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Culture

5 Afro-Caribbean Women Writers

Out of the 12 months in a year, why do we commemorate Black History in February? The historian Carter G. Woodson, who first established Negro History Week, chose February because two important people were born on this month: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Lincoln, the US President who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and Douglass, an African American abolitionist and writer who helped pave the way for other African Americans. By the 1940s, communities extended the week into a commemorative month. 

In honor of our Black heritage in the Caribbean, Her Campus UPR rings tribute to five Afro-Caribbean women writers: 

Jamaica Kincaid

Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson (May 25, 1949) left Antigua at the age of 16 and settled in Manhattan to work as an au pair. In 1973, she began to submit articles to The New Yorker magazine under her adopted pseudonym Jamaica Kincaid. Three years later, she was hired as a staff writer for the magazine, where she chronicled the Caribbean culture through essays and stories. Her books, however, took an autobiographical route towards the themes of family relationships and colonialism, like in her novel It’s a Small Place (1988). Kincaid is currently residing in Vermont, and teaches African and African American Studies at Harvard University during academic terms. 

Afua Cooper 

Afua Cooper (November 8, 1957), born in Jamaica, is a poet, historian and tenure professor at Dalhousie University in Canada. Cooper holds a Ph.D. in Black Canadian Studies and the African Diaspora from the University of Toronto. She is the laureate of numerous awards thanks to her written works. Cooper earned the 2015 Nova Scotia Human Rights Award, the Premier of Ontario Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Beacon of Freedom Award, and was installed as Nova Scotia’s 7th Poet Laureate. Her poetry touches memory and history with a strong grapple on spirituality while her novels uproot from her expertise in Black women’s history, slavery and abolition. The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Slavery in Canada and the Burning of Old Montreal (2006) was listed on CBC’s top 100 books. 

Edwidge Danticat 

Edwidge Danticat (January 19, 1969) is a Haitian novelist, short story writer and editor. Danticat’s parents immigrated to the United States, leaving the writer and her brother behind. They later joined their parents in 1981. Due to her Creole language and culture barriers, assimilating to American life was difficult for Edwidge. She wrote stories as an escape from her reality, which led her to earning a B.A. in French literature from Barnard College in New York City in 1990, and a Master’s degree from Brown University in 1993. Her works often focus on Haitian women’s lives and relationships, as well as Haitian culture and history. Her short story anthology Krik? Krak! (1995) was a finalist for the National Book Award and her first memoir Brother, I’m Dying (2007) won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), was picked by Oprah Winfrey for her televised book club in 1998. 

Nancy Morejón

Nancy Morejón (August 7, 1944) was the first Afro-Cuban to graduate from Havana University. After earning her B.A. in French, she became one of Cuba’s acclaimed poets and is recognized throughout all Latin America. Morejón was the recipient of the Critic’s Prize in 1986 and Cuba’s National Prize for Literature in 2001. She expresses the Afro-Cuban identity as well as ethnicity, gender, history and politics in her works, such as in Where the Island Sleeps Like a Wing (1985) and her latest, Before a Mirror, the City (2020). The poet, journalist and translator is now the President of the Writer’s Union in Cuba, member of the Academia Cubana de la Lengua, and is senior adviser for Casa de las Américas and the Teatro Nacional de Cuba. 

Mayra Santos-Febres 

Mayra Santos Febres (February 26, 1966), a novelist, historian and poet, was drawn towards literature and the power of words from an early age. After graduating with honors from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus with a B.A. in Hispanic Studies, she was accepted in Cornell University for graduate studies. Santos Febres is known for her forward thinking, fervent anti-racism activism, and thirst for justice for marginalized communities. Some of her works include Nuestra Señora de la Noche (2006), Anamú y manigua (1991) and Sirena Selena vestida de pena (2000). 

Some authors write to exercise their imagination, while others seek to recover or restore something that was lost. “I became a writer out of desperation… it is an act of saving myself,” pointed out Kincaid. These writers reconstruct and highlight the colonial realities endured in Caribbean. Reading their works is an opportunity to re-educate yourself and others, especially during the other 11 months of the year.

Ana Teresa Solá is a Creative Writing student at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus and aspires to further her education with an M.S. in Journalism. Solá covers all things society and culture, and advocates for human equality.
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