By Keishel Williams

There was standing room only at the Brooklyn Historical Society on Saturday where scores of people came out to to hear renowned Antiguan-American writer Jamaica Kincaid read and speak.

“An Evening With Jamaica Kincaid,” hosted by Attillah Springer, was one of several events on the calendar during the inaugural Brooklyn Caribbean Literary Festival over the weekend.

Kincaid read passages from her 2013 book, See Now Then, which examines how time works on the human consciousness, through the story of a broken marriage and unhappy children in a New England family. The author discussed with Springer her interest in the construct of time and opened up about being a precocious child and her peculiar reading habits now that she is older.

Paul Pryce reading

“I’ve always been interested in the notion of time,” Kincaid said. “Perhaps the most important social construct is time, because a day is a day, and I’m sure that a day doesn’t say, ‘Well, I’m a day and now I’m not a day,’” she said to a laughing audience.

“The whole notion of time and how we existed and how I existed has always been interesting to me and I always try to articulate something about it when I write.”

The author also touched on her work challenging the idea of the unapproachable, unquestioned and revered Caribbean mother, who she likened to the Queen of England. Kincaid said she believes “adult authority over children in the West Indies is much like a colony.”

“So much of adult behavior mimics the relationship between colony and colonized,” she said.

The evening of readings, conversations and more jokes from Kincaid herself also included a dramatic reading of the author’s short story, “What I Have Been Doing Lately,” from Trinidadian-American actor Paul Pryce.  Pryce’s rendition of Kincaid’s story, which was first published in the Paris Review in 1981, was well-received by the author and the audience alike.

Trinidadian-American poet and writer Lauren Alleyne followed up Pryce’s reading with another tribute to Kincaid’s work, “At the Bottom of the River,” by reading a truncated version of the title piece. Alleyne shared after the event how much that book inspired her.

“I’m interested in the lyric time. I’m a poet, and I wanted to find the thing that made that come home for me,” she said.

“When she (BCLF organizer Marsha Massiah-Aaron) asked me to read, I said I was reading ‘In the Bottom of the River’ because when I finished that book, I closed the book and wrote a poem immediately. And that never happens to me.

“I could feel that language doing something, and I wanted to let her (Kinkaid) know that I saw what she was doing.”

Kincaid receiving bouquet

Kincaid was also presented with a citation from the Brooklyn Borough President’s office, along with a bouquet of flowers and a specially made box of Caribbean treats from Callaloo Box – after the organizers revealed that the author infrequently received Caribbean items.

“The reason I don’t get much Caribbean stuff is because I live in the whitest place in the U.S. – Vermont!” she said jokingly.

Keishel Williams is a New York-based Fashion, Art & Culture journalist and freelance writer.  She has contributed to publications in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Europe. She is also a current art and culture MA student at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.

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  1. “So much of adult behavior mimics the relationship between colony and colonized.” Such a profound quote from a literary genius of the 20th and 21st centuries. You can see echos of this notion in Kincaid’s writing going all the way back to “Girl.” The mother, here the colonial figure, demands of the daughter adherence to a certain way to behave, one mandated with respect to the daughter’s inherent identity. The daughter pushes back against the mother, yet the balance of power is too skewed in favor of the mother. Much like colonial powers’ relationships with their colonies, a parent can act as a potent force for suppression of non-conventional thought and lifestyles.

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