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Jamaica Kincaid

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Jamiaca Kincaid

Few writers set the boundary between poetry and prose as eloquently and elegantly as Jamaica Kincaid does. Born on the island of Antigua, she has become one of the most influential and important authors of post colonial writing today. Jamaica Kincaid was born as Elaine Potter Richardson, in 1949 in St. John's, Antigua. At first, as an only child, Kincaid maintained a close relationship with her mother until the age of nine, when the first of her three brothers were born. The growing size of the family not only brought about a more in depth sense of their poverty, but also enhanced Kincaid's growing sense of isolation from her mother and her environment. Kincaid's mother was unresponsive and often abusive and shipped her off to the United States at 17 to be an au pair (Kincaid insists on the word "servant" to describe her employment status during her interviews). New York Times Magazine journalist Leslie Garis writes, "Kincaid has never gotten over the betrayal she felt when she began to suffer from her mother's emotional remoteness" (Garis40). In Antigua, she completed her secondary education under the British system due to Antigua's status as a British colony until 1967.

At the age of 17, with a growing dislike for her family and a rising contempt for the subservience of the Antiguans to British colonialist rule, Kincaid left Antigua, bound for New York and a job as an au pair. After working for three years and taking night classes at a community college, Kincaid won a full-scholarship to Franconia College in New Hampshire. However, after a year of feeling "too old to be a student,"(Garis 55) Kincaid dropped out of school, returned to New York, got a job writing interviews for a teen-age girls magazine, and in 1973 changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid. Changing her name was, as Kincaid says, "a way for [her] to do things without being the same person who couldn't do them -- the same person who had all these weights"(Garis, 53). Kincaid, unencumbered by the "weights" of her past, began to write. Kincaid was "discovered" on the streets of Manhattan by New Yorker columnist George Trow, who made her a free lance journalist in the magazine by printing one of her articles in the "Talk of the Town" section. As a result, Kincaid met the editor of the magazine, William Shawn, who offered her a job. Kincaid later married Shawn's son, Allen, a composer and Bennington College professor, and they presently have two children. Kincaid then became a celebrated fiction writer (with such books as Annie John, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother) and gardening columnist.

Facts about Antigua and its History

Antigua is an island in the Eastern Caribbean chain. Antigua has an area of 108 square miles (280 square kilometers). Antigua is an island of both volcanic origin and sedimentary rock (limestone) formation. Its jagged coastline is over 90 miles (145 kilometers) long, producing hundreds of beautiful white sand beaches, bays, and coves. Barbuda is of limestone formation and very flat. The highest point on the island rises to only 128 feet (39 meters). The capital of this state is Saint John's, which is located at the northwestern end of Antigua. The language spoken by the vast majority of Antiguans is a creole, often referred to as Antiguan creole.

The other language is standard English, which is the official language and the language of instruction. This linguistic situation derives from the colonial history of the nation, which was one of 350 years of near continuous British rule. The emergence of Antigua as an independent nation was the result of the union of a number of international currents with the local struggles for decolonization. The turning point in this history of anti-colonial struggle was the series of peasant/worker insurrections that occurred in the Caribbean between 1935 and 1939. The Afro-Antiguans in the cultural life of the society, is a history of race/ethnic relations that systematically excluded them. Forced to "immigrate" as slaves, Africans started arriving in Antigua in large numbers during the 1670s. Very quickly they came to constitute the majority of the population. As they entered the population, Africans were profoundly discriminated against. The political institutions of Antigua and Barbuda have gone through three basic stages: a period of colonial plantocratic democracy (1623-1868), a phase of colonial authoritarianism (1868-1939), and a period of liberal democracy (1940- present). Since the enactment of universal suffrage in 1951, elections have been contested every five years without major interruptions. But because of informal pressures and ways of accumulating power, the political system has oscillated between periods of one-party and two-party dominance, with the latter occurring from 1943 to 1967, and the former in two periods: 1968-1980 and 1992 to the present.

"Antigua and "Jamaica"

Kincaid's literary "voice" is deeply rooted in her experiences as a child in her native Antigua and her bitter relationship with her mother. Kincaid's upbringing left little room for fantasies of grandiose living, because of the extreme poverty of post colonial West Indian natives of her time. Growing up under the colonial rule of England instilled in her a tragic perspective that echoes through all of her writing. Says Kincaid, "I never give up thinking about the way I came into the world, how my ancestors came from Africa to the West Indies as slaves. I just never forget it. It's like a big wave that's still pulsing." Kincaid has always maintained distaste for the postcolonial culture from which her upbringing occurred. "Antigua is a small place, a small island...It was settled by Christopher Columbus in 1493. Not too long after, it was settled by human rubbish from Europe, who used enslaved by noble and exalted human beings from Africa...to satisfy their desire for wealth and power, to feel better about their own miserable existence, so that they could be less lonely and empty- a European disease" (Vorda 80-81).

Antigua became self-governing in 1967, but did not achieve the status of an independent nation within the Commonwealth until 1981. Within the structure of the British educational system imposed upon Antiguans, Kincaid grew to "detest everything about England, except the literature" (Vorda 79). She felt first-hand the negative effects of British colonialism as the colonists attempted to turn Antigua "into England" and the natives "into English" without regard for the native culture or homeland (Kincaid

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