Friday, March 7, 2008
Jamaica Kincaid is Like 400 Feet Tall
Jamaica Kincaid lectured at Northwestern last night. Missy and I went. It was awesome. I LOVE Jamaica Kincaid. If I could write At the Bottom of the River I would happily keel over and never write again and/or die and/or both. I tried to write like her this afternoon and it is impossible and extremely embarrassing.
I usually avoid going to lectures because in sooooo many instances I have gone to them and really disliked a writer after hearing them talk. I was especially hesitant about this one, because I love Jamaica Kincaid so much and the title of the lecture was "On Writing," (puke) and there were going to be a billion undergrad "writers" there, all of whom would ask really awful questions during the Q&A.
The bad undergraduate writers were of course there: all googly eyed and grinning and salivating like they would, at any moment, leap onto the stage and try to devour Jamaica, which would be impossible, because she is seriously a 400 foot tall giantess. Granted, she did look delicious. She wore a brown jumper-like dress with a button down shirt and jeans and really old-looking brown shoes and gold hoop earrings. (I think she probably got the button-down at Rainbow, I think she definitely shops at Rainbow like Elizabeth Crane. If you've started that book you know what I'm talking about. Her outfit was a combination of Rainbow elements mixed with Salvation Army elements mixed with elements of your/my/anybody's mother's closet. Also, this is hilarious, in the picture above, which I just found, from a different lecture, she is wearing the exact same outfit, only I think this picture was taken like 10 years ago. I wish she still had the cornrows.)
So not only was her outfit awesome, but I think she is even more awesome in real-life than she is on the page, mostly because after her awesome lecture, she didn't really answer any of the stupid questions that were inevitably asked during the Q&A. Mind you I am paraphrasing, but here are some examples. Imagine her speaking in a very sweet, soft, English-accented voice:
Q #1 (from former high-school English teacher who probably wanted to be a writer but failed): I think it's absolutely EXHILIRATING to learn that "Girl" was the first piece you ever published. How did you come to write such an amazing story as your first piece? Can you speak to that?
Jamaica: Ooooooh! I think I can! (imitating teacher's overboard excitement) I read Elizabeth Bishop's "In the Waiting Room" and I immediately knew how to write. I was working at the New Yorker, and was used to reading a bunch of old, white men, and I thought their writing was boring and not very good, and that if I showed them how to write something different, maybe they would stop writing. So I wrote "Girl."
Q#2 (from drooling undergrad or grad writer): Many of us in this room are writers. I wonder if you could talk a little more about process.
Jamaica: I'm the wrong person to ask about that. You should ask John Updike. He gets up and writes a novel, then he eats breakfast and writes a book of poems. Look at my books--they're so tiny. All I do is read. I became a writer so I could sit around all day and read and not be called lazy. I'm really the last person you should ask about process.
Q#3: (from undergraduate African American Studies student) What was it like to read black writers for the first time, or writers from the West Indies?
Jamaica: I don't remember. I don't really think of myself as being black. I live in Vermont and I'm the only black person in Vermont. I'll be walking down the street in Vermont, and someone will start waving erratically at me, and I won't be sure why. Then I'll realize that it's because we're both black, and I've forgotten that I am. But I don't think of myself that way at all.
There appeared to be much chagrin on the faces of the African American Studies professors, who had congregated in the corner of the room.
Q#4: (of course) Do you have periods of not-writing, or periods where you can't write?
Jamaica: Oh, all the time. I hardly ever write because of that.