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Published: Friday, 3/29/2013


Writer draws from poetry, Bible

Author and guest speaker Jamaica Kincaid chats with Susan Haley of South Toledo, right, while signing books at the Main Library in downtown Toledo. Author and guest speaker Jamaica Kincaid chats with Susan Haley of South Toledo, right, while signing books at the Main Library in downtown Toledo.
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To the immense pride of her mother, Jamaica Kincaid could speak before she could walk and learned to read earlier than most children.

“That also got me into a great deal of trouble,” she said, adding that when she acted up in class she was punished with words. She once had to write 1,000 times, “Ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

Saying that she does not endorse the adage despite her familiarity with it, Ms. Kincaid, 63, spoke of her writing life to nearly 100 people in the Main Library’s McMaster Center at Thursday night’s Authors! Authors! talk, cosponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

Tall, dressed in a long black skirt and wearing turquoise shoes, soft-spoken, and with an academic air, Ms. Kincaid also read from her new book, See Now Then, and explained some unorthodox attributes of her writing style. Her sentences, for example, often run into the hundreds of words; her first short story, “Girl,” published in the New Yorker magazine, was one 300-word sentence.

“Because I was influenced by great epic poetry,” at the age of 7, she copied the first two books of Paradise Lost, John Milton's epic 17th-century poem based on the Bible’s story of the fall of man.

PHOTO GALLERY: Authors! Authors!

Growing up on the Caribbean island of Antigua, then a British colony, books were scarce and the family’s home did not have electricity. She read the dictionary and still does. And her mother gave her a copy of the King James version of the Bible.

“I read that obsessively and it’s a great influence on my writing,” something that readers don’t always pick up on. As in some Old Testament passages, she sometimes repeats the beginning of a story, repeats a word in a sentence but with a slightly shifted meaning, and often starts sentences with conjunctions, such as and, but, for, or, “which you’re told never to do but they do it in the Bible.”

She draws on her life for her short stories, novels, and nonfiction books.

“My writing depends on memory,” she said. “I have an unfortunate habit of remembering things that other people have forgotten and would like me to forget. The trouble with remembering, is it makes it almost impossible to forgive.”

Next up in the Authors! Authors! series is presidential historian Richard Norton Smith on April 18 in the McMaster Center at the Main Library, and Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Quindlen on May 8 in the Stranahan Theater.

For more information, call 419-259-5266.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.

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