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life events

  • Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson in St John's, Antigua in May 1949.
  • In Antigua she received a British education and was frequently at the top of the class.
  • In early childhood, she was very close to her mother. As the only child, she lived with her mother and stepfather.
  • When she was nine years old her mother gave birth to three sons in quick succession and this altered their relationship for ever. Kincaid says that she was treated badly, that she was neglected.
"I don't know if having other children was the cause for our relationship changing - it might have changed as I entered adolescence, but her attention went elsewhere. And also our family money remained the same but there were more people to feed and to clothe and so everything got sort of shortened not only material things but emotional things, the good emotional things I got a short end of that. But then I got more of things I didn't have, like a certain kind of cruelty and neglect. In the end it didn't matter. When I was first a young person it did matter a lot because I didn't know what had happened to me.. If I hadn't become a writer I don't know what would have happened to me; that was a kind of self rescuing."
Jamaica Kincaid

  • From that point Kincaid felt betrayed by her mother - it seemed to her that her interests were considered less important than those of her brothers.
  • Although she was very intelligent, she was taken out of school when her third brother was born as her father was sick and could no longer support them.
  • At 17 her mother sent her to the United States to work as an au pair to an American family. She was supposed to be the breadwinner for the family, but refused to send the money home.
"My family .. my mother and step-father planned distinctive lives. My brothers were going to be gentlemen of achievement, one was going to be Prime Minister, one a doctor, one a Minister, things like that. I never heard anybody say that I was going to be anything except maybe a nurse. There was no huge future for me, nothing planned. In fact my education was so casually interrupted, my life might very well have been destroyed by that casual act, that might have been what removing me from school might have been like if I hadn't intervened in my own life and pulled myself out of the water."
Jamaica Kincaid

  • Once in the United States, Kincaid didn't open or answer her mother's letters. Cut off from her family, she felt able to be whoever she wanted.
  • Depressed and lonely, she resigned as an au pair and tried various other jobs from all of which she was fired.
  • She changed her name from Elaine Potter Richardson to Jamaica Kincaid - partly so that the people of Antigua wouldn't know she was writing.
  • She found a place for herself at the New Yorker, where the editor, William Shawn was impressed by her writing and what she had to say.
  • She became a regular featured writer with her own column "The Talk of the Town".
  • She went on to marry the Editor's son and they had two children.
  • She now lives and teaches in Vermont.

life events
key influences and themes
Kincaid's work
the next chapter
being a woman writer
  Women Writers
  Ama Ata Aidoo
  Meena Alexander
  Maya Angelou
  Shashi Deshpande
  Margaret Drabble
  Buchi Emecheta
  Doris Lessing
  Bharati Mukherjee
  Michele Roberts
  Helen Simpson

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