Thursday, February 27, 2014
February 27, 2014: Short Shorts: Jamaica Kincaid
[To commemorate the end of our shortest month—my younger son recently asked me, “Why does February only get 28 days?!”—a series on five great American stories that are as short as they are powerful. Add your favorites in comments!]
On the story that exemplifies the creation of a thoroughly engaging voice.
Even if her fiction were only good, Jamaica Kincaid’s late 20th and 21st century life story—an Antiguan immigrant who began her American experiences as a New York City au pair, briefly attended but dropped out of college, and then forged her own hugely successful and ongoing path as a journalist, novelist, and creative writing and literature professor—would merit our attention. But Kincaid’s fiction is way more than good, combining passion and humor with razor-sharp precision, communal and cultural stories and frames with deeply personal and intimate ones. Exemplifying all those elements is the first story in her first published collection (1983’s At the Bottom of the River), the super short “Girl.” Again, check it out, and come back and share your thoughts if you would!
Welcome back! If you didn’t laugh at least once while reading “Girl”—well, all responses are welcome here, so feel free to tell me why, if that’s the case. But I bet you did—Kincaid’s creation of her narrator/speaker is rich with telling and wry humor, while at the same time capturing so many themes—multi-generational family relationships, gender identities and roles, sex and sexuality, culture and place, social customs and codes, and more—pitch-perfectly. But I think perhaps her greatest feat has to do with reader-response: I taught the story for the first time to a class of undergrads at Temple University, and they sympathized almost entirely with the story’s youthful title character and addressee; and then I taught it recently to an ALFA class of adult learners here at FSU, and they mostly connected with the speaker’s perspective. And I think Kincaid’s story not only allows for those distinct responses, it includes and captures them within the space of its one rambling, run-on, remarkable sentence.
So what do you think? This paragraph for rent!
Final short short tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this story, or others you’d share?