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Jamaica Kincaid

Writing Memory, Writing Back to the Mother

J. Brooks Bouson

Publication Year: 2005

Haunted by the memories of her powerfully destructive mother, Jamaica Kincaid is a writer out of necessity. Born Elaine Potter Richardson, Kincaid grew up in the West Indies in the shadow of her deeply contemptuous and abusive mother, Annie Drew. Drawing heavily on Kincaid’s many remarks on the autobiographical sources of her writings, J. Brooks Bouson investigates the ongoing construction of Kincaid’s autobiographical and political identities. She focuses attention on what many critics find so enigmatic and what lies at the heart of Kincaid’s fiction and nonfiction work: the “mother mystery.” Bouson demonstrates, through careful readings, how Kincaid uses her writing to transform her feelings of shame into pride as she wins the praise of an admiring critical establishment and an ever-growing reading public.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title and Copyright Pages

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pp. v-vi


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p. ix

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1. Introduction: “When You Think of Me, Think of My Life”

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pp. 1-16

In the eyes of her many interviewers, Jamaica Kincaid is an unusual and forceful individual: she is described as a woman with a “dramatic” look and as a “tall, striking, clear-eyed” woman who turns heads and “projects a natural authority that attracts attention” (Garis, Garner). ...

PART I: In the Shadow of the Mother

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2. “I Had Embarked on Something Called Self-Invention”: Artistic Beginnings in "Antigua Crossings" and At the Bottom of the River

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pp. 19-35

“I was born in 1949. My twenty-sixth birthday was the birthday when I felt old and used up—I had left home when I was sixteen, and ten years in a young life is a long time,” Kincaid comments as she remembers her early days as a writer in New York City (“Putting Myself...

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3. “The Way I Became a Writer Was That My Mother Wrote My Life for Me and Told It to Me”: Living in the Shadow of the Mother in Annie John

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pp. 37-66

“I always say it’s completely autobiographical, including the punctuation,” Kincaid has remarked of her 1985 coming-of-age novel, Annie John (Muirhead 45). “The point wasn’t the truth and yet the point was the truth,” she insists, describing Annie John as, at once, a fictional...

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4. “As I Looked at This Sentence a Great Wave of Shame Came over Me and I Wept and Wept”: The Art of Memory, Anger, and Despair in Lucy

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pp. 67-88

“My mother . . . was a betrayer of her sex,” Kincaid remarks as she draws a connection between the mother character in her 1990 novel Lucy and her own mother, Annie Drew (Listfield). In Lucy, a novel Kincaid says is filled with “thick female stuff,” she wants to be “very frank,” ...

PART II: A Very Personal Politics

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5. “Imagine the Bitterness and the Shame in Me as I Tell You This”: The Political Is Personal in A Small Place and "On Seeing England for the First Time"

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pp. 91-111

“Apparently, I’m a very angry person. . . . I hope I never lose it,” Kincaid remarks. “If I ever find myself not getting angry, . . . I’ll go to a psychiatrist to regain my anger” (Mendelsohn). In writings that openly engage political issues, Kincaid famously vents her anger not only at the...

PART III: Family Portraits

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6. “I Would Bear Children, but I Would Never Bea Mother to Them”: Writing Back to the Contemptuous Mother in The Autobiography of My Mother

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pp. 115-141

An unremittingly bleak and bitter novel permeated with feelings of despair, contempt, and rage, Kincaid’s 1996 novel The Autobiography of My Mother is at once a continuation of and a departure from her autobiographical-fictional project, her attempt to use fiction to write herself...

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7. “I Shall Never Forget Him Because His Life Is the One I Did Not Have”: Remembering Her Brother's Failed Life in My Brother

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pp. 143-164

“This might have been me, dying young,” Kincaid remarks of the death of her youngest brother, Devon Drew, who died of AIDS in Antigua at the age of thirty-three in January 1996. “I felt instinctively that of all the lives I might have had, this might have been me” (Mehren). ...

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8. “Like Him and His Own Father before Him, I Have a Line Drawn through Me”: Imagining the Life of the Absent Father in Mr. Potter

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pp. 165-180

“How do I write? Why do I write? What do I write? This is what I am writing: I am writing ‘Mr. Potter.’ It begins in this way; this is its first sentence: ‘Mr. Potter was my father, my father’s name was Mr. Potter.’ So much went into that one sentence; much happened before I settled on...

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9. Conclusion: “I Am Writing for Solace”: Seeking Solace in Writing, Gardening, and Domestic Life

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pp. 181-190

Kincaid, who began her writing career “embarked on something called self-invention,” continues to find the act of writing a highly personal act: “an expression of personal growth” (“Putting” 100, Ferguson, “Interview” 169). ...


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pp. 191-219

Works Cited

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pp. 221-231

Index [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 233-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780791482926
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791465233
Print-ISBN-10: 0791465233

Page Count: 252
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 76786815
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Jamaica Kincaid

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mothers and daughters in literature.
  • Antigua -- In literature.
  • Memory in literature.
  • Kincaid, Jamaica -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Women and literature -- Antigua -- History -- 20th century.
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