Caribbean Women Writers

Caribbean Women Writers

Caribbean Women Writers

Caribbean Women Writers


"The past few decades have seen an explosion of writing by women from the Caribbean. From Antigua, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Trinidad - women of African, European, and mixed ancestry have explored and manipulated their complex matrix: of languages and subtle linguistic codes; of folk traditions and formal English schooling; of vital politics and tormented histories; of intoxicating natural beauty and devastating poverty. They have written of mothertongues and motherlands, of exile, of the boundaries of bodies, of the politics of owning and not owning themselves. Though worlds apart, writings as diverse as Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1966, and Jamaica Kincaid's Autobiography of My Mother, published 30 years later, nevertheless share a setting of shocking yet sinister beauty; a sense of the loss of a mother and the implications of this loss upon one's self; and a deeply resonant literary heritage. From Guyana's Beryl Gilroy to Haiti's Edwidge Danticat, Caribbean women are mingling the political with the lyrical in a quickly deepening new body of literature." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


By general critical consent, the principal women writers in English to emerge, so far, from the Caribbean are the properly varied trio of Jamaica Kincaid (Elaine Potter Richardson) of Antigua, Paule Marshall of Brooklyn and Barbados, and Jean Rhys of Dominica. I say "properly varied" because the immensely mixed political and social history of the Caribbean is reflected by and in its writers. It would be useless to search for common elements in the art of Kincaid, Marshall, and Rhys, and no such attempt will be ventured here.

Kincaid, the most experimental of the three, is seen by her admirers as a deliberate subverter of Dead White European Male modes of narrative. Yet any reader deeply immersed in Western literature will recognize that prose poetry, Kincaid's medium, always has been one of the staples of literary fantasy or mythological romance, including much of what we call "children's literature." Centering almost always upon the mother-daughter relationship, Kincaid returns us inevitably to perspectives familiar from our experience of the fantasy narratives of childhood.

This childlike element most powerfully informs Kincaid's short storiesto call them that, since really they are prose poems. One of the briefest, Girl (1984), is an uncanny chant or litany that stays with one for its hypnotic rhythms, evocative of the girl's voice speaking to itself, yet rehearsing always the admonitions of the dominant mother:

[T]his is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don't squat down to play marbles-you are not a boy, you know; don't pick people's flowers—you might catch something; don't throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all. . . .

This is distinctive and deliberate, but wholly traditional if we are fully aware of how complex and multiform the literary tradition always has been.

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