Ja­maica Kin­caid Re­vis­its ‘The Star Ap­ple King­dom’ at Wal­cott Lec­ture

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Clau­dia Elei­box

As the No­bel Lau­re­ate Fes­ti­val con­tin­ues, the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee and the Cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion hosted the most an­tic­i­pated event of it all: The No­bel Lau­re­ate Lec­ture on Tues­day, Jan­uary 24th. The lec­ture “Our Homer: Derek Wal­cott” was given by worl­drenowned writer and fea­tured lec­turer, Pro­fes­sor Ja­maica Kin­caid at the Na­tional Cul­tural Cen­tre. With the aid of The bookYard, the Wal­cott fam­ily, Folk Re­search Cen­tre and spon­sors FLOW and Bank of Saint Lu­cia, the at­mos­phere cre­ated by CDF and the No­bel Lau­re­ate Com­mit­tee was stylish, com­fort­able and invit­ing, com­plete with a book and sou­venir lounge. In at­ten­dance were Saint Lu­cian literati, Wal­cott schol­ars, lit­er­a­ture stu­dents and bib­lio­philes.

A brief but thor­ough in­tro­duc­tion of Ja­maica Kin­caid was given in a video pre­sen­ta­tion. Orig­i­nally known as Elaine Pot­ter Richard­son, this An­tiguan-born writer fit plenty of West In­dian stereo­types, but ex­celled in her ca­reer none­the­less. She be­gan writ­ing for mag­a­zines in New York af­ter drop­ping out of the Fran­co­nia Col­lege, and even­tu­ally be­came a staff writer for “The New Yorker”. Although she worked there for over twenty years, it was not the cen­tre­piece of her ca­reer. Nov­els “An­nie John”, “Lucy”, “The Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of My Mother”, “A Small Place”, “My Brother” and her other fic­tional works won many cov­eted, lit­er­ary awards. Ja­maica Kin­caid is now a Pro­fes­sor of African and African Amer­i­can Stud­ies in Res­i­dence at the Har­vard Univer­sity.

Derek Wal­cott has been a men­tor to Ja­maica Kin­caid and a cru­cial con­trib­u­tor to her work. She in­tro­duced her pre­sen­ta­tion as a love let­ter to Wal­cott be­cause “he and his writ­ing are repos­i­to­ries of the Caribbean jour­ney.” Kin­caid opened by quot­ing from the poem “The Iliad” by the An­cient Greek poet, Homer, whom Wal­cott is con­stantly com­pared to be­cause of his own poem “Omeros”. How­ever, her main sup­port ref­er­ences were drenched in Wal­cott’s po­etry, her experiences with him and Christo­pher Columbus’ voy­age jour­nal. Her aim was to por­tray the Caribbean as “The Star Ap­ple King­dom” like Wal­cott had so re­ferred to it in his col­lec­tion of the same name. By read­ing from Columbus’ ac­counts of his first en­counter with West In­dian peo­ple, Kin­caid il­lus­trated the ex­pe­ri­ence of first im­pres­sions and how that sin­gle event in­flu­enced all of West In­dian cul­ture un­til the present mo­ment. Columbus de­scribed the Amerindi­ans as “mar­velous”, only be­cause he could not ac­cu­rately de­scribe his fas­ci­na­tion with them. Their cloth­ing, fash­ion, weaponry, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and cu­rios­ity were dif­fer­ent from that of the Euro­peans and he had many ideas about their pos­si­ble value to them. In turn the friend­li­ness of the Amerindi­ans did not let them fathom be­ing at­tacked by th­ese vis­i­tors and Kin­caid em­pha­sised the line from Columbus’ ac­count “they took the swords by the edge and cut them­selves” high­light­ing the ig­no­rance of the peo­ple, and us­ing it as a metaphor through­out the lec­ture.

The ref­er­ence to us, the Caribbean, be­ing “The Star Ap­ple King­dom” im­plied that the fruit ( bwi in cre­ole) only be­longs to the West Indies just like the cat­alytic mo­ment be­tween Columbus and the in­dige­nous peo­ple. Kin­caid re­leased in­for­ma­tion about the fruit re­lat­ing to her re­search in its botany and ex­plained that it is one of the few fruits that orig­i­nate from the Caribbean. Man­goes, co­conuts and bread­fruit, which are al­ways associated with the is­lands, all came from dif­fer­ent places.

Ja­maica Kin­caid’s lec­ture was in­for­ma­tive and in­trigu­ing to much of the au­di­ence. Ex­pect­edly it was well re­searched and she ex­pressed vast knowl­edge of Wal­cott’s work. Her anec­dotes about a list of books as­signed to her by Wal­cott, hav­ing to write out “Par­adise Lost” as pun­ish­ment and other hu­mor­ous ones, kept the lec­ture en­ter­tain­ing. But only dur­ing the seg­ment al­lot­ted to ques­tions did I re­alise how much she had in­spired the rest of the au­di­ence. The in­quiries ranged from the lec­ture to her per­sonal life to her seem­ingly de­fi­ant lit­er­a­ture. Other ques­tions were quite bold, but that’s some­thing only “Lu­cians” would do; even the Wal­cott schol­ars that I spoke to were amazed at just how dar­ing they were!

The lec­ture ended with a pre­sen­ta­tion of a plaque to Kin­caid from CDF and a touch­ing vote of thanks from The Soup’s Men­dalise Breen. In all, the No­bel Lau­re­ate Fes­ti­val Com­mit­tee and Cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion did a won­der­ful job in cre­at­ing this beau­ti­ful, in­spir­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ja­maica Kin­caid was the fea­tured pre­sen­ter for this year’s Derek Wal­cott Lec­ture.

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