When I am Writing
“When I read things like ‘The art of the sentence’ or ‘The craft of the essay’, I just want to throw up“.
Antiguan-American novelist Jamaica Kincaid shares her thoughts on writing. Read more …
“The proper sentence I find unbearable. I am a law-abiding citizen, but when it comes to writing…” begins Jamaica Kincaid, speaking about her work, which often avoids a more traditional narrative. Kincaid doesn’t like rules about how to work, and by all laws, there are exciting examples of the opposite: “You mustn’t begin a sentence with a conjunction (being ‘but’ and ‘and’). The Bible is nothing but sentences beginning with conjunctions – and, and, and. And to me it is a very significant thing,” she says.
“The sentence, the paragraph, and the comma are a very good thing for Chekhov or his translators and probably for every writer, except for me,” Kincaid says, mentioning the Russian writer often considered the master of prose. “First of all, I don’t see a sentence when I am writing about something whether it is a feeling or an object, which has no beginning and no end. When a stone stops, it only stops there temporarily. It was coming from somewhere, and it is made up of some elements and for me, when I am writing and in my own head, things are not so much like Chekhov. “
Jamaica Kincaid prefers classics that are not telling stories in the traditional sese with the beginning, a middle and an end: “Does the Illiad have a beginning and an end? Not really. What people like is the story of the Odyssey, which I don’t like very much at all. But I love the Illiad, I love the Bible. The great thing about the conjunction is that it picks up: The thing that came before didn’t end and the thing that is going to be, doesn’t end, so it goes and goes. The structure that people impose on the novel and short story, that structure is for the comfort of commerce. And the commerce is the reader. I wish I could please the reader more, so I could be more successful, but I just don’t know how to do it. When I am writing I am not interested in the reader at all, I don’t know who will read it. I don’t care,“ Kincaid concludes.
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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