Jamaica Kincaid was born in the West Indies on the island of Antigua. She has a very distinct prose style and voice: it is approachable but also lyrical, image-driven, and will endure the test of time. She has spent three decades distinguishing herself from male Caribbean authors. She writes autobiographical fiction that delves into complex subjects such as mother-daughter relationships, colonialism’s effects and consequences, and her general sense of alienation. Her literary works transcend racial and gender barriers to reach a global audience. Kincaid has established herself as a significant voice in contemporary literature and is one of the Caribbean’s most influential female writers. For her intensely personal, honest, and stylized writing, her lengthy and illustrious career has earned her a place in the literary canon. As a female in Antigua at the time, she had few options, whereas her brothers were encouraged to pursue higher education and positions of prominence in society. If she had stayed behind, she would have been limited to teaching or working as a librarian. The rebellious girl developed an appreciation for English literature as a result of her mother’s instruction in Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, and the King James’ Bible. Kincaid was particularly fond of Charlotte Bronte’s writings. Continue reading to learn more about her life and work.
Childhood & Adolescence
Elaine Potter Richardson was born on May 25, 1949, in St. John’s, Antigua, a British colonial-ruled island that did not achieve independence from the United Kingdom until 1981.
Elaine would never know her biological father, who was a taxi driver named Roderick and a mother named Annie Richardson Drew. Her stepfather, David Drew, and her mother, on the other hand, raised Elaine as their only child until she was nine years old.
She was an intelligent student who also won a scholarship to the ‘Princess Margaret School,’ a British-affiliated school.
At the age of nine, her young life was forever altered by the births of her three brothers. Her mother and stepfather were far too preoccupied to coo over her.
Her stepfather became ill shortly after the birth of her third son. Annie drew the young girl away from school to care for him. This would have a long-term impact on Elaine.
Elaine was envious of her brothers, who were encouraged to attend universities to further their education.
She was sent to America as a ‘au pair’ for a wealthy family with the expectation that she would pursue a career in nursing and send her earnings home to her family.
Rather than following her mother’s instructions, the rebellious girl studied photography at the ‘New School for Social Research’ and then transferred to New Hampshire’s ‘Franconia College.’
Career of Jamaica Kincaid
Elaine adopted the pen name Jamaica Kincaid in 1973 after her family disapproved of her writing. That same year, her interview with Gloria Steinem was published as her first work under her pen name. Additionally, she wrote a series of articles titled ‘When I Was Seventeen’ in response to the interview.
Her first paid assignment was a series of articles for the magazine ‘Ingenue.’ It was during this time period that she began making acquaintances with New York’s literary intellectuals. She worked as a freelancer for the next three years, establishing contacts along the way.
She met William Shawn, the ‘New Yorker’s’ editor, through Michael O’Donoghue, a friend who wrote a column for the magazine. Shawn hired her after she submitted an article for the ‘Talk of the Town’ column and would later mentor her. Kincaid began contributing regularly to the New Yorker in 1976. Two years later, the magazine published her first piece of fiction, ‘Girl,’ a short story.
At the New Yorker, she developed her distinctive style of writing under the tutelage of William Shawn, rising from the ranks of a staff writer to a feature columnist for ‘Talk of the Town’ and eventually to the position of editor. She parted ways with the magazine after twenty years in 1996, when stand-up comedian and actress Roseanne Barr was invited to guest edit an issue. It was also the year her younger brother died of AIDS.
She continued writing after she left the New Yorker. Her novels were imaginative depictions of her coming-of-age experience in a foreign country and continued the narrative of her personal history, which included separation from family. She also discussed colonialism and her outrage over its ramifications in them. Additionally, she published a collection of short stories and an essay collection.
In 2008, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of ‘Humane Letters’ by Wesleyan University during the university’s 176th Commencement Exercises. Kincaid lives in North Bennington, Vermont, with her family.
She was a visiting professor and instructor of creative writing at ‘Harvard University’ until June 2009.
Kincaid is currently a professor of literature at California’s ‘Claremont McKenna College’.
Significant Works of Jamaica Kincaid
Kincaid’s first collection of short stories, ‘At the Bottom of the River,’ was published in 1983. This collection, which included her trademark autobiographical fiction, garnered critical acclaim and was presented with the ‘Morton Dauwen Zabel Award’ by the ‘American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
‘See Now Then,’ Kincaid’s most recent novel, won the ‘2013 American Book Award’.
Awards and Accomplishments
Kincaid wrote the book-length essay ‘A Small Place’ in 1988, expressing her anguish and disapproval of the atrocities committed against the common man by corrupt leaders of her motherland’s post-colonial regime, as well as the indigenous people’s exploitation at the hands of tourists.
In 1989, she was awarded the ‘Guggenheim Fellowship’ for Research and Creative Activity.
In 1997, ‘The Autobiography of My Mother’ won the ‘Anisfield-Wolf Book Award’.
Kincaid won the ‘Lannan Literary Award for Fiction’ in 1999.
Personal History and Legacies
Kincaid worked in New York as a secretary, model, and backup singer after working as an au pair. In 1970, she was a city wild child with bleached hair.
From 1979 to 2002, she was married to Allen Shawn.
The couple welcomed a daughter, Annie, in 1985 and a son, Harold, four years later.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Jamaica Kincaid is $5 million.
When asked if she aspired to be a writer in a 1996 interview with Salon’s Dwight Garner, this renowned author responded: “There are none. None at all. I was incredibly depressed and lonely when I first arrived. I had no idea there was a literary world. I had no idea what I was doing, except perhaps how to put one foot in front of the other.”