Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jamaica Kincaid's Courageous Voice

“I never thought of myself as courageous,” said Jamaica Kincaid as she took to the stage in John M. Greene Hall. “I just knew that I was going to write what I wanted to write.” Kincaid’s appearance opened a Pan-Africa conference organized by the Smith African and Caribbean Student Association. The conference program listed Kincaid as the Keynote Speaker. She jokingly said that had she seen the program before she agreed to read, she would have been too nervous to make her appearance. This nod to humility was ironic coming from a writer who has made a career of saying what “should not be said.”

Kincaid warned the audience that what she was about to read would not follow the rules that teachers like to emphasize. “I begin many sentences with And.” She read from her first book, At the Bottom of the River, describing with lush, surreal details the contentious interactions of a mother and daughter who occupy the two lowest rungs in a Colonial society. Growing up as an illegitimate child in Antigua, her “station in life was meant to be not far from the ground.”

Kincaid challenges readers with more than grammar. She said, “When I sit down to write, it is always in opposition to something.” Her novels, short stories, and essays have always addressed messy topics such as the mother/daughter relationship, Colonialism/globalization, and poverty.

When an audience member inquired, “Did you ever doubt yourself as a writer?” Kincaid replied, “When I write, I don’t believe anyone will read it—but you have to do it anyway. If you’re a writer, you must be arrogant and ruthless. Save being nice for when you’re not writing.” What great advice!

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