She has written many books of her own – about her mother, her father, her brother, her garden, her old country, her new country and so on. But whatever her books seem to be about, they are in fact about her and how life has double-crossed her: Her mother has failed her, her father has failed her, Antigua has failed her, England has failed her.
Much of her writing, therefore, is bitter and biting. But it is good. So good that I would like to read about her garden even though I do not care for gardening.
“A Small Place” is about the small island of Antigua where she is from, how it was under British rule and after. It is the best book about empire I have read outside of Thucydides. At university we were taught to speak about how unjust the world is in long Marxist words – as if we were talking about the inner workings of a butterfly wing. But she talks about it in simple language. Because she sees it straight, because her mind cuts through all the long-winded lies. It is a joy to read. I fell in love with her from that moment. (The New Yorker refused to print any of it because it was too angry.)
Her writing flows like a river, on and on, not stopping, with bits of sentences coming back up again and again. Her sentences are long, some as long as two pages, but her words are mostly simple, short and everyday.
She writes slowly, carefully crafting each sentence. Sometimes it takes days for the right words to come to her.
She writes because she has to, she writes to save herself. It is her passion, she cannot imagine doing anything else. She loves reading and she loves writing and she loves words.
She went to school in Antigua and wrote for the New Yorker when both still cared about fine writing. She did not understand her good fortune till years later when she saw both go to the dogs.
As a girl she did very well in school and read and read and read. But, despite her promise, her education was cut short at 17: her father became very sick so she was sent to America to help support her family. She came to New York and worked “as one of those many ladies you see with little blonde children”. But she did not send any money home and she did not read any of the letters her mother had sent.
She began to write under the name of Jamaica Kincaid so that no one back home would know it was her. In time she met George Trow of the New Yorker through a friend and so she was “discovered.”