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Jamaica Kincaid & Henri Cole: Final event of the 2022 NYS Summer Writers Institute series

Four weeks. 24 acclaimed writers. Four student readings. Congratulations to Robert Boyers at Skidmore College for another successful NYS Summer Writers Institute.

The summer season kicked off on June 27 with a reading by poet Rosanna Warren and novelist Elizabeth Benedict, and it concludes this evening with a reading by Antiguan-American novelist Jamaica Kincaid and poet Henri Cole.

7 p.m. Thursday, July 21

Jamaica Kincaid & Henri Cole

Jamaica Kincaid
Photo credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters

Jamaica Kincaid is the author of the all-time classic A Small Place (1988), a reflection on colonialism and its effects on her home island of Antigua. Her other works include Mr. Potter (described by Robert Boyers as “a perfect, perfectly heartbreaking novel”); Lucy; a collection of short fiction titled At The Bottom of the River; Annie John; My Brother; Autobiography of My Mother, and other books. Her most recent novel is See Now Then.

A former staff writer for The New Yorker, for 20 years, Talk Pieces is a collection of her original writing for the magazine's "Talk of the Town" from 1978 to 1983.

Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson in St John's, Antigua, while it was still under British colonial rule. For economic reasons, her family sent her at the age of 16 to work as an au pair in the United States, where she has resided ever since. She began publishing her writing in 1973 and has published a dozen books as well as many uncollected essays.

In a profile by Leslie Garis published in the New York Times in 1990, Kincaid said she changed her name when her writing was first published as "a way for [her] to do things without being the same person who couldn't do them — the same person who had all these weights."

More from the Garis profile: "Her accent is not only British West Indian but special to her. The pacing is stately, the tone feminine, and the rhythm lilting. She sounds like a genteel Englishwoman with a mysterious background that put music in her speech."

Jamaica Kincaid was a visiting guest at the New York State Writers Institute in 1996, 1999, and at the Albany Book Festival in 2019.

Video: Jamaica Kincaid at the Albany Book Festival, 2019

Henri Cole, poet
Photo credit: Claremont McKenna College

Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1956 and raised in Virginia. He is the author of Middle Earth, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; the memoir Orphic Paris; Nothing to Declare: Poems; Pierce the Skin: Selected Poems, 1982-2007; Blackbird and Wolf, the 2008 recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Middle Earth, which received the 2004 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; The Visible Man; The Look of Things; The Zoo Wheel of Knowledge; and The Marble Queen.

About his own work, Cole writes: "In my own poems, I have grown accustomed to astringency; there is no longer any compulsion to hide or temper the truth, as there was when I was setting out twenty years ago. I do not want to relive what I have felt or seen or hoped along the way, but I do want to extract some illustrative figures, as I do from the parables in the Bible, to help me persevere each day at my writing table, where I must confront myself, overcome any fear of what I might find there, and begin assembling language into poetry."

From 1982 until 1988 Cole was executive director of The Academy of American Poets. Upon learning of his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2017, he said he wished his parents were alive so that he could tell them the good news. “They were always worried I had not made a practical career choice. Why hadn't I gone to law school or joined the air force or sold real estate or something?," he said in an interview published by Claremont McKenna College, where he currently teaches.

About the NYS Summer Writers Institute

The NYS Summer Writers Institute was founded and is still produced by author and professor Robert Boyers at Skidmore College, with sponsorship from Northshire Bookstores and in collaboration with the NYS Writers Institute at the University at Albany.

Previous visiting writers include Nobel Prize winner Louise Glück, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje, Pulitzer Prize winner and NYS Writers Institute Founder William Kennedy, Mary Gordon, Tom Healy, Margo Jefferson, Binnie Kirshenbaum, John McWhorter, James Miller, Caryl Phillips, Katha Pollitt, Francine Prose and Victoria Redel.


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