Excerpts from “A Small Place”
This week The Wonderlings will take a look at both physical and emotional landscapes, through the eyes of well-known Antiguan author, Jamaica Kincaid.
First up is an excerpt from A Small Place, a work of creative nonfiction published in 1988. A book-length essay drawing on Kincaid’s experiences growing up in Antigua, it can be read as an indictment of the Antiguan government, the tourist industry and Antigua’s British colonial legacy.
Susan Sontag once described Kincaid’s writing as “poignant, but it’s poignant because it’s so truthful and it’s so complicated … She doesn’t treat these things in a sentimental or facile way.”¹
The work has received great praise for it’s no-nonsense-let-me-spell-it-out-for-you prose style, but has also been a source of controversy and criticism from both the white, western community as well as from native antiguans. Let us know what YOU think, as well.
A study question:
Why does Kincaid’s narrator employ the second person point of view, addressing the reader as “You?”
“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
Once you’ve encountered Kincaid’s often seething view of the tourist industry on Antigua, her birthplace, it’s worthwhile to explore a very brief (600 word?) but well-known exploration of Kincaid’s emotional territory, in a memoir of her mother.
The life lesson narrated by the mother is a set of imperative instructions for how a young woman should conduct herself to be acceptable and agreeable to the world, to a husband and to society. It serves as a wonderful poetic prompt for writers to create their own lists and in a very short space serves as a narrative of what cisgender obedience should look like.
Kincaid’s tone is often described as sarcastic, sometimes even as “rant.” Yet what the author delivers is more a frank, low, steady sarcasm with a cynical undercurrent; often as much at the expense of Antigua as it is of tourists. Regarding criticism of her tone, Kincaid has said “No one asked Norman Mailer why he was so angry or ranting. No one ever asked Philip Roth why he was so angry.” Her point is well-taken. The very sort of gender-based criticism she receives as a woman is ironically precisely what she caricatures in “Girl.” When her male counter-parts use a dry acerbic tone they are given awards.
Check out two interviews with the author, here:
Other works by Jamaica Kincaid:
Kincaid is probably best known for Annie John, the biography of a girl growing up in Antigua.
Her writing explores such themes as colonialism and colonial legacy, post-colonialism and neo-colonialism, gender and sexuality, renaming, mother-daughter relationships, British and American imperialism, colonial education, writing, racism, class, power, and adolescence. In her most recent novel, See Now Then, Kincaid also first explores the theme of time.²
. . .A bit about Jamaica Kincaid . . .
Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson on Antigua in 1949.
In 1965 she left Antigua for New York to work as an au pair, then studied photography at the New York School for Social Research and attended Franconia College in New Hampshire.
In 1972 she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid and was a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine from 1974-1996, publishing her first book, At the Bottom of the River, a collection of short stories, in 1983. Her first novel, Annie John, followed in 1985 – the story of a wilful 10-year-old growing up on Antigua. Further novels include Lucy (1990); The Autobiography of my Mother (1996), a novel set on Dominica and told by a 70-year-old woman looking back on her life; and Mr. Potter (2007). A Small Place (1988), is a short, powerful book about the effects of colonialism. My Brother (1997) chronicles her brother’s batlle with AIDS.
Her love of gardening has also led to several books on the subject, including My Garden (2000) and Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya (2005), a memoir about a seed-gathering trek with three botanist friends. Her novel See Now Then (2013) won the Before Columbus Foundation America Book Award in 2014.
Jamaica Kincaid teaches in the English, African and African-American Studies Department at Harvard University and lives in Vermont.³
3British Council on Literature