How Reading Formed Me
“I would arrange stones in a yard and pretend they were my audience. I would read Shakespeare, and whoever was in my schoolbook would read it to them.”
Meet Antiguan-American writer Jamaica Kincaid, who began to read when she was three years old. Read more …
Childhood experiences and the problematic relationship with her mother play a crucial role in Jamaica Kincaid’s writing. “My mother thought that if she taught me to read, I would become interested to read my books and leave her alone.”
“My mother didn’t tell me about the alphabet, so I just learned to read words. And it was as if the words just leaped into my mouth; I felt very connected to this process of the words just leaping off the page”, Kincaid says. “So, I learned to read, but I still bothered her. I could read anything at three-and-a-half years of age, but I didn’t necessarily understand, but that wasn’t the point. “
She met “something called the alphabet in school, which was very disturbing. Even worse were these things called vowels; I didn’t’ know what to do with vowels.” “On my seventh birthday, my mother gave me a Concise Oxford Dictionary, and I read it, beginning with ‘a’ ended with ‘z.’ Then I reread it.” “There are recurrent themes in my life and my writing, so the part the dictionary would have played is how words turn up in my writing. It is the same words but in a different way. And my obsession with paradise and the loss of it and justice and injustice come from those early days”. The other thing Jamaica read “obsessively” was King James’ version of the bible.
“I read a lot, as much as I could find. At one point, I read all the books in the children’s section of the library; I would steal books and put them in my underwear, under my clothes. Sometimes I venture over into the adult section. I think I was ten when I was misbehaving; my French teacher could see I was the ringleader. He had a book and said, ‘here, read this!’. The book was Jane Eyre, and after reading that, I became a different person. I separated myself from my classmates. After I read that book, I began to write Janey Eyre myself, and I remember being both the author of Jane Eyre and Jane Eyre. And I read at the back of the book that Charlotte Brontë had lived in Belgium and was poor, so I would pretend I was living in cold Belgium, and I was hungry and pretending I was Charlotte Brontë.
Jamaica Kincaid (born 1949) is an Antiguan-American novelist, essayist, gardener, and gardening writer. She was born in St. Johns, Antigua, in the Caribbean. At 16, she settled in New York after leaving Antigua to work as an au pair, then studied photography at the New York School for Social Research and attended Franconia College in New Hampshire. Around 1973 she changed her name from Elaine Potter Richardson into Jamaica Kincaid, partly because she wanted anonymity for her writing. She was a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine from 1974-to 96. Kincaid published her first book ‘At the Bottom of the River’, a collection of short stories, in 1983. Her first novel ‘Annie John’ appeared in 1985 – the story of a 10-year-old growing up in Antigua. The novel ’Lucy’ came in 1990. ‘The Autobiography of my Mother’ (1996) is a novel set in Dominica and told by a 70-year-old woman looking back on her life. ‘A Small Place’ (1988) is a short book about the effects of colonialism. Kincaid published more books about gardening, including ‘My Garden (2000). Her novel ‘See Now Then’ (2013) won the Before Columbus Foundation America Book Award in 2014. Jamaica Kincaid is often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in literature.
Jamaica Kincaid was interviewed by Danish writer Merete Pryds Helle in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival in August 2021 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.
Cameras: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edit: Jarl Kaldan
Produced by Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022.
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling.
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