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May 25: Jamaica Kincaid

May 24, 2015

jamaica-kincaid-06Antiguan-American novelist Jamaica Kincaid (Elaine Potter Richardson), a convert to Judaism in 1993 and a professor of African and African-American Studies at Harvard since 1992, was born in St. John’s, Antigua, a land colonized by Great Britain, on this date in 1949. Kincaid was sent to the U.S. by her mother as an au pair in 1966 — a betrayal that Kincaid overcame through brilliant achievement, writing for The Village Voice, Ingénue, and then the Paris Review and New Yorker, where she became a staff writer for twenty years — and married for twenty-three years editor William’s son, Allen Shawn, a music composer. In the 1990s, when their children were growing up, she was president of Congregation Beth El, a Reconstructionist shul in Bennington, Vermont. Kincaid’s novels include Annie John (1985), Lucy (1990), The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), Mr. Potter (2002), and See Now Then (2013), the winner of an American Book Award. She has also written books and numerous articles on gardening. Much of her writing deals with neocolonialism and mother-daughter relations, yet she “never feels the necessity of claiming the existence of a black world or a female sensibility,” says Henry Louis Gates. “She assumes them both. I think it’s a distinct departure that she’s making, and I think that more and more black American writers will assume their world the way that she does. So that we can get beyond the large theme of racism and get to the deeper themes of how black people love and cry and live and die.”

“One doesn’t have to pursue unhappiness. It comes to you. You come into the world screaming. You cry when you’re born because your lungs expand. You breathe. I think that’s really kind of significant. You come into the world crying, and it’s a sign that you’re alive.” —Jamaica Kincaid