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« Bored? Here's a Novel Idea... Weekend of Woe/"Wow!" at the Chicago Humanities Festival »

Book Club Thu Oct 30 2014

Jamaica Kincaid Discusses Voice, Working at New Yorker

JamaicaKincaid.jpgUnlike a public lecture, critically-acclaimed author Jamaica Kincaid's conversation with CHF Emeritus Artistic Director Lawrence Weschler covered a wide-ranging variety of topics. The conversation, which was held at Northwestern University's Cahn Auditorium, was held on Oct 25 in front of an almost-full theater.

This year's Chicago Humanities Festival revolved around the theme of "Journeys," and Kincaid's discussion reflected on her own. Born in Antigua, Kincaid moved to New York at the age of 17 to become an au paire. After working her way through college, Kincaid became a staff writer at The New Yorker. Today, Kincaid is a professor at Harvard.

Much of the hour-long discussion was spent on Kincaid's childhood in Antigua and her days at The New Yorker. She had many humorous things to say about her relationship with her mother, her early years in New York, and her experience working with George Trow, who helped Kincaid secure a job at The New Yorker. According to Kincaid, Trow hired her because he "doesn't hire reporters, [he] hires voices."

For anyone that hasn't read Kincaid's work, she is a writer with an incredibly strong, independent voice. One of the article series that Kincaid was most proud of during her time at The New Yorker involved asking "all sorts of people about what they were like at the age of the readers." This included even Barbara Walters, who condescendingly told the unconventionally dressed Kincaid (at the time she had bleached hair and shaved eyebrows) "Well, I would love to see how you turn out."

The other piece Kincaid discussed, a poem entitled "girl," is composed of single-sentence instructions told to a girl by her mother and is emblematic of topics covered at the event: her mother, her past in Antigua, and finding her place in a new, strange environment. Kincaid read the work to the audience, and then after the conversation ended, took questions. One of the most notable was from a high-school teacher asking how students can develop voice. Kincaid's response was in accordance with her independent spirit: "I don't think a teacher should be involved in voice... [a teacher] should expose them to as much as possible." Without a doubt, any student would benefit from being exposed to Kincaid.

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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

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