Caribbean-American Women Writers You Have to Read
12th Jun 2014
Our favourite Caribbean-American women writers include…
Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
Audre Lorde, the self-defined ‘black lesbian feminist mother warrior poet,’ was born to Caribbean immigrant parents and brought up in Harlem, NYC. A fiercely passionate and prolific author and activist, renowned for her lifelong commitment to campaigning and writing about race, gender, sexuality and civil rights, she is a firm For Books’ Sake fave.
Start with: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1983). A memoir Lorde described as ‘biomythography,’ Zami is a confessional history of Audre’s childhood and early adulthood, charting her experiences growing up in the projects, the suicide of her best friend at age sixteen, a traumatic abortion, first loves and lusts, adventures from New York to Mexico and Lorde’s searches for romance, creativity and independence.
Jamaica Kincaid (1949-)
Antiguan-American novelist and essayist Jamaica Kincaid has been called “cool and fierce,” “one of our most scouringly vivid writers,” and “about as perfect as it’s possible to be,” with “the gift of endowing common experience with a mythic ferocity.” Her lyrical prose, which frequently focuses on colonialism, mother-daughter relationships, class, race, power and gender, is disarmingly simple, urgent and raw.
Start with: Her debut novel, Annie John (1985), a short but beautiful coming-of-age story that follows an Antiguan girl (‘Little Miss’) from childhood through adolescence, exploring familial separation, alienation, mortality, sexuality and depression. Dark, emotional, brittle and bright, it’s got humour and heart that’s all the more impactful for knowing it’s based on Kincaid’s personal experiences.
Achy Obejas (1956-)
Cuban-American author, activist and Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Achy Obejas is originally from Havana (“I was born in Havana and that single event pretty much defined the rest of my life,” she says) but now lives in Chicago, editing, translating, and writing non-fiction, short stories, poetry and novels, earning readers around the globe for her powerful character-based explorations of Cuban identity and experience.
Start with: Memory Mambo (1996), a novel telling the story of Juani, a young Latina lesbian exiled from Cuba to the United States with her crazy family; a brave, funny and compelling exploration of alienation, sexuality, memory and family mythology. Or for short story lovers, We Came All The Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? (1994) is a must.
June Jordan (1936-2002)
Born to Jamaican parents in Harlem, NYC, author and activist June Jordan wrote essays, poetry and fiction, campaigning fearlessly around civil rights, sexuality, race, class and education. In the words of Toni Morrison: “In political journalism that cuts like razors in essays that blast the darkness of confusion with relentless light; in poetry that looks as closely into lilac buds as into death’s mouth… [Jordan] has comforted, explained, described, wrestled with, taught and made us laugh out loud before we wept.”
Start with: Published posthumously, Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan (2005) brings together the work from her ten previous collections, along with seventy previously unpublished poems and a foreword by Adrienne Rich. For YA lovers, His Own Where (1972) is a vivid account of urban survival and young love.
Paule Marshall (1929-)
Born in Brooklyn to Barbadian parents, Paule Marshall is perhaps best known for her 1983 novel Praisesong for the Widow, a tribute to her ancestors; set on Carriacou and dedicated to her grandmother. Like the other Caribbean-American women writers featured here, she explores themes of identity, cultural conflict, the importance of community and support between women, and their roles – through oral storytelling – as gatekeepers of cultural and familial history and heritage.
Start with: Her debut novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959), which recounts the coming-of-age of teenage Selina Boyce during the Depression, reflecting the distinctive dialect and character of the Barbadian community in New York. For memoir lovers, there’s Marshall’s 2009 autobiography The Triangular Road.
Edwidge Danticat (1969-)
Originally from Port-au-Prince in Haiti, Edwidge Danticat was raised by her aunt; travelling to Brooklyn, NYC, at age twelve to join her immigrant parents. Her upbringing gave her a keen appreciation of oral storytelling and its place in Haitian culture, and it’s the warmth, language and vibrancy of those stories that she brings to her fiction, winning her awards and accolades galore. “When you write,” she says, “it’s like braiding your hair. Taking a handful of coarse unruly strands and attempting to bring them to unity.”
Start with: Her first short story collection, Krik? Krak! (1996), featuring Haitian women struggling to understand themselves and their surroundings, and written because “I wanted to raise the voice of a lot of the people that I knew growing up . . . poor people who had extraordinary dreams but also very amazing obstacles. ”
Which other Caribbean-American women writers would you add to our must-read lists?