Jamaica Kincaid Biography

(Antiguan-American Novelist, Essayist, Gardener and Gardening Writer)

Birthday: May 25, 1949 (Gemini)

Born In: St. John's, Antigua and Barbuda

Jamaica Kincaid was born in Antigua in the West Indies. She has a very distinctive prose style and voice: it is accessible but also has a lyrical quality, is image-driven and will stand the test of time. She has spent three decades setting herself apart from the male authors from the Caribbean. She writes autobiographical fiction that explores complex themes, including mother-daughter relationships, the effects and consequences of colonialism and her general feelings of alienation. Her literary works transcend the boundaries of race and gender to reach a universal audience. Kincaid has become an important voice in contemporary literature and is one of the most pivotal female writers from the Caribbean. Her long and dazzling career has earned her a place in the literary canon for her intensely personal, honest and stylized writing. As a girl in Antigua, there were very few options for her at the time, while her brothers were encouraged to pursue higher education and achieve positions of repute in the society. Had she stayed behind, she would have been relegated to being a teacher or librarian. The rebellious girl gained a background in English literature thanks to her mother who taught her Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats and the King James’ Bible. Kincaid especially adored the writings of Charlotte Bronte. To know more about her life and works read on.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Elanie Potter Richardson, Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson

Age: 74 Years, 74 Year Old Females


Spouse/Ex-: Allen Shawn

father: Roderick Potter

mother: Annie Richardson

children: Annie Shawn, Harold Shawn

Quotes By Jamaica Kincaid Essayists

Notable Alumni: Franconia College

More Facts

education: Franconia College

awards: 1984 - Morton Dauwen Zabel Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for At the Bottom of the River
1984 - Shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for At the Bottom of the River 1984.
1985 - Guggenheim Award for Fiction

1985 - Finalist for the International Ritz Paris Hemingway Award for Annie John
1997 - Shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Friction for The Autobiography of My Mother
1997 - Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for The Autobiography of My Mother
1999 - Lannan Literary Award for Fiction
2000 - Prix Femina Étranger for My Brother
2004 - American Academy of Arts and Letters
2009 - American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2010 - Center for Fiction's Clifton Fadiman Medal for Annie John
2011 - Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Tufts University
2014 - Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for See Now Then
Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award.

Childhood & Early Life
Elaine Potter Richardson was born on May 25, 1949, in St. John’s, Antigua, an island that did not gain independence from British colonial rule until 1981.
Born to a taxi driver father named Roderick and a mother named Annie Richardson Drew, Elaine would never know her biological father. Her stepfather, David Drew, however, and her mother raised Elaine as their only child until she turned nine.
She was an intelligent student and also won a scholarship to the ‘Princess Margaret School’ which was affiliated under the British system of education.
At age nine, her young life changed with the subsequent births of her three brothers. Her mother and stepfather were too busy to dote over their daughter.
Around the time of the birth of the third son, her stepfather became ill. Annie pulled the young girl out of school to take care of him. This would cause a lasting effect on Elaine.
Elaine was jealous of her brothers, because they were encouraged to attend Universities to study further.
She was sent to America to work as an ‘au pair’ for a wealthy family with the expectation that she go into nursing and send her earned money back home to her family.
Instead of doing what her mother instructed, the rebellious girl studied photography at the ‘New School for Social Research’ and went on to ‘Franconia College’ in New Hampshire.
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In 1973, Elaine adopted the pseudonym Jamaica Kincaid because her family did not approve of her writing. The same year, her interview with Gloria Steinem became the first work to be published under her pen name. She further wrote a series of article titled ‘When I was Seventeen’, which were inspired by the interview.
Her first official assignment was a series of articles for ‘Ingenue’ magazine. It was during this time that she started making acquaintances among the literary intellectuals of New York. She continued working as a freelancer for the next three years, developing contacts in the meanwhile.
She was introduced to William Shawn, who was the editor of the ‘New Yorker’ through Michael O'Donoghue, a friend who wrote a column in the magazine. Shawn hired her after she submitted a piece for the column ‘Talk of the Town’ and would eventually mentor her. In 1976, Kincaid became a regular contributor to the New Yorker. Two years later her first piece of fiction ‘Girl’, a short story, was published in the magazine.
At the New Yorker, under the tutelage of William Shawn she developed her distinct style of writing and rose from the ranks of a staff writer to a feature columnist for ‘Talk of the Town’ and eventually an editor. She ended her twenty long years of association with the magazine, in 1996; when stand-up comedian and actress Roseanne Barr was invited to guest edit an issue. It was the same year her younger brother demised, after contracting AIDS.
After leaving New Yorker she continued writing. Her novels were imaginative accounts of her experience of coming into adulthood in a foreign country and continued the narrative of her personal history, including being separated from family. In them, she also delved into colonialism and her anger toward its ramifications. She also published a collection of short stories and a collection of essays.
In 2008, she received an honorary degree of ‘Doctor of Humane Letters’ from ‘Wesleyan University’ during its 176th Commencement Exercises. Kincaid and her family reside in North Bennington, Vermont.
Until June 2009, she was a visiting professor and teacher of creative writing at ‘Harvard University’.
Currently, Kincaid is a professor of Literature at ‘Claremont McKenna College’, in California.
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Major Works
’At the Bottom of the River’ published in1983, was Kincaid's first collection of short stories. This collection, which featured her trademark autobiographical fiction, received critical acclaim and won ‘Morton Dauwen Zabel Award’ presented by the ‘American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters’.
Kincaid's most recent novel, ‘See Now Then’, won the ‘2013 American Book Award’.
Awards & Achievements
Kincaid authored the book-length essay ‘A Small Place’ in 1988, which surmised her anguish and disapproval of the atrocities carried out by corrupt leaders of the post-colonial regime in her motherland against the common man and how the natives were suffering exploitation at the hands of tourists.
In 1989, she received the ‘Guggenheim Fellowship’ to Assist Research and Artistic Creation.
‘The Autobiography of My Mother’ published in 1997 received the ‘Anisfield-Wolf Book Award’.
In 1999, Kincaid received the ‘Lannan Literary Award for Fiction’.
Personal Life & Legacy
After working as an au pair, Kincaid worked as a secretary, model and backup singer in New York. In 1970, with bleached hair, she was a wild child in the city.
She was married to Allen Shawn from 1979 to 2002.
In 1985, the couple had a daughter, Annie, and four years later, they had a son, Harold.
In a 1996 interview with Dwight Garner from Salon, when asked if she had dreams of becoming a writer, this famous writer answered: "None. Absolutely none. [When] I first arrived I was incredibly depressed and lonely. I didn't know there was such a world as the literary world. I didn't know anything, except maybe how to put one foot in front of the other."

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