Jamaica Kincaid Biography

Jamaica Kincaid, a renowned writer from the Caribbean, has made a significant impact on contemporary literature. With her distinctive prose style and powerful voice, she explores complex themes such as mother-daughter relationships, the consequences of colonialism, and feelings of alienation. Kincaid’s autobiographical fiction transcends the boundaries of race and gender, resonating with a universal audience. Despite facing limited opportunities as a girl in Antigua, she defied societal expectations and pursued a career in writing. Thanks to her mother’s influence, Kincaid developed a deep love for literature, particularly the works of Charlotte Bronte. Her long and dazzling career has earned her a place in the literary canon, and her intensely personal and stylized writing continues to captivate readers.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Elanie Potter Richardson, Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson
  • Age: 74 Years, 74 Year Old Females
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Allen Shawn
    • Father: Roderick Potter
    • Mother: Annie Richardson
    • Children: Annie Shawn, Harold Shawn
  • Quotes By Jamaica Kincaid
  • Novelists
  • Notable Alumni: Franconia College
  • Education: Franconia College
  • Awards:
    • 1984 – Morton Dauwen Zabel Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for At the Bottom of the River
    • 1984 – Shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for At the Bottom of the River
    • 1985 – Guggenheim Award for Fiction
    • 1985 – Finalist for the International Ritz Paris Hemingway Award for Annie John
    • 1997 – Shortlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Friction for The Autobiography of My Mother
    • 1997 – Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for The Autobiography of My Mother
    • 1999 – Lannan Literary Award for Fiction
    • 2000 – Prix Femina Étranger for My Brother
    • 2004 – American Academy of Arts and Letters
    • 2009 – American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    • 2010 – Center for Fiction’s Clifton Fadiman Medal for Annie John
    • 2011 – Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Tufts University
    • 2014 – Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for See Now Then Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award.

Childhood & Early Life

Elaine Potter Richardson was born on May 25, 1949, in St. John’s, Antigua. At the time of her birth, Antigua was still under British colonial rule and did not gain independence until 1981. Her father, Roderick, was a taxi driver, but she never knew him as her biological father. Her mother, Annie Richardson Drew, and her stepfather, David Drew, raised her as their only child until she turned nine. Elaine was a bright student and received a scholarship to the Princess Margaret School, which followed the British system of education.

Challenging Times

When Elaine was nine years old, her life changed with the birth of her three younger brothers. Her parents became too busy to pay attention to her, and she began to feel neglected. Her stepfather also fell ill around the time of her youngest brother’s birth, and her mother pulled her out of school to take care of him. This experience had a lasting impact on Elaine. She became jealous of her brothers, who were encouraged to pursue higher education, while she was expected to work as an au pair in America and send money back home.

Pursuing Her Passion

Instead of following her mother’s instructions, Elaine rebelled and studied photography at the New School for Social Research. She later attended Franconia College in New Hampshire. During this time, she adopted the pseudonym Jamaica Kincaid because her family did not approve of her writing. In 1973, she conducted an interview with Gloria Steinem, which became her first published work under her pen name. She also wrote a series of articles titled “When I was Seventeen” inspired by the interview.


Elaine’s first official assignment as a writer was for Ingenue magazine. Through her work, she began to make connections with literary intellectuals in New York. She was introduced to William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker, and he eventually hired her as a staff writer. Under Shawn’s mentorship, Elaine developed her distinct writing style and rose through the ranks to become a feature columnist and editor. She left the New Yorker in 1996 after twenty years of association.

Major Works

One of Kincaid’s notable works is her first collection of short stories, “At the Bottom of the River,” published in 1983. This collection received critical acclaim and won the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award. Her most recent novel, “See Now Then,” won the 2013 American Book Award.

Personal Life & Legacy

After working as an au pair, Kincaid held various jobs in New York, including secretary, model, and backup singer. She was married to Allen Shawn from 1979 to 2002 and had two children with him. Kincaid currently resides in North Bennington, Vermont, with her family. She has taught creative writing at Harvard University and is currently a professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College in California.

Awards & Achievements

Kincaid’s book-length essay, “A Small Place,” published in 1988, received critical acclaim for its portrayal of the post-colonial regime in her home country and the exploitation of its people. She has also received the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction.


In a 1996 interview, Kincaid revealed that she had no dreams of becoming a writer when she first arrived in New York. She was initially depressed and lonely, unaware of the literary world.

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