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Biography of Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid (b. 1949) was born and educated in St. Johns, Antigua, in the West Indies. Her father was a carpenter, and her family doted on her, the only child. Kincaid left Antigua to study in the United States, but she found college "a dismal failure," so she educated herself. She began writing and published her stories in Rolling Stone, the Paris Review, and The New Yorker, where she became a staff writer in 1978. Six years later she published her first book, At the Bottom of the River, a collection of stories that won the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1985 Annie John, her book of interrelated stories about a girl’s coming of age in the West Indies, was also much praised. In her autobiographical writing, Kincaid often explores the idea that her deep affection for her family and her native country developed into a conflicting need for separation and independence as she grew up.

Typically, Kincaid writes in a deliberately precise rhythmic style about intense emotions, as in her story “Girl” (1978). Her fiction is free from conventional plots, characters, and dialogue. The critic Suzanne Freeman has recognized that “what Kincaid has to tell me, she tells, with her singsong style, in a series of images that are as sweet and mysterious as the secrets that children whisper in your ear.” Although Kincaid is married to an American and lives in Vermont, she feels that the British West Indies will continue to be the source of her fiction. “What I really feel about America is that it’s given me a place to be myself—but myself as I was formed somewhere else.” A Small Place (1988), another book about the West Indies, was described by the novelist Salman Rushdie as “a jeremiad of great clarity and a force that one might have called torrential were the language not so finely controlled.” Her latest books are Lucy (1990), The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), and My Brother (1997).

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