“The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being.”
It’s sort of fun to imagine someone pulling A Small Place off the shelf under the mistaken impression that it’s a guidebook to Jamaica Kincaid’s native Antigua. In fact, it’s the antithesis of a travel book: It’s a treatise against travel. Salman Rushdie calls it a “jeremiad of great clarity and force.” In this four-part essay, Kincaid provides a fiery portrait of the Caribbean island where she was born, an Antigua infested by capitalistic tourism and colonial corruption.
Because it’s a classic, along with Kincaid’s short story, “Girl.” Because being told off for crimes that you (or your ancestors) may (or may not) have committed is simultaneously unnerving and illuminating. Because Kincaid is having so much fun with parentheticals. Because there’s something satisfying about watching a writer unleash decades of pent-up, righteous anger, even if (again) that anger is directed at you, the reader. Because you’ll never again feel the same way about vacationing in the Caribbean.
Jamaica Kincaid is an Antiguan-American novelist, essayist, gardener, and gardening writer whose experience as an uprooted subject informs nearly all of her work. She’s the author of the acclaimed coming-of-age novels Annie John and Lucy, as well as The Autobiography of My Mother, Mr. Potter, and See Now Then. Her nonfiction includes A Small Place, My Brother, and Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya. A resident of Bennington, Vermont, Kincaid serves as professor of African and African-American studies in residence at Harvard University.
"Something I recognize about myself is that I'm a perpetual student. I wish there was some way I could put my ear to a seashell and it would tell me all the things in the world," says Jamaica Kincaid in this 3-question podcast about A Small Place and other things.
Tell Us What You Think
We're sorry you missed our Nov. 28 faculty roundtable and discussion of A Small Place. Guests included Ariel Martino, assistant professor of English, and Kezia Page, director of the Africana & Latin American Studies Program and associate professor of English. You can listen to a recording of the first 20 minutes below.
Go Beyond the Book
- “The Disturbances of the Garden,” which appeared in the New Yorker in 2020, revisits some of the characters and themes present in A Small Place.
- Read this classic short piece by Jamaica Kincaid. It’s sometimes anthologized as a poem, sometimes as a story, sometimes as an essay.
- “At turns elegiac and vicious, self-pitying and proud, this electrifying work is a new classic in the literature of hate — and of love,” writes Kirkus Reviews.
- “The beauty of Antigua, the very thing that bewitches its tourists, renders it a time capsule to its residents,” Kincaid tells the New York Times in this interview.
- In her Paris Review interview, Jamaica Kincaid says, “I suppose that my work is always mourning something, the loss of a paradise—not the thing that comes after you die, but the thing that you had before.”
Even if I really came from people who were living like monkeys in trees, it was better to be that than what happened to me, what I became after I met you.A Small Place
Living Writers is organized by the Department of English at Colgate University with generous support from the Olive B. O’Connor Fund as well as the President and Provost/Dean of the Faculty. Support from the Arnold A. Sio Chair in Diversity and Community and the Africana & Latin American Studies Program helped make this event possible.