Jamaica Kincaid: The Things We Must Say

The celebrated writer reflects on the confinement of identity, speaking truth to shame, and the power of secrets.

Photo Credit: Kenneth Noland

Jamaica Kincaid’s journey from a child of British colonial Antigua to a celebrated writer occupying the upper echelons of New York’s literati is an inspiration to many. Kincaid’s lyrical works of fiction—from her 1983 debut collection of short stories, At the Bottom of the River, to her newest novel, See Now Then—draw deeply on her own history. She treats memory as a source of knowledge that must be questioned in order to unearth secrets, to acknowledge shame, to examine identity, to liberate.How much is your history part of your identity?I’m not consciously interested in pursuing identity. I don’t consciously claim a Caribbean identity, a black woman identity, although clearly those things can’t be denied about me. When I write, I can draw on those facts, I can transmute them, I can modify them, I can interpret them. On the other hand, when I say who I am, and it’s a series of “things,” it begins to feel confining. Even if you said to me, “Who you are is Queen of the World!” I would find that confining. I mean there wouldn’t be any glory or beauty in it.You write and speak frankly about the difficulti …

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