Elaine Richardson lived with her mother and stepfather, a carpenter, until 1965. In Antigua, she completed her secondary education under the British system, due to Antigua’s status as a British colony until 1966.
She moved to New York at the age of 16 to work for a family as an au pair. She worked as a fact checker at Forbes magazine, where she became close friends with reporter, Marsha Daniel, and her husband, Myles Ludwig, then the editorial director of Art Direction magazine. She also befriended Peter Ainsley, the music critic for Women’s Wear Daily, who later worked as a writer for Time magazine. They spent a great deal of time together.
After Richardson had returned to university, Ludwig hired her to work at Art Direction, and she later studied photography at the New School for Social Research. She attended Franconia College in New Hampshire for a year and later worked at the New Yorker magazine.
In 1973, she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid because her family disapproved of her writing.
Her novel Lucy (1990) is an imaginative account of her experience of coming into adulthood in a foreign country, and continues the narrative of her personal history begun in the novel Annie John (1985). Other novels, such as The Autobiography of My Mother (1996) explore issues of colonialism and much of her anger associated with it. This text is a unique departure for Kincaid because of the way it crosses genres.
Kincaid is now a Professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College. She was until June of 2009 a visiting professor and teacher of creative writing at Harvard University. She received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Wesleyan University during its 176th Commencement Exercises in 2008.
“I’m someone who writes to save her life,” Kincaid says, “I mean, I can’t imagine what I would do if I didn’t write. I would be dead or I would be in jail because — what else could I do? I can’t really do anything but write. All the things that were available to someone in my position involved being a subject person. And I’m very bad at being a subject person.”