CREATIVE SPACE #26 of 2021 (uploaded November 24th 2021)
CREATIVE SPACE is an award-winning series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition running here on the blog. It continues to expand across other media platforms (e.g. AntiguanWriter on YouTube). In 2021, the two–part mini-series on marine culture placed third in the OECS clean oceans journalists challenge. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared in the Daily Observer newspaper on November 24th 2021:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS.
CREATIVE SPACE #26 OF 2021 – ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA’S JAMAICA
On November 18th 2021, Jamaica Kincaid received the Langston Hughes medal from the City University of New York. Past recipients, 1978 to present, are a who’s who of celebrated Black writers (e.g. James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, August Wilson, and Chinua Achebe). Only a handful of past medalists (Haiti’s Edwidge Dandicat, Trinidad and Tobago’s Arnold Rampersad, St. Lucia’s Derek Walcott, Barbados’ George Lamming) are Caribbean-born.
Kincaid’s previous accolades include the Guggenheim Award for fiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for The Autobiography of My Mother, the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction of exceptional quality, several awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, honorary doctorates from Tufts and Brandeis universities, the American Book Award for See Now Then, and Tel Aviv University’s Dan David Prize withUS$300,000 awarded to the winning writers. In 2020, several credible prognosticators said she was “among the favorites” for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
You won’t see her on any billboards here but Jamaica Kincaid is from Ovals, Antigua, much like former Museum of Modern Art fine arts photographer previously featured in CREATIVE SPACE, Mali Olatunji, and national hero and cricketing legend Sir Vivian Richards.
As a #gyalfromOttosAntigua and author, it hits me that kindergarten through grade six to get to and from Holy Family School, I walked Cross Street, through Ovals, past the street where Elaine Potter Richardson grew up.
Elaine changed her name to Jamaica in 1973, the year I was born; it was her pen name, the shield that freed her to write with candor. Later, when I would discover her in, let’s say my late teens, a door creaked open in my mind. Because, you see, I wanted to be a writer but was such a thing even possible, and how. Because, you see, so many of the stories I grew up reading had nothing to do with my world, and now. Her first (for me) book Annie John, the story of the girl raised by a Dominican mother who throughout the course of the story feels the belated severing of the umbilical cord binding them, resonated with me as a girl from Ottos, who loved to read, yearned to write, and was raised by an unyielding Dominican mother. She wrote the most uncomfortable things about herself, the people closest to her, the world that bred her and I recognized in her, my own processing of life through writing.
Jamaica Kincaid said, in discussion with journalist Linda Villarosa during the Langston Hughes Festival, “write as if your life depended on it because it does.” It’s possible that my teenage self understood, on reading Kincaid, that it was not only okay to write your world (when all the books centered other places and people) but doing so may just be an act of self-discovery, self-actualization, and self-preservation.
So, for me, Kincaid’s writing, some more than others, has resonated; for some, it has also stung. None more so than A Small Place, the line in the sand for its caustic criticism of colonialism, post-Independence Antigua, and the much-courted tourist.
During discussion with Villarosa, it was noted that Jamaica Kincaid’s writing has been called “angry” and “savage”. I remember discussions about A Small Place, My Brother, Mr. Potter in which it seemed her main faux pas was airing dirty laundry in public. And yet, there was so much nuance and complexity, making this not mêlée but story. The kind of story/telling that calypso –the best calypso– did; hence, in part, the parallels I drew between Jamaica Kincaid and Antiguan calypso in the paper I delivered in October at the Antigua and Barbuda Conference. Writing ‘About a Girl: a Close Read of Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’, its stylistic devices and & aesthetic intersection with literature in the Antiguan oral (specifically, calypso) tradition’ was in some ways a reclaiming of Kincaid for our Antigua and Barbuda literary canon, something I have been committed to recording over the years (see Wadadli Pen).
“I’m not jealous of much,” Kincaid said, during the Langston Hughes ceremony in which I, along with Trinidad-American poet and author Lauren K. Alleyne, paid tribute to her, “but I’ve been very jealous of writers who have a People to write for, I’ve always felt I was an orphan, you know, because I was going to say things that the people I am from, do not want to hear.” And, yes, she did that. But, always mindful that her writings are her particular point of view, the writer in me had to respect both her daring in saying unpopular things about power dynamics within classism, racism, colonialism, post-Independence Antigua, mothers-and-daughters, in particular she and her mother, and the creativity, clarity, and poetry (see especially Lucy and See Now Then) with which she said it.
Maybe it’s inevitable that an artist’s relationship with home (as a daughter’s with her mother) will be complicated – mine certainly is, the full spectrum feelings from rage to sadness to hope and love, a little more of some, a little less of others, ever shifting, always questioning, a need to provoke, a frustrated itch to understand, but also an appreciation, albeit grudging sometimes. Jamaica said in her remarks, speaking of Antigua and the things she wrote, “I meant to tell us some truths about ourselves and hoped we could be better.” Which is the artist’s conceit I recognize in myself as well. And that’s not a crime is it?
Fun fact/aside: I was once contacted by a visiting researcher seeking to find the childhood home of the celebrated writer Jamaica Kincaid and I had nowhere to direct her – it may have been this researcher or another (I’m not sure) who complained to me about the difficulty doing research here given that the newspapers weren’t indexed. I have seen cricket fans stop to take pictures at the residence of Sir Viv and at his childhood home, a bronze bust marks the spot. I think about my visit to the Massachusetts home of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott House. It is well preserved – there is a tour and gift shop – and it is quite the draw for a certain niche tourist.
Below are some of my scribblings from Jamaica Kincaid’s comments @ the Langston Hughes Festival. Please understand that these are excerpts only, with limited context. If I am able to get the video of the event, I will share. But just to share some of what I pulled:
On craft + #TheWritingLife
“Sometimes a sentence will take me six months to compete.”
“A writer’s life is so lonely, when you’re writing, and I always believe when you’re writing you have loyalty to nothing but the writing.”
She advises Paul, the apostle, as a model – not for the man he was, whom she dislikes – but for how his writing, read or unread by them, who’s to say, survives as a record of a people who mostly haven’t. “I write as if no one is going to read what I write, but I write as if it will be read in 15 years.” You can’t write, she suggested, as if you have an audience…but as if (in some future time) you might. In other words, “write as if your writing will survive.”
And yet, Kincaid said, “I have no advice about how to be a success or writer. Just write as if your life depended on it because it does.”
“So I have no advice except just write…write as if you want to say ‘fuck you’ and walk away; don’t be afraid.”
On her mother…
“She gave me the gift of reading, and so, writing. …I think she later restricted that.”
“Maybe I bit her harder than I should have.” (Though she later referred to her as Cronus of Greek mythology, who ate his children signaling that it is, as ever, complicated when it comes to mothers and daughters)
“She was very brilliant” and later still “she was good enough”
“I think about her every day. (and) she’s been dead for almost 20 years.”
“My understanding of her life evolved,” said Jamaica when asked how having children of her own affected her impression of her mother.
Antigua today is…
“Very beautiful, very expensive, very modern, and very indifferent to anything I would think about it. …it seems impervious to literature, to interpretation…it seems just another place in the world.”
“When I go back, I just accept it. There is no reason for it to be better than anywhere in the world…I just accept the whole world, in fact.”
New York, as a young woman and writer…
“I said yes to everything.”
(speaking of how she was perceived by other writers in the mostly white world of The New Yorker) “I think they thought I was silly but I didn’t mind because I thought they were ridiculous.”
“Actually I think the whole world is Black until they tell me they’re not.”
On themes in her work…
“(Power) that is the thing that is of most interest and concern for me, the imbalance of power.”
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