writes long, lyrical, looping sentences whose rhythm and tone are most often described as "incantatory." My Brother is ultimately Kincaid's own story of what might have been. As she compares her life to her brother's, she recognizes how her own ruthlessness in cutting herself off from the life of her childhood was what saved her.

In recent years Kincaid has turned her obsessive attention to gardening. In 1998 she edited the anthology My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love. She is also working on a book about her own garden.

Bibliography:

Perry, Donna, "An Interview with Jamaica Kincaid," in Reading Black, Reading Feminist, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed. (1990).

Reference works:

CA 125 (1989). CLC (1987, 1991). Contemporary Novelists (1986). CB (March 1991). FC (1990).

Other references:

Bennington Banner (27 April 1991). Commonweal (4 Nov. 1988). Missouri Review (1992). Nation (18 Feb. 1991). NYT (7 Oct. 1990, 16 Jan. 1996). NYTBR (4 Feb. 1996, 19 Oct. 1997). Salon (13 Jan. 1996). Slate (21 Oct. 1997). WRB (Nov. 1985).

—SUSAN SWAN,

UPDATED BY VALERIE VOGRIN

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Kincaid, Jamaica

Kincaid, Jamaica

Personal

Born Elaine Potter Richardson, May 25, 1949, in St. Johns, Antigua; daughter of a carpenter/cabinet maker and Annie Richardson; married Allen Shawn (a composer and professor at Bennington College), 1979; children: Annie, Harold. Education: Studied photography at New School for Social Research (now New School University); attended Franconia College. Religion: Jewish.

Addresses

Home—P.O. Box 822, North Bennington, VT 05257.

Career

Novelist, journalist, essayist, and author of short stories. New Yorker, New York, NY, staff writer, 1976-95. Visiting professor, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Awards, Honors

Morton Dauwen Zabel Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1983, for At the Bottom of the River; honorary degrees from Williams College and Long Island College, both 1991, and Colgate University, Amherst College, and Bard College; Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund annual writer's award, 1992; National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction finalist, PEN Faulkner Award finalist, and Boston Book Review Fisk Fiction Prize, 1997, all for The Autobiography of My Mother; National Book Award nomination, 1997, for My Brother.

Writings

At the Bottom of the River (short stories), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.

Annie John (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1985.

Annie, Gwen, Lilly, Pam, and Tulip ("Artists and Writers" series), lithographs by Eric Fischl, Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), 1986.

A Small Place (essays), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.

Lucy (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.

The Autobiography of My Mother (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.

My Brother, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.

(Author of introduction) Generations of Women: In Their Own Words, photographs by Mariana Cook, Chronicle Books, 1998.

(Editor and author of introduction) My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Lynn Geesaman) Poetics of Place (essay), photographs by Geesaman, Umbrage (New York, NY), 1998.

My Garden (Book) (essay), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

Talk Stories (essays), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.

Mr. Potter, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to books, including Snapshots: Twentieth-Century Mother-Daughter Fiction, David Godine (Boston, MA), 2000; and Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, Invisible Cities Press, 2000. Contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker and Architectural Digest. Recordings include Jamaica Kincaid Interview with Kay Bonetti, American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO), 1991; Jamaica Kincaid Reads Annie John (The Red Girl Section), At the Bottom of the River (Girl and My Mother Sections), and Lucy (Excerpts), American Audio Prose Library, 1991; and Jamaica Kincaid Reading Her Short Story At the Bottom of the River, Library of Congress Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, 1995.

Sidelights

Jamaica Kincaid gained wide acclaim with her first two works, At the Bottom of the River and Annie John. In these and other books about life on the Caribbean island of Antigua, where she was born, Kincaid employs a highly poetic literary style celebrated for its rhythms, imagery, characterization, and elliptic narration. As Ike Onwordi wrote in the Times Literary Supplement: "Kincaid uses language that is poetic without affectation. She has a deft eye for salient detail while avoiding heavy symbolism and diverting exotica. The result captures powerfully the essence of vulnerability." "Everyone thought I had a way with words, but it came out as a sharp tongue," Kincaid recalled to Leslie Garis in the New York Times Magazine. "No one expected anything from me at all. Had I just sunk in the cracks it would not have been noted. I would have been lucky to be a secretary somewhere." As a teen Kincaid—whose given name was Elaine Potter Richardson—left the rural island to become an au pair in New York City. By the time she returned, almost twenty years later, she had become a successful writer for the New Yorker magazine under her chosen name.

Kincaid was born and raised in Antigua, a West Indian island once under British rule. Kincaid's father was a carpenter and her mother kept house, occupations typical for the island's inhabitants. "I grew up on an island in the West Indies which has an area of a hundred and eight square miles," the author recalled in the New Yorker. "On the inland were many sugarcane fields.... There were cotton fields, but there were not as many cotton fields as there were sugarcane fields. There were arrowroot fields and tobacco fields, too, but there were not as many arrowroot fields and tobacco fields as there were cotton fields."

A Troubled Childhood

Young Kincaid attended government schools on Antigua. As a student, she was considered a bright troublemaker. "I was sullen," she recalled to Garis. "I was always being accused of being rude, because I gave some back chat. I moved very slowly. I was never where I should be. I wasn't really angry yet. I was just incredibly unhappy."

As Kincaid grew into early adolescence, her internal anger was also cultivated. Through a love of reading, however, the author found expression. She told Garis: "When I was a child I liked to read. I loved Jane Eyre especially and read it over and over. I didn't know anyone else who liked to read except my mother, and it got me in a lot of trouble because it made me into a thief and a liar. I stole books, and I stole money to buy them.... Books brought me the greatest satisfaction. Just to be alone, reading, under the house, with lizards and spiders running around." Even though she did not know precisely what it was she longed for, Kincaid was overwhelmed by a desire to escape life as she knew it. "I thought, if only I can get out of here, I will live forever," she told Emily Listfield in an interview for Harper's Bazaar. "I believed I could handle anything other than the life that was expected of me."

With the agreement of her parents, Kincaid left her native Antigua at the age of sixteen to make a new life for herself in New York City. When she arrived in the United States Kincaid found a job with an affluent family in Scarsdale, New York, but soon left to be an au pair for another wealthy, white couple on the city's upper East Side. Although she had hoped to attend college at night, the author found out—to her dismay—that her educational background was insufficient. She took up photography instead at the New School for Social Research, and eventually won a scholarship to study photography at Franconia College, although she never completed her degree. Referring to her ill-fated attempts to obtain a college diploma, Kincaid told Patricia T. O'Conner in the New York Times Book Review: "College . . . was such a dismal failure. I just educated myself, if that's possible."

In an interview with Selwyn R. Cudjoe for Caribbean Women Writers, Kincaid discussed her early education and how she discovered writing: "We were taught to read from Shakespeare and Milton when I was five. They were read to us while we sat under a tree." Because of this emphasis on long-dead authors, Kincaid admitted that she "didn't know that people were still writing. I somehow thought that writing had been this great [thing] . . . and that it had stopped. I thought that all the great writing had been done before 1900. Contemporary writers just didn't exist. . . . I never wanted to be a writer because I didn't know that any such thing existed."

Reinvents Herself as a Writer

Kincaid told Cudjoe that she changed her name because she "had always hated [it] and wanted to change it, but it was only when I started to write and actually started to sign my name to things that I decided I just couldn't do this. Since my family disapproved of my writing, it was easy for me to change names." As to the name "Jamaica," the author admitted: "It wasn't really anything meaningful. By the time I decided to change my name, that part of the world had become very remote to me. It was a kind of invention: I wouldn't go home to visit that part of the world, so I decided to recreate it. 'Jamaica' was symbolic of that place. I didn't come from Jamaica. I changed my name before Jamaica became fashionable—at least, before I wasawareofit....[Kincaid] just seemed to go with it."

Kincaid eventually began to submit articles to various magazines; two of her pieces were published in 1975. After her name appeared in a New Yorker "Talk of the Town" column written by her friend George Trow, Kincaid was invited to meet the magazine's editor, William Shawn. "They took me to lunch at the Algonquin," she recalled for Listfield in Harper's Bazaar. "I was very poor, and I ordered the most expensive dish on the menu. At the end of lunch, Mr. Shawn suggested I give writing a try myself." Kincaid composed an article about a West Indian parade she and Trow had seen. To the author's great shock, the story was accepted for publication with no editing. Kincaid told Garis, "When I saw [the article], and it was just what I had put on paper, that is when I realized what my writing was. My writing was the thing that I thought. Not something else. Just what I thought." After this first piece appeared, Kincaid became a regular contributor to the New Yorker, and in fact married into the magazine in 1979 when she wed Shawn's son, Allen Shawn.

Along with the articles for the "Talk of the Town" column in the New Yorker, Kincaid began to write fiction. She vividly recalled that early experience for Listfield: "I was living in a house on Hudson Street; I remember how the light was on the building next door. The afternoon light was a light purple, mauvish pink. One Sunday afternoon I just sat down at the typewriter and wrote 'Girl,' and it was just my mother's voice. I showed it to my husband and he said, 'This is great.' But I didn't care if it was great. I just knew that was what I would write. Suddenly, I knew how to say what I wanted to say. It hadn't always been so."

First Published Story Collection

"Girl," published in the New Yorker, became the first of ten "stories" or "fictional narratives" that were eventually published together under the title At the Bottom of the River. In this collection, Kincaid shows an imposing capacity for detailing life's mundane aspects. This characteristic of her writing is readily evident in the oft-cited tale "Girl," which consists almost entirely of a mother's orders to her daughter: "Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil . . . ; on Sundays try to walk like a lady, and not like the slued you are so bent on becoming." Anne Tyler, in a review for New Republic, declared that this passage provides "the clearest idea of the book's general tone; for Jamaica Kincaid scrutinizes various particles of our world so closely and so solemnly that they begin to take on a nearly mystical importance." "The Letter from Home," also from At the Bottom of the River, serves as further illustration of Kincaid's style of repetition and her penchant for the mundane. In this tale a character recounts her daily chores in such a manner that the story resembles an incantation: "I milked the cows, I churned the butter, I stored the cheese, I baked the bread, I brewed the tea," Kincaid begins. In Ms., Suzanne Freeman cited this tale as evidence that Kincaid's style is "akin to hymnsinging or maybe even chanting." Freeman added that Kincaid's "singsong style" produces "images that are as sweet and mysterious as the secrets that children whisper in your ear."

With the publication of At the Bottom of the River, Kincaid was hailed as an important new voice in American fiction. Edith Milton wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Kincaid's tales "have all the force of illumination, and even prophetic power," and David Leavitt noted in the Village Voice that they move "with grace and ease from the mundane to the enormous." He added that "Kincaid's particular skill lies in her ability to articulate the internal workings of a potent imagination without sacrificing the rich details of the external world on which that imagination thrives." Doris Grumbach expressed similar praise in a review for the Washington Post Book World. She declared that the world of Kincaid's narrators "hovers between fantasy and reality," and she asserted that Kincaid's prose "results not so much in stories as in states of consciousness." Grumbach also noted that Kincaid's style, particularly its emphasis on repetition, intensifies "the feelings of poetic jubilation Kincaid has . . . for all life."

Publishes Coming-of-Age in Stories

That exuberance for life is also evident in Kincaid's second book, Annie John, which contains interrelated stories about a girl's maturation in Antigua. In Annie John the title character evolves from a young girl to an aspiring nurse and from innocent to realist: she experiences her first menstruation, buries a friend, gradually establishes a life independent of her mother, and overcomes a serious illness. She is ultimately torn by her pursuit of a career outside her life in Antigua, and Kincaid renders that feeling so incisively that, as Elaine Kendall noted in her review for the Los Angeles Times, "you can almost believe Kincaid invented ambivalence." Critically acclaimed as a coming-of-age novel, Annie John was praised by several reviewers for expressing qualities of growing up that transcend geographical locations. "Her work is recollections of childhood," Paula Bonnell remarked in the Boston Herald. "It conveys the mysterious power and intensity of childhood attachments to mother, father and friends, and the adolescent beginnings of separation from them." Susan Kenney, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted Kincaid's protagonist's ambivalence about leaving behind her life in Antigua and declared that such ambivalence is "an inevitable and unavoidable result of growing up." Kenney concluded that Kincaid's story is "so touching and familiar . . . so inevitable [that] it could be happening to any of us, anywhere, any time, any place. And that's exactly the book's strength, its wisdom, and its truth."

Kincaid's second novel, Lucy, is a first-person narrative in which nineteen-year-old Lucy not only expresses feelings of rage, but struggles with separation from her homeland and especially her mother. Lucy is about a young woman from Antigua who comes to an unnamed American city to work as an au pair girl. She is employed by a wealthy, white couple—Mariah and Lewis—to take care of their four young daughters. In the Washington Post Book World, Susanna Moore commented: "Lucy is unworldly. She has never seen snow or been in an elevator.... Written in the first person, [the novel] is Lucy's story of the year of her journey—away from her mother, away from home, away from the island and into the world." Richard Eder mused in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the "anger of Lucy . . . is an instrument of discovery, not destruction. It is lucid and cool, but by no means unsparing." The novel ends with Lucy writing in a journal given to her by Mariah, the woman for whom she works, and weeping over the very first line: "'I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it.' And then as I looked at this sentence a great wave of shame came over me and I wept and wept so much that the tears fell on the page and caused all the words to become one great blur." Eder ended his review saying, "she will turn the page and go on writing." Thulani Davis, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called Kincaid "a marvelous writer whose descriptions are richly detailed; her sentences turn and surprise even in the bare context she has created, in which there are few colors, sights or smells and the moments of intimacy and confrontation take place in the wings, or just after the door closes.... Lucy is a delicate, careful observer, but her rage prevents her from reveling in the deliciousness of a moment. At her happiest, she simply says, 'Life isn't so bad after all.'"

The Autobiography of My Mother

The Autobiography of My Mother, Kincaid's third novel, follows her previous fictional efforts in its West Indies setting and vivid, poetic prose. The book's narrator, Xuela, is an elderly woman who recounts her difficult life, beginning with the death of her mother at Xuela's birth. In what reviewers termed a chilling, unsparing tone, Xuela describes her childhood abuse at the hands of a stepmother; the corruption of her father, a policeman; and the abortion of her unborn child, after she realizes that the baby is intended for the baby's father and his barren wife. At the end of the novel, the narrator calls her account a story of the mother she never knew, of her unborn baby, and of "the voices that should have come out of me, the faces I never allowed to form, the eyes I never allowed to see me," as quoted by Dale Peck in the London Review of Books. As with Kincaid's earlier works, The Autobiography of My Mother received significant critical praise, especially for the author's lyrical writing style. "Kincaid has written a truly ugly meditation on life in some of the most beautiful prose we are likely to find in contemporary fiction," averred Cathleen Schine in the New York Times Book Review. Maclean's reviewer Diane Turbide concurred, noting, "Kincaid employs an almost incantatory tone, using repetition and unusual syntax to give the book a hypnotic rhythm." Peck found some problems with the novel, writing that "the prose is lovely . . . and, I would argue, distinctly, beautifully American, yet the sentiments expressed by the words themselves are trite, falsely universalising, and often just muddled." However, Time reviewer John Skow explained that "the reward here, as always with Kincaid's work, is the reading of her clear, bitter prose." The Autobiography of My Mother was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1997.

With her memoir, My Brother, Kincaid recounts the last years of life of her stepbrother, Devon Drew, who died of AIDS in January of 1996 at the age of thirty-three. Kincaid left the island of Antigua when her brother was three years old; when she returned they had become strangers to each other, and she only learned about her brother's bisexuality after his death. In My Brother Kincaid slowly reveals other revelations: that her brother was a drug addict and that he had served time in prison for his involvement in a murder. "When Drew makes what appears to be a miraculous recovery as a result of the AZT that Kincaid has been able to import from America," explained Diane Simmons in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "he returns to a life of drugs and random sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, as little concerned for the well-being of others as for his own. He makes no attempt to earn a living or undertake any adult responsibilities but continues to live with his mother despite their mutual antagonism. Although Kincaid has drawn a portrait of a man whose life is fundamentally rotten, she also shows that it was not inevitable that it be this way."

While My Brother presents a complex portrait of the author's sibling, it also explores Kincaid's own reactions to her brother's life and death. The book returns to ground that was made familiar in Kincaid's earlier works, offering another look at Antigua, which here she describes as homophobic, and revisiting her difficult relationship with her mother, who is now seen as failing in her childrearing role. As with her previous works, reviewers pointed to Kincaid's distinctive writing style. Anna Quindlen, writing in the New York Times Book Review noted that Kincaid's "endless incantatory sentences [serve as] a contrast to the simple words and images—a tower built of small bricks." Even though Quindlen pointed out that "the unadorned, often flat style of Kincaid's prose can occasionally feel perfunctory," the critic argued that "its great advantage is that within the simple setting the observations glow." Regarding the narrative structure of My Brother, Gay Wachman in the Nation maintained that "the lucid, assertive, deceptively simple voice takes its time in fleshing out the figures of the memoir, both in their present and in the past, circling around Devon and the multiple meanings of his life, illness and death." Referring to "the measured and limpid simplicity of her prose," Deborah E. McDowell in the Women's Review of Books linked My Brother to earlier works by the author in declaring that "despite the grimness of her work, few writers have made the aesthetics of death and darkness more luminous than has Jamaica Kincaid."

Continues to Probe Family Drama

In 2002 Kincaid returned to writing about her family in the novel Mr. Potter, a fictionalized account of her father's life. Abandoned by his parents, her father never learned to read or write. He worked as a chauffeur on the island of Antigua, and also fathered numerous children out of wedlock, none of whom he acknowledged or helped to raise. Paul Evans in Book admitted that "we're given a main character with whom it's nearly impossible to sympathize." Narrated by "an Antiguan woman who imagines the impoverished childhood and inner life of the father she hardly knows," in the words of an Entertainment Weekly reviewer, Kincaid tells her story in a poetic, repetitive language of almost hypnotic power. Evans noted that "Kincaid is a fierce, idiosyncratic stylist, piling up emphatic sentences to achieve a mesmerizing poetry." The novelist actually met her own father only once, when he visited her after she became a success as a writer. She explained in Black Issues Book Review that the idea for the novel "came to me in thinking about my mother. The more I thought of her life, and how it was that I grew up without knowing this person that she loathed and who was my father, the more I wanted to write this book. Here was a person she absolutely detested. She never introduced me to him and he never had any interest in me." "In writing his story," claimed Allison Lynn in People, "Jamaica Kincaid makes him unflinchingly real." A Publishers Weekly critic called Mr. Potter an "unsentimental, unsparing meditation on family and the larger forces that shape an individual's world."

If you enjoy the works of Jamaica Kincaid

If you enjoy the works of Jamaica Kincaid, you might want to check out the following books:

Tsi Tsi Dagarembga, Nervous Conditions, 1988, 3rd edition, 2003.

Anita Desai, Baumgarnter's Bombay, 1988.

Buchi Emcheta, Joys of Motherhood, 1979.

Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark, 1934.

Ending her affiliation with the New Yorker in 1995 when the magazine's direction began to shift under the controversial editorship of Tina Brown, Kincaid has continued to write fiction, while also publishing several collections of essays. Another of her loves, gardening, has also found its way into her writing as analogies between the botanical world and the human world become apparent. In a speech she gave at Smith College's "Gardens and Memory" symposium in the fall of 1995 that was published in Harper's, Kincaid remarked: "Accounts of the history and development of botanical gardens begin with men who have sworn to forsake the company of women and who have attached themselves to other things: the pursuit of only thinking, contemplating the world as it is or ought to be, and, as a relief from that or complementary to that, the capture, isolation, and imprisoning of plants." Reflecting on the vision and work involved in creating a botanical garden, Kincaid further noted: "perhaps every good thing that stands before us comes at a great cost to someone else."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Black Literature Criticism, Volume 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.

Bloom, Harold, editor, Jamaica Kincaid, Chelsea House (New York, NY), 1998.

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 43, 1987, Volume 68, 1991.

Cudjoe, Selwyn R., editor, Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference, Callaloo, 1990.

Dance, D. Cumber, editor, Fifty Caribbean Writers, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1986.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 157: Twentieth-Century Caribbean and Black African Writers, Third Series, 1996, Volume 227: American Novelists since World War II, Sixth Series, 2000.

Ferguson, Moira, Jamaica Kincaid: Where the Land Meets the Body, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1994.

Kincaid, Jamaica, At the Bottom of the River, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.

Kincaid, Jamaica, Lucy, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.

Kincaid, Jamaica, The Autobiography of My Mother, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.

Kincaid, Jamaica, My Brother, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.

Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth, Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1999.

Simmons, Diane, Jamaica Kincaid, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.

PERIODICALS

Advertising Age, February 12, 1996, p. 19.

Advocate, December 9, 1997, p. 82.

American Visions, April, 1991, p. 36.

Architectural Digest, May, 2002, "Jamaica Kincaid: Her Best Friend Provokes Her to Write about Her Garden," p. 74.

Atlanta Journal, October 21, 1990.

Atlantic, May, 1985, p. 104.

Black Issues Book Review, July-August, 2002, Kim McLarin, review of Mr. Potter, p. 34.

Book, May-June, 2002, Paul Evans, "The Man Who Wasn't There," p. 72.

Booklist, November 1, 1995, p. 449; December 1, 1995, p. 587; January 1, 1996, p. 868; September 1, 1997, p. 5; August, 1998, p. 1946; May 1, 1999, p. 1571; September 15, 1999, p. 210; November 15, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Talk Stories, p. 586; March 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Mr. Potter, p. 1052.

Boston Herald, March 31, 1985.

Boston Magazine, May, 2002, Susanna Baird, review of Mr. Potter, p. 254.

Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 1985.

CLA Journal, March, 2000, K. B. Conal Byrne, "Under English, Obeah English: Jamaica Kincaid's New Language," pp. 276-277.

Commonweal, November 4, 1988, p. 602.

Emerge, March, 1996, p. 60; November, 1997, p. 100.

Entertainment Weekly, February 9, 1996, p. 49; January 17, 1997, p. 59; November 7, 1997, p. 80; December 3, 1999, p. 94; May 17, 2002, review of Mr. Potter, p. 68.

Essence, May, 1991, p. 86; March, 1996, p. 98; May, 2002, "First Person Singular," p. 108.

Harper's, April, 1996, p. 28.

Harper's Bazaar, October, 1990, p. 82; January, 1996, p. 66.

Hudson Review, autumn, 1996, p. 483.

Interview, October, 1997, p. 94.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of Mr. Potter, p. 280.

Library Journal, April 1, 1985, p. 158; January, 1986, p. 48; July, 1988, p. 88; December 1, 1989, pp. 118; November 1, 1990, p. 125; February 15, 1995, p. 196; October 15, 1995, p. 61; January, 1996, p. 142; June 15, 1996, p. 105; October 1, 1997, p. 94; January 1998, p. 164; October 1, 1999, p. 125; April 1, 2002, Lyle D. Rosdahl, review of Mr. Potter, p. 140.

Listener, January 10, 1985.

London Review of Books, February 6, 1997, p. 25.

Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1985.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 21, 1990.

Maclean's, May 20, 1985, p. 61; April 8, 1996, p. 72.

Mother Jones, September-October, 1997, p. 28.

Ms., January, 1984, p. 15; April, 1985, p. 14; January-February 1986, p. 90.

Nation, June 15, 1985, p. 748; February 18, 1991, p. 207; February 5, 1996, p. 23; November 3, 1997, p. 43.

Natural History, May, 1999, p. 16.

New Republic, December 31, 1983.

New Statesman, September 7, 1984, p. 33; September 20, 1985, p. 30; October 11, 1996, p. 45.

New Statesman & Society, October 7, 1988, p. 40.

Newsweek, October 1, 1990, p. 68; January, 1996, p. 62.

New York, January 22, 1996, p. 52.

New Yorker, December 17, 1990, p. 122.

New York Review of Books, August 15, 2002, Darryl Pinckney, review of Mr. Potter, p. 22.

New York Times Book Review, January 15, 1984, p. 22; April 7, 1985, p. 6; May 25, 1986, p. 24; December 7, 1986, p. 82; July 10, 1988, p. 19; October 28, 1990, p. 11; December 2, 1990, p. 16; February 4, 1996, p. 5; October 19, 1997, p. 7; December 5, 1999, p. 10.

New York Times Magazine, October 7, 1990, p. 42.

People, September 26, 1988, p. 37; November 5, 1990, p. 40; February 19, 1996, p. 27; October 20, 1997, p. 46; December 15, 1997, p. 109; January 24, 2000, p. 41; June 24, 2002, Allison Lynn, review of Mr. Potter, p. 39.

Publishers Weekly, October 14, 1983, p. 45; February 15, 1985, p. 86; August 17, 1990, p. 50; October 2, 1995, p. 67; October 9, 1995, p. 75; January 1, 1996, p. 54; April 1, 1996, p. 38; August 4, 1997, p. 53; August 31, 1998, p. 57; December 6, 1999, p. 67; December 13, 1999, p. 46; March 11, 2002, review of Mr. Potter, p. 49.

Saturday Review, June, 1985, p. 68.

School Library Journal, September, 1985, p. 154.

Time, February 5, 1996, p. 71; November 10, 1997, p. 108.

Times Literary Supplement, November 29, 1985; September 20, 1996, p. 22.

Village Voice, January 17, 1984.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1985.

Vogue, December, 1983, p. 62.

Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1985; February, 1996, p. 11.

Washington Post, April 2, 1985; November 2, 1991.

Washington Post Book World, October 7, 1990.

Women's Review of Books, January, 1998, p. 1; September, 2002, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, review of Mr. Potter, p. 11.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1985.

ONLINE

Salon.com,http://www.salon.com/ (February 16, 2004), Dwight Garner, interview with Kincaid.*

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Kincaid, Jamaica

KINCAID, Jamaica

KINCAID, Jamaica. American (born Antigua-Barbuda), b. 1949. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, Essays. Career: New Yorker mag., NYC, contributor, 1974-. Publications: At the Bottom of the River (short stories), 1984; Annie John (novel), 1985; A Small Place (essays), 1988; Lucy (novel), 1990; The Autobiography of My Mother; My Brother, 1997; My Garden (Book), 1999; Talk Stories, 2001; Mr. Potter, 2002. Address: c/o The New Yorker, 4 Times Sq, New York, NY 10036, U.S.A.

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Kincaid, Jamaica 1949–

Kincaid, Jamaica 1949–

PERSONAL: Born Elaine Potter Richardson, May 25, 1949, in St. Johns, Antigua; daughter of a carpenter/cabinet maker and Annie Richardson; married Allen Shawn (a composer and professor); children: Annie Shawn, Harold. Education: Studied photography at New School for Social Research (now New School University); attended Franconia College. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 822, North Bennington, VT 05257.

CAREER: Writer. New Yorker, New York, NY, staff writer, 1976–95. Visiting professor, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

AWARDS, HONORS: Morton Dauwen Zabel Award, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1983, for At the Bottom of the River; honorary degrees from Williams College and Long Island College, both 1991, and Colgate University, Amherst College, and Bard College; Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund annual writer's award, 1992; National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for fiction, PEN Faulkner Award finalist, and Boston Book Review Fisk Fiction Prize, all 1997, all for The Autobiography of My Mother; National Book Award nomination, 1997, for My Brother.

WRITINGS:

At the Bottom of the River (short stories), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.

Annie John (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1985.

Annie, Gwen, Lilly, Pam, and Tulip ("Artists and Writers" series), lithographs by Eric Fischl, Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), 1986.

A Small Place (essays), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.

Lucy (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.

The Autobiography of My Mother (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.

My Brother, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.

(Author of introduction) Generations of Women: In Their Own Words, photographs by Mariana Cook, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1998.

(Editor and author of introduction) My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

Poetics of Place (essay), photographs by Lynn Geesaman, Umbrage (New York, NY), 1998.

My Garden (Book) (essay), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

Talk Stories (essays), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.

Mr. Potter, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to books, including Snapshots: Twentieth-Century Mother-Daughter Fiction, D. Godine (Boston, MA), 2000; and Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, Invisible Cities Press (Montpelier, VT), 2000. Contributor to periodicals, including New Yorker and Architectural Digest. Recordings include Jamaica Kincaid Interview with Kay Bonetti, American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO), 1991; Jamaica Kincaid Reads Annie John (The Red Girl Section), At the Bottom of the River (Girl and My Mother Sections), and Lucy, American Audio Prose Library, 1991; and Jamaica Kincaid Reading Her Short Story At the Bottom of the River, Library of Congress Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, 1995.

SIDELIGHTS: Jamaica Kincaid gained wide acclaim with her first two works, At the Bottom of the River and Annie John. In these and other books about life on the Caribbean island of Antigua, where she was born, Kincaid employs a highly poetic literary style celebrated for its rhythms, imagery, characterization, and elliptic narration. As Ike Onwordi wrote in Times Literary Supplement: "Kincaid uses language that is poetic without affectation. She has a deft eye for salient detail while avoiding heavy symbolism and diverting exotica. The result captures powerfully the essence of vulnerability."

In an interview with Leslie Garis for New York Times Magazine, Kincaid noted of her island childhood, "Everyone thought I had a way with words, but it came out as a sharp tongue. No one expected anything from me at all. Had I just sunk in the cracks it would not have been noted. I would have been lucky to be a secretary somewhere." When she was seventeen years of age, Kincaid, whose given name was Elaine Potter Richardson, left the rural island to become an au pair in New York City. By the time she returned to Antigua almost twenty years later, she had become a successful writer for New Yorker magazine under her chosen name.

In her first collection of stories, At the Bottom of the River, Kincaid shows an imposing capacity for detailing life's mundane aspects. This characteristic of her writ-ing is readily evident in the oft-cited tale "Girl," which consists almost entirely of a mother's orders to her daughter: "Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil …; on Sundays try to walk like a lady, and not like the slued you are so bent on becoming." Anne Tyler, in a review for New Republic, declared that this passage provides "the clearest idea of the book's general tone; for Jamaica Kincaid scrutinizes various particles of our world so closely and so solemnly that they begin to take on a nearly mystical importance." "The Letter from Home," also from At the Bottom of the River, serves as further illustration of Kincaid's style of repetition and her penchant for the mundane. In this tale a character recounts her daily chores in such a manner that the story resembles an incantation: "I milked the cows, I churned the butter, I stored the cheese, I baked the bread, I brewed the tea," Kincaid begins. In Ms., Suzanne Freeman cited this tale as evidence that Kincaid's style is "akin to hymn-singing or maybe even chanting." Freeman added that Kincaid's "singsong style" produces "images that are as sweet and mysterious as the secrets that children whisper in your ear."

With the publication of At the Bottom of the River Kincaid was hailed as an important new voice in American fiction. Edith Milton wrote in New York Times Book Review that Kincaid's tales "have all the force of illumination, and even prophetic power." David Leavitt noted in Village Voice that the author's stories move "with grace and ease from the mundane to the enormous," and added that "Kincaid's particular skill lies in her ability to articulate the internal workings of a potent imagination without sacrificing the rich details of the external world on which that imagination thrives." Doris Grumbach expressed similar praise in her review for Washington Post Book World by declaring that the world of Kincaid's narrators "hovers between fantasy and reality." Kincaid's prose "results not so much in stories as in states of consciousness," Grumbach noted, adding that the author's style, particularly its emphasis on repetition, intensifies "the feelings of poetic jubilation Kincaid has … for all life."

This exuberance for life is also evident in Kincaid's second book, Annie John, which contains interrelated stories about a girl's maturation in Antigua. In Annie John the title character evolves from a young girl to an aspiring nurse and from innocent to realist: she experiences her first menstruation, buries a friend, gradually establishes a life independent of her mother, and overcomes a serious illness. She is ultimately torn by her pursuit of a career outside her life in Antigua, and Kincaid renders that feeling so incisively that, as Elaine Kendall noted in her review for Los Angeles Times, "you can almost believe Kincaid invented ambivalence." Critically acclaimed as a coming-of-age novel, Annie John was praised by a number of reviewers for expressing qualities of growing up that transcend geographical locations. Noting the book's vivid "recollections of childhood," Paula Bonnell remarked in Boston Herald that Annie John "conveys the mysterious power and intensity of childhood attachments to mother, father and friends, and the adolescent beginnings of separation from them." Susan Kenney, writing in New York Times Book Review, noted Annie John's ambivalence about leaving behind her life in Antigua and declared that such ambivalence is "an inevitable and unavoidable result of growing up." Kenney concluded that Kincaid's story is "so touching and familiar … so inevitable [that] it could be happening to any of us, anywhere, any time, any place. And that's exactly the book's strength, its wisdom, and its truth."

Kincaid's novel Lucy is a first-person narrative in which the nineteen-year-old title character not only expresses feelings of rage, but struggles with separation from her homeland and especially her mother. Lucy is a young woman from Antigua who comes to an unnamed American city to work as an au pair. She is employed by a wealthy, white couple, Mariah and Lewis, to take care of their four young daughters. In Washington Post Book World, Susanna Moore commented: "Lucy is unworldly. She has never seen snow or been in an elevator…. Written in the first person, [the novel] is Lucy's story of the year of her journey—away from her mother, away from home, away from the island and into the world." Richard Eder mused in Los Angeles Times Book Review that Lucy's "anger … is an instrument of discovery, not destruction. It is lucid and cool, but by no means unsparing." The novel ends with Lucy writing in a journal given to her by Mariah, the woman for whom she works, and weeping over the very first line: "'I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it.' And then as I looked at this sentence a great wave of shame came over me and I wept and wept so much that the tears fell on the page and caused all the words to become one great blur."

In a discussion of Lucy, Derek Walcott commented in New York Times Magazine about Kincaid's identification with issues that thread through all people's lives: "That relationship of mother and daughter—today she loves her mother, tomorrow she hates her, then she admires her—that is so true to life, without any artificial-ity, that it describes parental and filial love in a way that has never been done before. [Kincaid's] work is so full of spiritual contradictions clarified that it's extremely profound and courageous." Thulani Davis, writing in New York Times Book Review, called Kincaid "a marvelous writer whose descriptions are richly detailed; her sentences turn and surprise even in the bare context she has created, in which there are few colors, sights or smells and the moments of intimacy and confrontation take place in the wings, or just after the door closes…. Lucy is a delicate, careful observer, but her rage prevents her from reveling in the deliciousness of a moment. At her happiest, she simply says, 'Life isn't so bad after all.'"

The Autobiography of My Mother follows Kincaid's two previous fictional efforts in its West Indies setting and vivid, poetic prose. The book's narrator, Xuela, is an elderly woman who recounts her difficult life, beginning with the death of her mother at Xuela's birth. In what reviewers have termed a chilling, unsparing tone, Xuela describes her childhood abuse at the hands of a stepmother; the corruption of her father, a policeman; and her decision to abort her unborn child after she realizes the baby is intended for its father and his barren wife. At the end of the novel, the narrator calls her account a story of the mother she never knew, of her unborn baby, and of "the voices that should have come out of me, the faces I never allowed to form, the eyes I never allowed to see me," as quoted by Dale Peck in London Review of Books.

As with the author's earlier works, The Autobiography of My Mother received significant critical praise, especially for Kincaid's lyrical writing style. "Kincaid has written a truly ugly meditation on life in some of the most beautiful prose we are likely to find in contemporary fiction," averred Cathleen Schine in New York Times Book Review. Maclean's reviewer Diane Turbide concurred, noting, "Kincaid employs an almost incantatory tone, using repetition and unusual syntax to give the book a hypnotic rhythm." Several reviewers commented that the author's striking prose is not matched by the novel's thematic development. Schine noted, "There is … something dull and unconvincing about Xuela's anguish." According to Peck, "The prose is lovely … and … distinctly, beautifully American, yet the sentiments expressed by the words themselves are trite, falsely universalising, and often just muddled." In contrast, Time reviewer John Skow stated of The Autobiography of My Mother: "The reward here, as always with Kincaid's work, is the reading of her clear, bitter prose."

Comparing Kincaid's work to that of Toni Morrison and Wole Soyinka, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., told Emily Listfield in Harper's Bazaar that "There is a self-contained world which they [each] explore with great detail. Not to chart the existence of that world, but to show that human emotions manifest themselves everywhere." Gates cited as an important contribution by Kincaid that "she never feels the necessity of claiming the existence of a black world or a female sensibility. She assumes them both. I think it's a distinct departure that she's making, and I think that more and more black American writers will assume their world the way that she does. So that we can get beyond the large theme of racism and get to the deeper themes of how black people love and cry and live and die. Which, after all, is what art is all about."

In Mr. Potter Kincaid spins a story about an illiterate chauffer who fathers numerous children with various women and abandons them all. The idea is based on Kincaid's own profligate father, showing the author once again blurring the lines between truth and fiction in her novels. As Donna Seaman noted in Booklist, "Kincaid cares little about the distinction between fiction and nonfiction since all of her incantatory yet thorny works are insistently self-referential." In an interview with Kim McLarin for Black Issues Book Review, Kincaid said the idea came to her while she was thinking about her mother. "The more I thought of her life," Kincaid told McLarin, "and how it was that I grew up without knowing this person that she loathed and who was my father, the more I wanted to write this book. Here was a person she absolutely detested. She never introduced me to him and he never had any interest in me. Although when I became a well-known [author], he came to visit me. When he found me not interested in the idea of his being my dad, he actually disinherited me. It's in his will."

A native Antiguan of African descent, the fictional Mr. Potter leads a predictable and unimaginative life. The book's narrator is one of his many illegitimate children, but Potter has no emotional connection to her and little attachment to anything else in his life. The narrator perseveres, however, in conjuring a connection with her past by bringing her father's life into some type of focus. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that, "As in her previous books, Kincaid has exquisite control over her narrator's deep-seated rage, which drives the story but never overpowers it and is tempered by a clear-eyed sympathy." Lyle D. Rosdahl, writing in Library Journal, called Mr. Potter "vivid and affecting reading." In a review for Book, Paul Evans called the novel "astonishing and baffling, infuriating and gorgeous." Rosdahl also noted that the main character is almost entirely unsympathetic but added that Kincaid manages "to sum-mon up in us a genuine pathos for the man and, more so, his daughter. The author does this with word torrents that build and crest, plunging us mercilessly into the emptiness of Potter's life."

With her memoir My Brother, Kincaid recounts the last years of life of her brother, Devon Drew, who died of AIDS in January of 1996 at the age of thirty-three. Kincaid left the island of Antigua when her brother was age three; when she returns they are strangers to each other, and she only learns of his bisexuality after his death. Kincaid reveals that during the period in which she bought medication for him, her brother was still engaging in unprotected sex. The reader also learns that her brother was a drug addict and that he had served time in prison for his involvement in a murder. While My Brother provides a portrait of the author's sibling, it also explores Kincaid's own reactions to her brother's life and death. The book also returns to ground made familiar in Kincaid's novels, offering another look at Antigua, which the author describes in My Brother as homophobic, and revisiting her problematic relationship with her mother.

As with the author's previous works, reviewers pointed to her distinctive writing style. Anna Quindlen in New York Times Book Review noted that Kincaid's "endless incantatory sentences [are] a contrast to the simple words and images—a tower built of small bricks." Even though she pointed out that "the unadorned, often flat style of Kincaid's prose can occasionally feel perfunctory," Quindlen argued that "its great advantage is that within the simple setting the observations glow." Regarding the memoir's narrative structure, Gay Wachman in Nation maintained that "the lucid, assertive, deceptively simple voice takes its time in fleshing out the figures of the memoir, both in their present and in the past, circling around Devon and the multiple meanings of his life, illness and death." Referring to "the measured and limpid simplicity of her prose," Deborah E. McDowell in Women's Review of Books linked My Brother to earlier works by the author in declaring that "despite the grimness of her work, few writers have made the aesthetics of death and darkness more luminous than has Jamaica Kincaid."

In addition to her autobiographical fiction and nonfiction, Kincaid has produced several books on gardening. As the editor and author of introduction of My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love, she creates an "enchanting…. fascinating compilation," according to Booklist contributor Brad Hooper. My Favorite Plant contains "thirty-five brief essays and poems" and is, judged a Publishers Weekly critic, "often beautiful, though some of its parts are not as radiant as others, and a few have yet to blossom."

Published in 1999, My Garden (Book) consists of a "personable and brightly descriptive, if somewhat rambling, book-length essay" that "shuttles constantly and with ease between the practical, technical difficulties of gardening and … larger meanings," observed a writer for Publishers Weekly. Alice Joyce, writing in Booklist, added that "Kincaid's views extend beyond the musings found in your usual garden journal." The author pairs "smart-mouth observations" with "intriguing autobio-graphical tidbits." Noting that Kincaid's "personality pervades the writing" in My Garden (Book), Daniel Starr remarked in Library Journal that the author "may be crank, but she is always entertaining." Kincaid reveals "her love-hate relationship with gardening" in this "robust hybrid of memoir and gardener's journal," stated Megan Harlan in an Entertainment Weekly assessment of My Garden (Book).

Kincaid's Talk Stories collects several "Talk of the Town" essays she wrote for the New Yorker from 1978 to 1983. The pieces were written before she became a well-known writer, and only one of them had her byline when published in the magazine. Nancy P. Shires, writing in Library Journal, noted, "The hallmarks of her style are seen developing here: the close observation of the mundane, use of repetition, lyrical and rhythmic qualities, elliptical narration, and ambivalence, experimentation, and humor." The "Talk of the Town" pieces cover a wide range of topics, befitting the diverse city that it focuses on, from New York City's West Indian-American Day carnival to the haunts of the rich and famous. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "an astounding display of early literary skill and youthful daring," while Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, called the volume "Great fun to read" and "a literary feast of dishes both salty and sweet, bracing and voluptuous."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Black Literature Criticism, Volume 2, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.

Bloom, Harold, editor, Jamaica Kincaid, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1998.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 43, 1987, Volume 68, 1991.

Cudjoe, Selwyn R., editor, Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference, Callaloo (Wellesley, MA), 1990.

Ferguson, Moira, Jamaica Kincaid: Where the Land Meets the Body, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1994.

Kincaid, Jamaica, At the Bottom of the River, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.

Kincaid, Jamaica, Lucy, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.

Kincaid, Jamaica, The Autobiography of My Mother, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.

Simmons, Diane, Jamaica Kincaid, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.

PERIODICALS

Advertising Age, February 12, 1996, p. 19.

Advocate, December 9, 1997, p. 82.

American Visions, April, 1991, p. 36.

Atlantic, May, 1985, p. 104.

Black Issues Book Review, March, 2001, Robert Fleming, review of Talk Stories, p. 67; July-August, 2002, Kim McLarin, review of Mr. Potter, p. 34.

Book, May-June, 2002, Paul Evans, review of Mr. Potter, p. 72.

Booklist, November 1, 1995, p. 449; December 1, 1995, p. 587; January 1, 1996, p. 868; September 1, 1997, p. 5; August, 1998, p. 1946; May 1, 1999, p. 1571; September 15, 1999, p. 210; November 15, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Talk Stories, p. 586; March 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Mr. Potter, p. 1052.

Boston Herald, March 31, 1985, Paula Bonnell, review of Annie John.

Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 1985.

CLA Journal, March, 2000, K.B. Conal Byrne, "Under English, Obeah English: Jamaica Kincaid's New Language," pp. 276-277.

Commonweal, November 4, 1988, p. 602.

Emerge, March, 1996, p. 60; November, 1997, p. 100.

Entertainment Weekly, February 9, 1996, p. 49; January 17, 1997, p. 59; November 7, 1997, p. 80; December 3, 1999, p. 94.

Essence, May, 1991, p. 86; March, 1996, p. 98; May, 2001, "First Person Singular" (interview), p. 108.

Harper's Bazaar, October, 1990, p. 82; January, 1996, p. 66; April, 1996, p. 28.

Hudson Review, autumn, 1996, p. 483.

Interview, October, 1997, p. 94.

Library Journal, April 1, 1985, p. 158; January, 1986, p. 48; July, 1988, p. 88; December 1, 1989, p. 118; November 1, 1990, p. 125; February 15, 1995, p. 196; October 15, 1995, p. 61; January, 1996, p. 142; June 15, 1996, p. 105; October 1, 1997, p. 94; January 1998, p. 164; October 1, 1999, p. 125; October 15, 2000, Nancy P. Shires, review of Talk Stories, p. 70; April 1, 2002, Lyle D. Rosdahl, review of Mr. Potter, p. 140.

Listener, January 10, 1985.

London Review of Books, February 6, 1997, Dale Peck, review of The Autobiography of My Mother, p. 25.

Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1985, Elaine Kendall, review of Annie John.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 21, 1990.

Maclean's, May 20, 1985, p. 61; April 8, 1996, p. 72.

Mother Jones, September-October, 1997, p. 28.

Ms., January, 1984, p. 15; April, 1985, p. 14; January-February 1986, p. 90.

Nation, June 15, 1985, p. 748; February 18, 1991, p. 207; February 5, 1996, p. 23; November 3, 1997, p. 43.

Natural History, May, 1999, p. 16.

New Republic, December 31, 1983, Anne Tyler, review of At the Bottom of the River.

New Statesman, September 7, 1984, p. 33; September 20, 1985, p. 30; October 11, 1996, p. 45.

New Statesman & Society, October 7, 1988, p. 40.

Newsweek, October 1, 1990, p. 68; January, 1996, p. 62.

New York, January 22, 1996, p. 52.

New Yorker, December 17, 1990, p. 122.

New York Times Book Review, January 15, 1984, p. 22; April 7, 1985, p. 6; May 25, 1986, p. 24; December 7, 1986, p. 82; July 10, 1988, p. 19; October 28, 1990, p. 11; December 2, 1990, p. 16; February 4, 1996, p. 5; October 19, 1997, p. 7; December 5, 1999, p. 10; May 12, 2002, Sophie Harrison, review of Mr. Potter, p. 7.

New York Times Magazine, October 7, 1990, p. 42.

People, September 26, 1988, p. 37; November 5, 1990, p. 40; February 19, 1996, p. 27; October 20, 1997, p. 46; December 15, 1997, p. 109; January 24, 2000, p. 41; June 24, 2002, review of Mr. Potter, p. 394.

Publishers Weekly, October 14, 1983, p. 45; February 15, 1985, p. 86; August 17, 1990, p. 50; October 2, 1995, p. 67; October 9, 1995, p. 75; January 1, 1996, p. 54; April 1, 1996, p. 38; August 4, 1997, p. 53; August 31, 1998, p. 57; December 6, 1999, p. 67; December 13, 1999, p. 46; January 15, 2001, review of Talk Stories, p. 61; March 11, 2002, review of Mr. Potter, p. 49.

Saturday Review, June, 1985, p. 68.

School Library Journal, September, 1985, p. 154.

Time, February 5, 1996, p. 71; November 10, 1997, p. 108.

Times Literary Supplement, November 29, 1985; September 20, 1996, p. 22.

Village Voice, January 17, 1984.

Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1985.

Vogue, December, 1983, p. 62.

Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1985; February, 1996, p. 11.

Washington Post, April 2, 1985.

Washington Post Book World, October 7, 1990, Doris Grumbach, review of At the Bottom of the River.

Women's Review of Books, January, 1998, Deborah E. McDowell, review of My Brother, p. 1.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1985.

ONLINE

Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (April 9, 2004), Dwight Garner, interview with Kincaid.

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