Friday, October 16, 2015

Jamaica Kincaid: Literary Genius

(Taken from Google Images)

 “I was afraid of the dead, as was everyone I knew. We were afraid of the dead because we never could tell when they might show up again.” (Annie John)  These words made me salivate and I was filled with hunger to learn more of such a strange, yet intriguing character. It was summer time, school didn’t even begin as yet, but I could mouth the quotes as my teacher spoke in her high pitched voice when we resumed lessons. My love affair began with Annie John, and I would carefully read the novel while taking care not to let the tell-tale of curry stain the white, clean pages.  But I was filled with desire to know who was the master mind and literary genius behind Annie John.

Her name is Jamaica Kincaid, she bears my Island’s name and indeed her writing reflects the colorfulness, vibrancy and rich diversity found only in the Caribbean. She was born Elaine Richardson in 1949 in Antigua, the same setting in the novel Annie John. Like her character Annie John, she was said to have a rude attitude and a trouble maker. In Annie John, the character wanted to move somewhere where no one knew her and could not contact, which Jamaica did, she moved to New York at 17, and like Annie John, she cut off her family for 20 years.

She had no aspiration to become a writer, which is surprising as she holds you with powerful descriptions and language as rich as the greenery of the mountain side and powerful as the heat from the penetration of the Caribbean sun. She changed her name to Jamaica because she feared her family would disapprove her writing, but who could really mock work so detailed that you feel the caress of the breeze she described or the unhappiness the character felt could send you spiraling into depression, waiting for the rain to end and set Annie John free.

Jamaica got her first piece, a short story published in the New Yorker, and while working there she met Ted Shawn and they were joined in holy matrimony in 1979.  After that she published ‘At the bottom of the river,” and my favorite, Annie John in 1985. Annie John was well received for its rhythmic language, and a theme centered on the mother-daughter relationship. Kincaid mentions that her writing is “auto-biographical,” which is obvious after reading her autobiography, her own mother is even named Annie, and her father is a carpenter, like Annie John And as Earnest Hemmingway states “No subject is terrible , if the prose is clean and honest and if it affirms grace and courage under pressure.”

In a turn of events, Kincaid became an enemy in the literary world for her novel “A small place,” a novel about oppression by colonizers. The New Yorker did not want to publish her work, because of its less than inviting tone. Even though her pieces became controversial, the power she held for writing was still being applauded. According to Brad Goldfarb in Interview, her work is "an almost ruthless desire to get at the truth" she came back with a tone that matched the gentle gurgling of a river, the songs of birds in the morning with a collection of essays called “my garden.” Although, nearly all her works are short, they never lack luster and displays an active voice that can’t be ignored. 

Kincaid still writes at her home in Bennington and teaches creative writing at Bennington College and Harvard University. Her current life reflects her rebirth like that of the conclusion of Annie John “I went back to my cabin and lay down on my berth. Everything trembled as if it had a spring at its very center. I could hear the small waves lap-lapping around the ship. They made an unexpected sound, as if a vessel filled with liquid had been placed on its side and now was slowly emptying out.” 

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