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AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMAICA KINCAID Jamaica Kincaid Jamaica Kincaid was interviewed by Kay Bonetti for the American Audio Prose Library in April of 1991 in Bennington, Vermont, where she lives with her husband, composer Allen Shawn, and their two children. Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richarson in 1949 in St. John's Antigua, West Indies, the daughter of a cabinetmaker. At the age of 17, she left Antigua for New York, to work as an au pair. She shortly thereafter struck out on her own, eventually finding her way onto the staff of the New Yorker as a regular contributor to "The Talk of the Town" through her association with the writer George Trow, experience which she says is absolutely where she learned to write. Kincaid is the author of four books: At the Bottom of the River, Annie John, Lucy, and A Small Place, a book-length essay about the history and politics of Antigua. Her awards include the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters for At the Bottom of the River. Annie John was one of three finalists for the 1985 International Ritz Paris Hemingway Award. An Interview with Jamaica Kincaid /Kay Bonetti Interviewer: Ms. Kincaid, in the novel Lucy, you give Lucy Josephine Potter one of your birth names and your own birthday. How closely do the facts of Lucy's biography match your own? Kincaid: She had to have a birth-date so why not mine? She was going to have a name that would refer to the slave part of her history, so why not my own? I write about myself for the most part, and about things that have happened to me. Everything I say is true, and everything I say is not true. You couldn't admit any of it to a court of law. It would not be good evidence. Interviewer: Your father, like Lucy's, was a cabinetmaker, and your own mother married a much older man with whom she had three sons several years after you were born. Kincaid: Yes, that is true. But here's an example of something that is true and not true: in "The Long Rain" the girl has an Ulness—a rite of passage, I guess you might caU it—when she's fourteen years old. I had an iUness Uke that when I was seven years old, and I was writing about that iUness. I root my fear of rodents in that time of my Ufe. I used to Ue on my bed and look up at the ceiUng, and I saw hundreds of rats running around the ceiUng. It must have been only one or two, but they seemed to go around Uke a merrygo -round. It must have been a hallucination. I was left alone, and Uke the girl I did get up and wash and powder the photographs, but some of the photographs described in the book could not have existed when I was seven years old. The confirmation photograph, for instance, did not exist. I don't aim to be factual. I aim to be true to something, but it's not necessarily the facts. The Missouri Review · 225 Interviewer: Where did the story of the green figs and the black snake come from? Kincaid: That was a story my mother told me about herself, but the outcome of that story as it is in the book is not what really happened. I tried to write a story about my mother and myself, and there were incidents that I perceived as betrayal, at the time, though I don't necessarily beUeve that now. In my writing I suppose Tm trying to understand how I got to be the person I am. The truth is important, but it's a certain kind of truth. Interviewer: Even though Annie John begins and ends chronologically , it's not buUt on a linear model. A single one-time happening recurs in several episodes, taken from different points of view, within different contexts. Did you conceive of it as a novel or as a sequence of short stories? Kincaid: I didn't conceive of it as...


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