[Caribbean Literature]

A Brief Biography of Jamaica Kincaid

David P. Lichtenstein '99, Brown University, Contributing Editor, Caribbean Web

Jamaica Kincaid's twisted quest for self began with her May 25, 1949 birth in Antigua. She was then christened Elaine Potter Richardson, but when she fled the island at the age of seventeen, she left her family as well as her name behind and entered North America as Jamaica Kincaid. Her life should seem familiar to those who know her heavily autobiographical work. She worked first in New York City as an au pair, for an upper class family much like the one pictured in Lucy. She left this work to study photography at the New School for Social Research and then went on to Franconia College in New Hampshire (but did not take a degree) before returning to New York. There she became a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine, writing for nearly twenty years (1976-1995) before the arrival of new management convinced her to leave. She now resides in Bennington Vermont with her husband and children.

Kincaid's status as an exile informs so much of her writing. It allows (or perhaps forces) her to maintain distance from both her past and her present, as she critically examines the suffocating smallness (and small-mindedness) of her native Antigua, then juxtaposes it against the ignorant opulence of North America. Her narrators too seem alienated from all those around them, seeking both control over and freedom from these human connections known as relationships. But no discussion, no matter how brief, can be complete without mention of the central relationship in Kincaid's life--that with her mother. Kincaid's tight, lyrical prose guides the reader through her tortured recollections of her mother, as that relationship takes on the dual gravity of mother-daughter relationships that many readers can relate to as well as of the hegemonic interactions between mother country (here England) and daughter island (Antigua). Stacking these parallel visions on top of each other and infusing them with her own feelings of anger and suffocation, Kincaid draws the reader through the struggle for personal development not only of her narrators but of the writer herself.


Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Edited by D. Jones, and J.D. Jorgenson. Detroit: Gale Publishing, 1998, Volume 59.

Postcolonial Web Literature of the Caribbean Jamaica Kincaid