Jamaica Kincaid

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


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • “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.”…
  • 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…
  • 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…

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

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