Jamaica Kincaid

Antiguan-American novelist, essayist, gardener, and gardening writer

Jamaica Kincaid (born May 25, 1949) is an Antiguan-American novelist, essayist, gardener, and gardening writer.

Quotes edit

  • Oh what a morning it was, that first morning of Mrs. Sweet awaking before the baby Heracles with his angry cries, declaring his hunger, the discomfort of his wet diaper, the very aggravation of being new and in the world; the rays of sun were falling on the just and unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, causing the innocent dew to evaporate; the sun, the dew, the little waterfall right next to the village's firehouse, making a roar, though really it was an imitation of the roar of a real waterfall; the smell of some flower, faint, as it unfurled its petals for the first time: oh what a morning!
    • See Now Then (2013)
  • plunge ahead, put one foot in front of the other, straighten your back and your shoulders and everything else that is likely to slump, buck up and go forward, and in this way, every obstacle, be it physical or only imaged, falls face down in obeisance and in absolute defeat...
    • See Now Then (2013)
  • I've come to think that the traditional way of writing is the artificial way that that's not the way things work at all. It's not the way thinking works.
  • I don’t like to hear people speaking in my work. I like reading it, and I marvel at people who can do it well. And there’s something when you see it done well. It’s just so terrific. But I’m not able to do it.
  • His death was imminent and we were all anticipating it, including him, but we never gave any thought to the fact that this was true for all of us, too: our death was imminent, only we were not anticipating it ... yet.”
    • My Brother (1997)
  • Out of the corner of one eye, I could see my mother. Out of the corner of the other eye, I could see her shadow on the wall, cast there by the lamp-light. It was a big and solid shadow, and it looked so much like my mother that I became frightened. For I could not be sure whether for the rest of my life I would be able to tell when it was really my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world.”
    • Annie John (1985)
  • How soft is the blackness as it falls. It falls in silence and yet it is deafening, for no other sound except the blackness falling can be heard. The blackness falls like soot from a lamp with an untrimmed wick. The blackness is visible and yet it is invisible, for I see that I cannot see it. The blackness fills up a small room, a large field, an island, my own being. The blackness cannot bring me joy but often I am made glad in it.”
    • At the Bottom of the River (1983)

Interview with The Paris Review (2022) edit

  • I suppose that my work is always mourning something, the loss of a paradise—not the thing that comes after you die, but the thing that you had before.
  • You can probably tell from my writing that I’m obsessed with notions of justice and injustice—those things that are wrong that can never be made right.
  • We weren’t taught Shakespeare or Milton in order to understand our own situation—they were taught as the jewels in Queen Victoria’s crown. The point of the colonial enterprise was that it had all these people to control. Our education was about imprinting on us the greatness of England, the idea that the people who could produce these works were of a superior kind of people...I came to understand that I should separate Shakespeare and all of the rest from Disraeli and Horatio Nelson—that the British Empire is one thing and literature another. I’ll take everything except Kipling. Wordsworth would have been very upset to know that his wonderful poems were being used as a weapon of empire.
  • At first, the editors there said they didn’t want staff writers but that if I had an idea for a piece they’d look at it. So I went home and called up Ms. magazine, and I said, “I’d like to speak to Gloria Steinem.” She picked up, and I told her I’d like to interview her. She said, “Of course.” I was just somebody off the street, but that was the original solidarity of feminism.
    • about working for Mademoiselle
  • (Were there black writers you read as a young person?) I didn’t know there were black writers. When I met Derek Walcott, after I had written my first novel, he was so appalled that I had not ever been exposed to a West Indian writer that he sent me an anthology. All the writers in it were men, of course. When I came to America, I did start to read black writers, but they were political writers—Eldridge Cleaver, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). The first book I got from a library in the U.S. was An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, by Gunnar Myrdal. I didn’t understand race in America at all.

“Jamaica Kincaid: Does Truth Have a Tone?” in Guernica (2013 June 17) edit

  • Everything I do is because of writing. If I go for a walk, it’s because I’m thinking of writing. I go look at flowers, I go look at the garden, I go look at a museum, but it’s all coming back to writing. I don’t really do anything that isn’t about writing, and I don’t really know who I am if I’m not thinking about writing.
    • On her obsession with writing
  • “Race.” I really can’t understand it as anything other than something people say. The people who have said that you and I are both “black” and therefore deserve a certain kind of interaction with the world, they make race. I can’t take them seriously. Not beyond the fact that they have the ability to say that you and I are a single race. You know, a piece of cloth that is called “linen” has more validity than calling you and me “black” or “negro.” “Cotton” has more validity as cotton than yours and my being “black.”…
    • On how she interprets the term “race”
  • The thing about writing in America—and I just recently understood this—is that writers in America have an arc. You enter writing as a career, you expect to be successful, and really it’s the wrong thing. It’s not a profession. A professional writer is a joke. You write because you can’t do anything else, and then you have another job. I’m always telling my students go to law school or become a doctor, do something, and then write. First of all you should have something to write about, and you only have something to write about if you do something. If you just sit there, and you’re a writer, you’re bound to write crap. A lot of American writing is crap. And a lot of American writers are professionals. Writing is not a profession. It’s a calling. It’s almost holy…
    • On her views of writing
  • In the place I’m from you don’t have much room. You have the sea. If you step on the sea, you sink. The only thing the sea can do is take you away. People living on a tiny island are not expected to have deep thoughts about how they live, their right to live. You can have little conflicts, disagreements about what side of the street to walk on, but you cannot disagree that perhaps there should not be a street there. You cannot disagree about fundamental things, which is what an artist would do. All they’re left with is a kind of pastoral beauty, a kind of natural beauty, and wonderful trinkets…
    • On the limited opportunities in her country of origin

Interview with Mother Earth (2013) edit

  • I didn’t really understand racism because I grew up in an all-black society, so I didn’t see how it was possible not to like me!
  • I’m not going to defend misogyny in hip-hop. But it didn’t affect me the way, say, Hustler magazine did. It’s very funny, American society: White culture can do all sorts of things and get away with it, but the minute a black person does it, it’s interpreted in some way.
  • You know how they say a man’s house is his castle? I think for a woman, it’s her body. I feel so strongly about a woman’s right to choose. This is my Zionism. It’s not a “right” any more than it’s a right to breathe, to take in oxygen. I think a woman is powerless if she cannot freely claim the right to her reproductive capacity. Society can talk about anything it likes, except a woman’s reproductive existence. I think I write out of that feeling.
  • Everything I write is autobiographical, but none of it is true in the sense of a court of law—you know, a lie is just a lie. The truth, on the other hand, is complicated.

Interview with Goodreads(2013) edit

  • I became a writer in an attempt to understand and save my life, and it did. It gave me a life with a kind of privilege that I wasn't born into.
  • I'm always trying to put my own self into words—who am I?
  • happiness—I have experienced happiness. It was contentment. There was a period in my life when I was very content and looked it. There's something to be said about a slightly plump person—you have just enough of too much.
  • Everything has its opposite, everything holds within it its opposite. That's very hard to accept!
  • It's always amazing to me the people who talk about the superiority of Western civilization—nothing else has done more to destroy the earth!

The Autobiography of My Mother (1996) edit

  • No matter how happy I had been in the past I do not long for it. The present is always the moment for which I love.
  • The past is a room full of baggage and rubbish and sometimes things that are of use, but if they are of real use, I have kept them.
  • a memory cannot be trusted, for so much of the experience of the past is determined by the experience of the present.
  • Observing any human being from infancy, seeing someone come into existence, like a new flower in bud, each petal first tightly furled around another, and then the natural loosening and unfurling, the opening into a bloom, the life of that bloom, must be something wonderful to behold; to see experience collect in the eyes, around the corners of the mouth, the weighing down of the brow, the heaviness in heart and soul, the thick gathering around the waist, the breasts, the slowing down of footsteps not from old age but only with the caution of life-all this is something so wonderful to observe, so wonderful to behold; the pleasure for the observer, the beholder, is an invisible current between the two, observed and observer, beheld and beholder, and I believe that no life is complete, no life is really whole, without this invisible current, which is in many ways a definition of love.
  • Who you are is a mystery no one can answer, not even you.

A Small Place (1988) edit

  • ...isn't it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime?
  • I now see that good behaviour is the proper posture of the weak, of children.
  • Have you ever wondered to yourself why it is that all people like me seem to have learned from you is how to imprison and murder each other, how to govern badly, and how to take the wealth of our country and place it in Swiss bank accounts? Have you ever wondered why it is that all we seem to have learned from you is how to corrupt our societies and how to be tyrants? You will have to accept that this is mostly your fault. Let me just show you how you looked to us. You came. You took things that were not yours, and you did not even, for appearances’ sake, ask first
  • ...the English have become such a pitiful lot these days, with hardly any idea what to do with themselves now that they no longer have one quarter of the earth's human population bowing and scraping before them. They don't seem to know that this empire business was all wrong and they should, at least, be wearing sackcloth and ashed in token penance of the wrongs committed, the irrevocableness of their bad deeds, for no natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm they did...
  • And so all this fuss over empire—what went wrong here, what went wrong there—always makes me quite crazy, for I can say to them what went wrong: they should never have left their home, their precious England, a place they loved so much, a place they had to leave but could never forget. And so everywhere they went they turned it into England; and everybody they met they turned English. But no place could ever really be England, and nobody who did not look exactly like them would ever be English, so you can imagine the destruction of people and land that came from that. The English hate each other and they hate England, and the reason they are so miserable now is that they have no place else to go and nobody else to feel better than.
  • I cannot tell you how angry it makes me to hear people from North America tell me how much they love England, how beautiful England is, with its traditions. All they see is some frumpy, wrinkled-up person passing by in a carriage waving at a crowd. But what I see is the millions of people, of whom I am just one, made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy ground, no excess of love which might lead to the things that an excess of love sometimes brings, and worst and most painful of all, no tongue.
  • Isn’t that the last straw; for not only did we have to suffer the unspeakableness of slavery, but the satisfaction to be had from “We made you bastards rich” is taken away, too.
  • All masters of every stripe are rubbish, all slaves of every stripe are noble and exalted; there can be no question about this...Of course, the whole thing is, once you cease to be a master, once you throw off your master's yoke, you are no longer human rubbish, you are just a human being, and all the things that adds up to. So, too, with the slaves. Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings.

Quotes about Jamaica Kincaid edit

  • In a recent interview about Autobiography of my Mother, Kincaid was told: Your characters seem to be against most things that are good, yet they have no reason to act this way -- they express a kind of negative freedom. Is this the only freedom available to the poor and powerless? Kincaid answers: “I think in many ways the problem that my writing would have with an American reviewer is that Americans find difficulty very hard to take. They are inevitably looking for a happy ending. Perversely, I will not give the happy ending. I think life is difficult and that's that. I am not at all -- absolutely not at all -- interested in the pursuit of happiness. I am not interested in the pursuit of positivity. I am interested in pursuing a truth, and the truth often seems to be not happiness but its opposite” Kincaid’s novels do indeed withhold happy endings and she adds the fine shading to the narrative of colonialism by creating characters who can never thrive, never love and never create precisely because colonialism has removed the context within which those things would make sense. In Autobiography of My Mother, for example, Kincaid provides her readers with a motherless protagonist who, in turn, does not want to be a mother, to reproduce under colonialism or to claim kinship with her colonized father. She opposes colonial rule precisely by refusing to accommodate herself to it or to be responsible for reproducing it in any way. Thus the autobiographical becomes an unwriting, an undoing, an unraveling of self. Kincaid concludes an interview about the book, which the reviewer has called “depressing” and “nihilistic” by saying: “I feel it’s my business to make everyone a little less happy.”
    • Judith Halberstam, "The Anti-Social Turn in Queer Studies," Graduate Journal of Social Science, vol. 5, no. 2 (2008), p. 149

External links edit

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