Lahiri, Jhumpa


Jhumpa Lahiri at the premiere of the Namesake

Image by IncMan/CC Licensed

Growing up in America under the supervision of a mother who wanted to raise her children to be Indian, it is no surprise that Jhumpa Lahiri puts so large an emphasis on the “stories of Indians in what for them is a strange land” (Rothstein 1).  Publishing her first book, Interpreter of Maladies, in 1999, Lahiri has become a quick international success and an award-winning author.  Jhumpa Lahiri was born in 1967 in London but raised in South Kingstown, RI, by her father, a librarian, and her mother, a teacher. The influence of frequent childhood visits to India and parents who are still a part of the Indian world despite their immigration to America thirty years ago shaped her book (People Weekly 138). Lahiri’s role as a writer developed in grade school when she began to “[write] 10-page ‘novels’during recess with her friends” (Patel 80).  Later in her school years, Lahiri busied herself with the school newspaper. After graduating from Barnard college, Lahiri continued at Boston University to obtain her masters degrees in English, comparative literature, and creative writing and later her PhD in Renaissance studies. Following the PhD program, she did a two-year fellowship at Province town’s Fine Arts Work Center.

During completion of her doctorate thesis in 1997, she worked for a Boston magazine as an intern and was given little trust “as a real writer” (Flynn 173). The joke seems to be on Boston magazine and any others who doubted her after the release of her first book, which began to receive awards almost immediately following publication. Among the first received in 1999 was the PEN/Hemingway award for the best fiction debut of the year. The title story, “Interpreter of Maladies,” was chosen for the O Henry Award for best American short stories. Lahiri was a recipient of the Transatlantic Review award from Henfield foundation and the fiction prize from Louisville Review. The New Yorker has published three of her stories and named her as “one of the 20 best writers under the age of 40.”  The greatest tribute to her talent thus far has been the award for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  She is the first Indian woman to receive this award. That said, her 2003 novel The Namesake was made into a popular film and later, in 2008, she released her second book of short stories Unaccustomed Earth, which debuted at the top of the New York Best Seller List.

In January of 2001, Lahiri married the deputy editor of Time Latin America, Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush. The author arranged a traditional Bengali wedding in the Singhi Palace in Calcutta, a place she has never considered “a foreign city [since she] has been coming [there] since [she] was two years old” (“Oh Calcutta!” 1).   She currently sit on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities under Barack Obama.

Interpreter of Maladies

The stories of Jhumpa Lahiri’s first book whisper and scream traces of India through the details of the characters who become fictional testaments to the “complex and conflicted world of Indian immigrants in the United States” (Rothstein 1).  The title for the book came to Lahiri years before she actually began to formulate it when she ran into “a friend who acted as a Russian liaison in a Boston doctor’s office” (Flynn 100). She says that the phrase, “Interpreter of Maladies,” was “the closest [she has] ever come to poetry” (Flynn 100). Her characters often exist simultaneously in two cultures: the American reality and the sphere of Indian tradition (Aguiar 2).

Interpreter of Maladies book cover

Interpreter of Maladies, 1999

Jhumpa Lahiri says that her experiences in Calcutta “nourished [her] interest in seeing things from different points of view” (Patel 80).  Such ability is what allows Lahiri to write from the perspectives of such seemingly different characters. Her points of perspective range from a cab driver/tour guide in “Interpreter of Maladies” to that of an adult recounting her child-like fascination with a recurring visitor in “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine.” Lahiri uses character details in order to make assertions about the sense of isolation that governs each story’s events.

“Mrs. Sen’s” speaks to the many isolated immigrant women of not just Indian descent, but of numerous origin through its poignant depiction of a woman trying to assimilate but unwilling to let go of the aspects of her life in India that “do not fit.”  In the United States, Mrs. Sen baby-sits in her home wearing the intricate saris brought carefully from India which have no remaining purpose. It is the trips to the fish market and letters from India that keep her feeling whole while illuminating her very emptiness. The reaction of Indian audiences to readings by Lahiri have been concerned with ideas of identity and representation, issues surely experienced by all immigrants trying to adapt to a new culture. Lahiri said in an interview with Newsweek that the main character in “Mrs. Sen’s” found its basis in her mother as a babysitter of American children.

One particular story whose setting is not primarily a US Northeastern coastal city is “The Treatment of Bibi Haldar.” An epileptic woman in Calcutta with few relations remains in the grudging care of her cousin and his wife while attempting to find herself a husband and a cure for her ailments.While it remains consistent with Lahiri’s overall theme of isolation, she says herself that “the story is basically about the town’s involvement in Bibi’s search for a husband and her own sense of happiness” (Aguiar 2). Community solidifies the identity of Bibi Haldar because she has no real family. Through the communal device, Lahiri identifies the accentuate disolation of this character in her native city even when surrounded by the same people that have always surrounded her.

The final story of Lahiri’s first collection of nine, “The Third and Final Continent,” addresses the realities of arranged marriages and the long process of assimilation into American culture from an Indian perspective. Perhaps modeled upon aspects of her parents’ lives in the United States, Lahiri’s presents a first person account of an Indian man arranging for the arrival of his new bride as he lives under the roof of an aged American landlady. The vivid differences between his bachelor life in a room in this woman’s house and the journey that he takes while learning who his bride is boldly comments on the cultural differences and similarities in the two cultures. Senses of isolation and a coming together in order to survive are evident in both of these relationships. At the end of the story, Lahiri introduces the idea of loss of cultural identification through passing generations by mentioning the college aged child of the couple. They bring him home to “eat rice with his hands and speak Bengali” which are “things[they] sometimes worry he will no longer do after [they] die” (Lahiri 197). Lahiri presents a couple whose only remaining connection with the country of their origin has a definitive death with their own end because the assimilation of their son into American culture leaves no room for their own cultural orientation.

Selected Reviews of Interpreter of Maladies

Salon Books: Charles Taylor

An interesting exploration of some thematic and stylistic elements of Lahiri’s first book. Taylor explores the author’s ability to “erase boundaries between character and audience” as it relates to her purposely simplistic stylistic mechanisms. By pointing out the fact that Lahiri’s characters are not at a loss for cultural identity but rather “relieved when they adjust to their new world and regretful at the separation from their original cultures,” Taylor names assimilation as a major theme. Finally, the review correctly highlights the imagery and abundant references to rich Indian food as a marked difference between the American culture to be embraced and the Indian culture that must be savored.

New York Times Book Review: “Subcontinental Drift”: Caleb Crain

Mainly focusing on the power of relationships and the personal connections of Lahiri’s diverse characters, Caleb Crain says that the author “breathes unpredictable life into [her pages leaving] the reader…wishing he could spend a whole novel with its characters” (Crain 12).  The review explores how characters like Twinkle in “This Blessed House” obtain something worthwhile out of relationships seemingly doomed to failure.  Crain concentrates on Lahiri’s presentation of the “force” of relationships rather than their “sentiment” as he asserts that not even religion is as powerful as Twinkle’s tears of protest. It is Lahiri’s ability to create characters with whom the audience can relate that makes the book magic. Lahiri uses character description in her stories in such a fashion that she is able to effectively and passively comment upon human relationships.

New York Times: “Liking America, but Longing for India”: Michiko Kakutani

Kakutani effectively draws upon not only the theme of cultural displacement, but also the disconnected feelings that exist within all the relationships in every story. Presenting several examples of the stories of Interpreter of Maladies illustrates the manners in which Lahiri’s characters struggle to relate to one another, themselves, and their changing positions in life. The themes of loss and isolation are evident in this review as Kakutani describes the methods through which Lahiri looks at people’s dualistically structured lives in two countries, primarily India and the United States. The review does present some criticism of the author’s use of coincidence as a crutch to explain occurrences in her characters’ lives but says that this small failing does not take away from her ability to present and handle her intricate web of characters.

The Village Voice: Megan O’Grady

Although brief, this review focuses on the details of the book as they relate to people who feel like foreigners “at home or abroad.”  O’Grady focuses on Lahiri’s ability to employ subtlety as a tactic for interpreting human relationships in order to avoid being overbearing or overly moralistic. She presents evidence for the feelings of disorientation associated with immigration through details that Lahiri again subtly employs in order to emphasize the cross-cultural differences that become telling factors in plot development. In the realm of relationships, O’Grady focuses on marriage. It is a recurrent domain in Lahiri’s stories and so therefore is used to convey information again about dislocation and isolation in a new culture or lifestyle.

Works Cited

  • Aguiar, Arun. “One on One With Jhumpa Lahiri.” 28 July 1999. Pifmagazine. 8 Oct. 2001. Web.
  • “Breakthroughs 2000: Jhumpa Lahiri, author.” People Weekly 25Dec. 2000-1 Jan. 2001: 138.
  • Crain, Caleb. “Subcontinental Drift.” New York Times Book Review 104.28 (11 July 1999) : 11-12.
  • Donahue, Deirdre. “Painfully Beautiful Passages from India.” USA Today 12 Aug. 1999: 7D.
  • Flynn, Gillian. “Passage to India.” Entertainment Weekly (28 Apr/5 May, 2000): 100.
  • Flynn, Sean. “Women We Love: Jhumpa Lahiri.” Esquire Oct. 2000: 172-173.
  • Kafka, Phillipa. On the outside looking in(dian) : Indian women writers at home and abroad. New York : P. Lang, 2003.
  • Kakutani, Michiko. “Liking America, but Longing for India.” New York Times 6 Aug. 1999: E2: 48.
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
  • Mani, Bakirathi. Aspiring to home : South Asians in America. Stanford, California : Stanford University Press, 2012.
  • O’Grady, Megan. “Interpreter of Maladies.” The Village Voice 44.24 (1999) : 104.
  • “Oh Calcutta! The ONLY place to wed.” Asiaweek 26 Jan. 2001: 1.
  • Patel, Vibhuti. “The Maladies of Belonging.” Newsweek 20 Sep.1999: 80.
  • News report. 11 April 2000. 8 Oct. 2001. Web.
  • Rothstein, Mervyn. “India’s Post-Rushdie Generation.” New York Times 3 July 2000: E1.
  • Roy, Nilanjana S. A matter of taste : the Penguin book of Indian writing on food. New York : Penguin Books, 2004.
  • Shankar, lavina Dhingra and Floyd Cheung. Naming Jhumpa Lahiri : canons and controversies. Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books, 2012.
  • Steinberg, Sybil S. “Interpreter of Maladies.” Publishers Weekly (19 Apr. 1999): 59-60.
  • Taylor, Charles. “Interpreter of Maladies.” Salon Books. 27 July 1999. Web.
  • Varvogli, Aliki. Travel and dislocation in contemporary American fiction. New York : Routledge, 2011.

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Essay by Author

Author: Katherine Wcislo Fall 2001

Last Updated: July 2012


Walcott, Derek

I who am poisoned with the blood of both
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the British tongue I love?

 “A Far Cry from Africa”


Photo of Derek Walcott

Image by Bert Nienhuis/CC Licensed

When the Swedish Academy awarded poet and playwright Derek Walcott the Nobel Prize in 1992, it recognized what many commentators on Caribbean literature had long celebrated, a brilliant artist’s response to the what the Academy called the “complexity of his own situation.” Walcott’s life and work inhabit a teeming intersection of cultural forces, a space that his friend and fellow-poet James Dickey described with a remarkable litany: “Here he is, a twentieth-century man, living in the West Indies and in Boston, poised between the blue sea and its real fish…and the rockets and warheads, between a lapsed colonial culture and the industrial North, between Africa and the West, between slavery and intellectualism, between the native Caribbean tongue and the English learned from books, between the black and white of his own body, between the sound of the home ocean and the lure of European culture (8).” These relationships have remained a major subject of his work because his imagination has never lost contact with his native West Indies, which animates his writing with its intense physical beauty. His writing explores the troubled relationship between this gift and a colonial heritage and the problems of a fragmented postcolonial identity.

Early Life and Poetry

Walcott was born in 1930 on the island of St. Lucia, the child of a civil servant and a schoolteacher and the descendant of two white grandfathers and two black grandmothers. Though his first language was a French-English patois, he received an English education, an apprenticeship in language that his mother supported by reciting English poetry at home and by exposing her children to the European classics at an early age. In “What the Twilight Says,” an autobiographical essay published in 1970, Walcott writes of the two worlds that informed his childhood: “Colonials, we began with this malarial enervation: that nothing could ever be built among these rotting shacks, barefooted backyards and moulting shingles; that being poor, we already had the theater of our lives. In that simple schizophrenic boyhood one could lead two lives: the interior life of poetry, and the outward life of action and dialect (4).”

Walcott’s art arises from this schizophrenic situation, from a struggle between two cultural heritages which he has harnessed to create a unique creolized style. His early poetry booklets, published in the late 1940s with money borrowed from his mother, reveal a self-conscious apprentice determined to make what Walcott called  verse “legitimately prolonging the mighty line of Marlow and Milton (31).”  English and American critics often have been ambivalent about his use of the Western literary tradition and Walcott has also drawn criticism from Caribbean commentators, who accuse him of neglecting native forms in favor of techniques derived his colonial oppressors. To be sure, his early works seem overpowered by the voices of English poetry, and his entire oeuvre respects the traditional concerns of poetic form. But if his poetry demonstrates a significant relation to tradition, it also manifests an elegant blending of sources — European and American, Caribbean and Latino, classical and contemporary. Later works, including In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960, reveal a poet who has learned his craft from the European tradition, but who remains mindful of West Indian landscapes and experiences. The task of Walcott as a young poet, one he undertook with an enthusiasm for both imitation and experimentation, was to develop an idiom adequate to his subject matter.

Early Dramatic Writings

Though his poetry displays a passion to record Caribbean life, this tendency is more apparent in Walcott’s drama, which draws consistently not only on his native patois, but also on regional folk traditions. In the 1950s, after taking a degree from the University College of the West Indies, Walcott wrote a series of verse plays, including Henri Christophe which recounts an episode in Caribbean history using the diction and plotting of Jacobean tragedy. His subsequent forays into dramatic writing, The Sea at Dauphin and Ione, mingle the influences of J. M. Synge and Greek drama with a new emphasis on West Indian language and customs. During this period Walcott also taught and wrote as a journalist in Grenada, before moving to Trinidad, where he gathered a group of actors and founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. While in Trinidad, Walcott developed a mature dramatic idiom in plays such as Ti-Jean and his Brothers and Dream on Monkey Mountain, which put an elevated dialect in mouths of common West Indian folk.  In “What the Twilight Says” Walcott describes his desire to fill these plays with “a language that went beyond mimicry, … one which finally settled on its own mode of inflection, and which begins to create an oral culture, of chants, jokes, folk-songs, and fables (17).” Chronicling a peasant fantasy of rejecting the white world and reclaiming an African heritage, Dream on Monkey Mountain not only makes effective use of native dialect, but also satirizes the bureaucratic idiom of colonialism. Language becomes a route to racial identity and a necessary resource for the survival of West Indian communities.

Mature Writings

While Walcott dedicated much of the 1960s to developing the Trinidad Theatre Workshop and to rewriting earlier dramas, his primary focus was on poetry. Between 1964 and 1973 he published four volumes which continued his exploration and expansion of traditional forms and which increasingly concerned themselves with position of the poet in the postcolonial world. In contrast to the plays of this period which arise from a sense of shared colonial history and local mythology, The Castaway and Other Poems (1964) draws on the figure of Robinson Crusoe to suggest the isolation of the artist. “As a West Indian,” Katie Jones suggests, “the poet can be seen as a castaway from both his ancestral cultures, African and European, stemming from both, belonging to neither. To salve this split, Walcott creates a castaway who is also a new Adam … whose task is to name his world. Walcott’s castaway is a poet who creates and gives meaning to nothingness” (Brown 38).  Coping with internal division remains a concern in The Gulf, which calls on the body of water separating St. Lucia from the United State as a metaphor for the breach between the poet and all he loves, between his adult consciousness and childhood memories, his international interests and the feeling of community in his homeland. Walcott explored these themes again in Another Life, a book-length autobiographical poem that examines the important roles of poetry, memory, and historical consciousness in bridging the distances within the postcolonial psyche.

This investigation transferred to his dramatic writings in the 1970s, which address the problems of Caribbean identity against the backdrop of political and racial strife and which increasingly find solutions to these troubles in the individual.  These works also display an expansion of his artistic concerns into different genres. After a comical turn in Jourmard, Walcott wrote two musicals in collaboration with Galt MacDermont: The Joker of Seville (1974), a patois adaptation of Molina’s El buladorde Sevella, and O Babylon! (1976), a portrayal of Rastafarians in Jamaica at the time of Haile Selassie’s 1966 visit and which uses reggae music as a means of exploring West Indian identity. O Babylon! also marked the end of Walcott’s association with the Trinidad Theatre Workshop and the beginning of new period of dramatic writing, highlighted by plays such as Remembrance (1977) and Pantomime (1978). The protagonist of Remembrance, Albert Perez Jordan, is a schoolmaster who lost his oldest son in the 1970 Black Power uprising and who remains distressed by a political commitment he cannot understand. Unable to connect with his family or with his own past, Jordan finds himself divided between an older generation committed to tradition and a younger one playing at revolution. Characters in the comedic Pantomine confront similar divisions, but here the issue of race comes to the fore. Reviving the Crusoe story once again, Walcott creates a play-within-a-play and recasts the roles so that Jackson, a black hotel servant, plays Crusoe and his white employer plays Friday. This reversal highlights the fraught relationship that binds black to white, master to slave, colonizer to colonized. Far from being an irreparable situation, however, Jackson’s ability to synthesize his calypso talents with a poetic use of the English language suggests a respect for differences and a possibility for healing old wounds.

Life and Work in the United States

If his drama has examined the role of music and language in mending divisions, Walcott’s poetry has sought to do the same through a continuing examination of the relation of life to art. After his break with the Trinidad Theatre workshop in 1976, Walcott directed his attention increasingly to the United States, where he has held a number of teaching positions, including a long-standing appointment at Boston University. It is not surprising then that much of the poetry written during this period reflects the tensions between his role as an educator at a mainland institution and as a poet from a small island nation. But even before Walcott began spending most of the year away from the West Indies, his experience as transient international poet, one called to read and lecture around the world, had supplied his poetry with images of painful departures and the guilty homecomings. In the title poem of Sea Grapes, for instance, Odysseus is portrayed as a divided man, who finds himself both a husband going home and an adulterer unable to forget his trespasses.

Rather than avoid such painful dilemmas, Walcott’s works from the 1980s explore the “bitter sweet pleasures of exile” experienced when one has become estranged from his beloved homeland, when one has become divided between “North” and “South” (the subdivisions of The Fortunate Traveller) and between “Hear and Elsewhere” (The Arkansas Testament).  While these works deal with general themes such as injustice, racism, hatred, oppression, and isolation, they continually return to inner divisions of an exile and increasingly to the role of art in mending these divisions. Midsummer is important in this regard because its lyrics record a year in the life of the poet as he returns to the Caribbean from the United States in search of childhood memories and as he travels throughout region recording its sense of community from the perspective of an outsider. Despite his feelings of loss and his increasing awareness of cruelty in the world, the poet finds not only the strength to endure but also some reassurance in artistic vision, in the English and patois languages he loves and in masterpieces of modern art.

Nobel Prize and Omeros

While Walcott has been praised for his lasting contributions to Caribbean theater, receiving credit for establishing a truly native dramatic form, the Nobel committee singled out a work of poetry when it selected him as laureate in 1992. Omeros (modern Greek for Homer) is a book-length poem that places his beloved West Indies in the role of the ancient bard’s Cyclades. This retelling of the Odyssey is not inhabited by gods and heroic warriors, but by simple Caribbean fishermen, whose Greek names register their hybrid identities. And though it is composed in terza rima, Omeros is not an epic in any traditional sense. Rather than describing a single quest, the shape-shifting narrator, who appears in Homeric guise at several points in the poem, recounts a number journeys into the hidden corners of colonial history. The success of Omeros validates the substance of Walcott’s entire oeuvre, for here are the themes that have consistently preoccupied the poet: the beauty of his island home, the burden of a colonial legacy, the fragmentation of Caribbean identity, and the role of the poet in addressing these concerns.

Since winning the Nobel Prize, Walcott has continued to write prolifically, producing a new epic poem, The Bounty in 1992 and three more collection of poems, including White Egrets which won the T.S. Eliot prize in 2011. In these works, he continues to explore the complex legacy of colonialism with a poetic vision that recognizes the range of traditions comprising his beloved West Indies, and with a poetic voice that harmonizes the discord between the English canon and his native dialect.

Walcott in His Own Words

on his poetic language:

It was no problem for me to feel that since I was writing in English, I was in tune with the growth of the language.  I was a contemporary of anyone writing in English anywhere in the world. What is more important, however — and I’m still working on this — was to find a voice that was not inflected by influences. One didn’t develop an English accent in speech; one kept as close as possible to an inflection that was West Indian. The aim was that a West Indian or an Englishman could read a single poem, each with this own accent, without either one feeling that is was written in dialect.

Conversations 53

on his status as a Caribbean writer:

I am primarily, absolutely a Caribbean writer. The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property to the language itself. I have never felt inhibited in trying to write as well as the greatest English poets.  Now that has led to a lot of provincial criticism: the Caribbean critic may say, “You’re trying to be English,” and the English critic may say, “Welcome to the club.”  These are two provincial statements at either end of the spectrum.

Conversations 55

on his reception as a Caribbean writer:

So if you ask me about how I feel if I’m reviewed, I think I’ve had a parallel equivalent, politically I have been through, in my life, an identical series of phases which would be that of being a colonial, being someone given adult suffrage, being someone given self-government, and being someone who becomes very public so that the decades of my life maybe the equivalent of the political decades of the Caribbean. Now, on the other had, those decades or those definitions have sometimes been bestowed by the empire; in other words, the empire has said, okay, you are no longer a colonial, you can now have adult suffrage; you no longer have adult suffrage, you an now be independent; you are no independent, you can now be a republic.

Conversations 55

on America, colonialism, and identity:

The whole idea of America, and the whole idea of every thing on this side of the world, barring the Native American Indian, is imported; we’re all imported, black, Spanish.  When one says one is American, that’s the experience of being American — that transference of whatever color, or name, or place. The difficult part is the realization that one is part of the whole idea of colonization. Because the easiest thing about colonialism is to refer to history in terms of guilt or punishment or revenge, or whatever. Whereas the rare thing is the resolution of being where one is and doing something positive about that reality.

Conversations 54

Selected Works by Derek Walcott


  • Walcott, Derek. Another Life. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1973.
  • —. The Arkansas Testament. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1987.
  • —. The Bounty. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997.
  • —. The Castaway, and Other Poems.  London: Cape, 1965.
  • —.  Epitaph for the Young. Bridgetown: Barbados Advocate, 1949.
  • —. The Fortunate Traveller. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981.
  • —. The Gulf, and Other Poems. London: Cape, 1969.
  • —. Midsummer. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984.
  • —. Omeros. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990.
  • —. The Prodigal. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2004.
  • —. Sea Grapes. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976.
  • —. Selected Poems. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.
  • —. The Star-Apple Kingdom. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979.
  • —. Tiepolo’s Hound. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000.
  • —. White Egrets. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010.


  • Walcott, Derek. A Branch of the Blue Nile. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986.
  • —. The Capeman. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997.
  • —. The Charlatan. Kingston: Trinidad Extra Mural Department, University College of the West Indies, 1954.
  • —. Ione: A Play with Music. Kingston: Trinidad Extra Mural Department, University College of the West Indies, 1957.
  • —. Drums and Colors: An Epic Drama. Kingston: Trinidad Extra Mural Department, University College of the West Indies, 1958.
  • —. Dream on Monkey Mountain. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1967.
  • —. Henri Christophe: A Chronicle in Seven Scenes, 1950
  • —. In a Fine Life. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1970.
  • —. The Joker of Seville. London: Cape, 1973.
  • —. O Babylon! New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976.
  • —. Odyssey: A Stage Version. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1993.
  • —. Steel. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991.
  • —. Walker and the Ghost-Dance. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002.

Works Consulted

  • Atlas, James.  “Constructing Modern Idiom on a Base of  Tradition.” The New York Times. (9 Oct. 1992): 30.
  • Brodsky, Joseph. “On Derek Walcott.” The New York Review of Books. (10 Nov. 1983): 39-41.
  • Brown, Stewart, ed. The Art of Derek Walcott. Chester Springs: Dufour, 1991.
  • Dickey, James. “Worlds of a Cosmic Castaway.” The New York Review of Books. (2 Feb. 1986): 2.
  • Gale Research. “Derek Walcott.” Contemporary Literary Criticism Select. 1998. Web.
  • Lyndersay, Mark. “Photography of Derek Walcott.” Lyndersay Photographs Page. 10 April 2000. Web. <>
  • McWatt, Mark A. “Derek Walcott: An Island Poet and his Sea.” Third World Quarterly 10.4 (Oct. 1988): 1607-1615.
  • Terada, Rei. Derek Walcott’s Poetry: American Mimicry. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1992.
  • Walcott, Derek. “What the Twilight Says: An Overture.”  Dream on Monkey Mountain. New York: Farrar, 1970.  3-40.
  • Walcott, Derek. Conversations with Derek Walcott. Ed. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1996.

Related Sites

Nobel Prize biography

Paul Gilroy: The Black Atlantic

Author: Patrick Bixby, Spring 2000
Last edited: April 2012

Mukherjee, Bharati


Photo of Mukherjee speaking

Image by DGtal/Public Domain

Bharati Mukherjee was born on July 27, 1940 to wealthy parents, Sudhir Lal and Bina Mukherjee in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. She learned how to read and write by the age of three. In 1947, she moved to Britain with her family at the age of eight and lived in Europe for about three and a half years. By the age of ten, Mukherjee knew that she wanted to become a writer, and had written numerous short stories.

After getting her B.A from the University of Calcutta in 1959 and her M.A. in English and Ancient Indian Culture from the University of Baroda in 1961, she came to the United States. Having been awarded a scholarship from the University of Iowa, she earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 1963 and her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature in 1969. While studying at the University of Iowa, she met and married a Canadian student from Harvard, Clark Blaise, on September 19, 1963. The two writers met and, after a brief courtship, married within two weeks. Together, the two writers have produced two books along with their other independent works. Mukherjee’s career as professor and her marriage to Blaise Clark has given her opportunities to teach all over the United States and Canada. Currently she is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Major Themes

Mukherjee’s works focus on the “phenomenon of migration, the status of new immigrants, and the feeling of alienation often experienced by expatriates” as well as on Indian women and their struggle (Alam 7). Her own struggle with identity, first as an exile from India, then an Indian expatriate in Canada and finally as a immigrant in the United States has led to her current state of being an immigrant in a country of immigrants (Alam 10).

Biographer Fakrul Alam’s categorizes Mukherjee’s life into three phases, and her fiction can be interpreted with this schema as well. Her earlier works, such as the The Tiger’s Daughter and parts of Days and Nights in Calcutta, are her attempts to find her identity in her Indian heritage.

The Tiger’s Daughter is about a young girl named Tara who returns to India after many years of being away only to return to poverty and turmoil. This story parallels Mukherjee’s own return to India with Clark Blaise in 1973 and she was deeply affected by the chaos and poverty of Indian and mistreatment of women in the name of tradition. She writes that  “what is unforgivable is the lives that have been sacrificed to notions of propriety and obedience” (Days and Nights 217). However, her husband became very intrigued by the magic of the myth and culture that surrounded every part of Bengal. These differences of opinion, her shock and his awe, are seen in one of their joint publications, Days and Nights in Calcutta.

The second phase of her writing encompasses works such as Wife, the short stories in Darkness, an essay entitled “An Invisible Woman” and The Sorrow and the Terror, a joint effort with her husband. These works originate in Mukherjee’s own experience of racism in Canada, where despite being a tenured professor, she felt humiliated and on the edge of being a “housebound, fearful, aggrieved, obsessive, and unforgiving queen of bitterness”(Mukherjee, qtd. in Alam 10).

After moving back to the United States, she wrote about her personal experiences. One of her short stories entitled “Isolated Incidents” explores the biased Canadian view towards immigrants that she encountered, as well as how government agencies handled assaults on particular races. Another short story titled “The Tenant” continues to reflect on her focus on immigrant Indian women and their mistreatment. The story is about a divorced Indian woman studying in the States and her experiences with interracial relationships. One quotation from the story hints at Mukherjee’s views of Indian men as being too preoccupied to truly care for their wives and children: “‘All Indian men are wife beaters,’ Maya [the narrator] says. She means it and doesn’t mean it.” In Wife, Mukherjee writes about a woman named Dimple who has been oppressed by such men and attempts to be the ideal Bengali wife, but out of fear and personal instability, she murders her husband and eventually commits suicide. The stories in Darkness further endeavor to tell similar stories of immigrants and women.

In her third phase, Mukherjee is described as having accepted being “an immigrant, living in a continent of immigrants” (M. qtd in Alam 9). She claims an American identity and not a hyphenated Indian-American one:

I maintain that I am an American writer of Indian origin, not because I’m ashamed of my past, not because I’m betraying or distorting my past, but because my whole adult life has been lived here, and I write about the people who are immigrants going through the process of making a home here… I write in the tradition of immigrant experience rather than nostalgia and expatriation. That is very important. I am saying that the luxury of being a U.S. citizen for me is that can define myself in terms of things like my politics, my sexual orientation or my education. My affiliation with readers should be on the basis of what they want to read, not in terms of my ethnicity or my race.

(Mukherjee qtd. in Basbanes)

Mukherjee continues writing about the immigrant experience in her novel Jasmine and most of the stories in The Middle Man and Other Stories, a collection of short stories which won her the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Fiction. Jasmine develops this idea of the mixing of the East and West by telling the story of a young Hindu woman who leaves India for the U.S. after her husband’s murder, only to be raped and eventually returned to the position of a caregiver through a series of jobs.

Mukherjee’s focus continues to be on immigrant women. She also uses the female characters to explore the spatio-temporal (Massachusetts to India) connections between different cultures. In Leave It to Me, Mukherjee tells the story of a young woman sociopath named Debby DiMartino, who seeks revenge on parents who abandoned her. The story reveals her ungrateful interaction with kind adoptive parents and a vengeful search for her real parents (described as a murderer and a flower child). The novel also looks at the conflict between Eastern and Western worlds and at mother-daughter relationships.


  • Mukherjee, Bharati. “An Invisible Woman.” Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1981.
  • —. Kautilya’s Concept of Diplomacy: A New Interpretation. Calcutta: Minerva, 1976.
  • —. Darkness. New York: Penguin, 1985.
  • —. Days and Nights in Calcutta. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.
  • —. Desirable Daughters. New York: Hyperion, 2003.
  • —. The Holder of the World. New York: Knopf, 1993.
  • —. Jasmine. New York: Grove, 1989.
  • —. Leave It to Me. New York: Knopf, 1997.
  • —. The Middleman and Other Stories. New York: Grove, 1988.
  • —. Political Culture and Leadership in India. Columbia: South Asia, 1991.
  • —. Regionalism in Indian Perspective. Columbia: South Asia, 1992.
  • —. The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy. New York: Viking, 1987.
  • —. The Tree Bride. New York: Hyperion, 2004.
  • —. The Tiger’s Daughter. Boston: Houghton, 1972.
  • —. Wife. Boston: Houghton, 1975.

Related Sites

Story hour with Bharati Mukherjee and Clark Blaise

Works Cited

Author: Shilpi Pradhan, Spring 1998   Last edited: June 2012

Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee


Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni picture

Image by Dying Fall/CC Licensed

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. Her work is widely known, as she has been published in over 50 magazines, and her writing has been included in over 30 anthologies.

She was born in India in 1956 and lived there until 1976, when, at age nineteen,  she left Calcutta and came to the United States. She continued her education in the field of English by receiving a Master’s degree from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. To earn money for her education, she held many odd jobs, including babysitting, selling merchandise in an Indian boutique, slicing bread in a bakery, and washing instruments in a science lab. At Berkeley, she lived in the International House and worked in the dining hall, slicing Jell-O and removing dishes from the dishwasher. She briefly lived in Chicago and Ohio before she settled in Sunnydale, California in 1979. She currently lives in Houston, Texas and teaches at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. Since 1991, she has been the president of MAITRI, a helpline for South Asian women that particularly helps victims of domestic violence and other abusive situations. She is also involved with Pratham, a non-profit that seeks to improve literacy among disadvantaged Indian children. She has said that the one word which would describe her is “enthusiastic” and she that she is motivated to be excellent in her field and to create literary art of lasting value (qtd in “Profiles”). She sees herself as “a listener, a facilitator, a connector to people,” and, “to me, the art of dissolving boundaries is what living is all about” (“Dissolving” 2).

Major Themes

Arranged Marriage book cover

Arranged Marriage, 1996

Much of Divakaruni’s work is partially autobiographical. Most of her stories are set in the Bay Area of California. She is is invested in writing about the immigrant experience, which continues to have resonance in today’s world. Her book, Arranged Marriage, is a collection of short stories about women from India caught between two worlds. In The Mistress of Spices, the character Tilo provides spices, not only for cooking, but also for the feelings of homesickness and alienation that the Indian immigrants in her shop experience (Softky 1997). She writes to unite people by destroying myths and stereotypes. As she breaks down these myths and stereotypes, she dissolves boundaries between people of different backgrounds, communities, ages, and even different worlds.  She says, “Women in particular respond to my work because I’m writing about them, women in love, in difficulties, women in relationships. I want people to relate to my characters, to feel their joy and pain, because it will be harder to [be] prejudiced when they meet them in real life” (qtd. in Softky). Divakaruni’s interest in women began after she left India, at which point she reevaluated the treatment of women there. At Berkeley, she volunteered at a women’s center and became interested in helping battered women. She then started MAITRI with a group of friends, which eventually led her to write Arranged Marriage.

Arranged Marriage and her novel, The Mistress of Spices, are both highly acclaimed works. In Arranged Marriage, Divakaruni beautifully tells stories about immigrant brides who are “both liberated and trapped by cultural changes” and who are struggling to carve out an identity of their own (Holt 1).  In one story, “Doors,” the character Preeti, after moving to the United States, has come to love the Western idea of privacy. She faces a dilemma when her husband’s cousin wants to come live with them. She expresses her discontent with the situation and thus demonstrates her new found decisiveness and resistance to her husband’s view of a traditional Indian wife. In another story, “Clothes,” the husband of the narrator, Sumita, dies and she is faced with the decision of staying in America or going back to India to live with her in-laws. Sumita calls widows who are serving their in-laws in India “doves with cutoff wings.” Divakaruni deals with a variety of issues in the book, including racism, interracial relationships, economic disparity, abortion, and divorce. She says that the stories are inspired by her imagination and the experiences of others (Mehta 4).

Mistress of Spices book cover

Mistress of Spices, 1998

The Mistress of Spices is unique in that it is written with a blend of prose and poetry. The book has a very mystical quality to it, and, as Divakaruni puts it, “I wrote in a spirit of play, collapsing the divisions between the realistic world of twentieth century America and the timeless one of myth and magic in my attempt to create a modern fable.” (“Dissolving” 2). The novel follows Tilo, a magical figure who runs a grocery store and uses spices to help the customers overcome difficulties. In the process, she develops dilemmas of her own when she falls in love with a non-Indian. This creates great conflicts, as she has to choose whether to serve her people or to follow the path leading to her own happiness. Tilo has to decide which parts of her heritage she will keep and which parts she will chose to abandon. The novel was later made into a movie of the same name in 2005.

Divakaruni’s novel, Sister of My Heart is about the lives of two women and how they change marriage as one woman comes to California, and the other stays behind in India.  The Vine of Desire (2002) continues the story of the two friends.  The Unknown Errors of Our Lives is a collection of stories “about family, culture, and the seduction of memory” (book jacket).

Chitra Divakaruni is the editor of Multitudes, an anthology she uses in her own classroom. She states about the book, “I didn’t want to sacrifice quality, and [the stories] focus on problem solving, not just how terrible things are” (qtd. in Softky). The anthology includes stories about communication styles across cultures, expectations of friendships, the Los Angeles riots, and prejudice against gay people. The book contains works by a variety of authors, and some are even by her own students.

Before she began her career in fiction-writing, Divakaruni was an acclaimed poet. She writes poems encompassing a wide variety of themes, and she once again directs much focus to the immigrant experience and to South Asian women. She shows the experiences and struggles involved in women trying to find their own identities. Divakaruni’s latest collection, Leaving Yuba City, is unique because it includes series of poems based on and inspired by various art forms, including paintings by Francesco Clemente, photographs by Raghubir Singh, and specific Indian films, such as “Salaam Bombay”. With these poems, Divakaruni once again shows how boundaries can be destroyed. Her verse illustrates how different art forms are not independent entities, but how they can, in fact, influence each other. The following is a poem from Black Candle, which contains poems about women from the India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

The Arranged Marriage

The night is airless-still, as
before a storm. Behind the wedding drums,
cries of jackals from the burning grounds.
The canopy gleams, color
of long life, many children.
Color of bride-blood. At the entrance
the women have painted a sign
of Laxmi, goddess of wealth, have put up
a blackened pot to ward off
the witch who lives beyond
the Sheora forest and eats
young flesh.
Guests from three villages
jostle, making marriage jokes. A long
conch blast for the groom’s party,
men in dhotis white as ice. Someone runs to them
with water of rose, silvered betal leaves,
piled garlands from which rise
the acrid smell of marigolds.
The priests confer, arrange wood and incense
for the wedding fire. The chants begin.
Through smoke, the stars
are red pinpricks, the women’s voices
almost a wailing. Uncles and brothers
carry in the bride, her face hidden
under an edge of scarlet silk, her trembling
under the wedding jewels.
The groom’s father
produces his scales and in clenched silence
the dowry gold is weighed. But he smiles
and all is well again. Now it is godhuli,
the time of the auspicious seeing.
Time for you, bride of sixteen,
mother, to raise the tear-stained face
that I will learn so well,
to look for the first time into
your husband’s opaque eyes (14-15).

Major Works


  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Dark Like the River (1987)
  • —. The Reason for Nasturtiums (1990)
  • —. Black Candle (1991)
  • —. Leaving Yuba City (1997)


  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Arranged Marriage: Stories. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.
  • —.  The Mistress of Spices. New York. Anchor Books, 1997.
  • —. Sister of My Heart. New York: Anchor Books, 1999.
  • —. The Unknown Errors of our Lives . New York: Doubleday, 2001.
  • —. Neela: Victory Song. Middleton: Pleasant Company, 2002.
  • —. The Vine of Desire. New York: Doubleday, 2002.
  • —. The Conch Bearer. Book One of the Brotherhood of the Conch. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2003.
  • —. Queen of Dreams. New York: Doubleday, 2004.
  • —. The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming: Book Two of the Brotherhood of the Conch. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2005.
  • —. The Palace of Illusions: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2008.
  • —. Shadowland: Book Three of the Brotherhood of the Conch. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2009.
  • —. One Amazing Thing. New York: Hyperion, 2010.


  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Multitude: cross-cultural anthology. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.
  • —. We Too Sing America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.
  • —. California Uncovered: Stories for the 21st Century. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2004.

Awards and Honors

1995: The American Book Award for Arranged Marriage: Stories
1997: The Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize and the Pushcart Prize for poems in Leaving Yuba City: New and Selected Poems
1997: Mistress of Spices shortlisted for The Orange Prize
1997: Los Angeles Times Best Books of 1997 for Mistress of Spices
1998: Seattle Times Best Paperbacks of 1998 for Mistress of Spices
1999: “Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter” included in Best American Short Stories
2003: “The Lives of Strangers” included in O’Henry Prize Stories
2003: Pushcart Prize for “The Lives of Strangers”
2007: Distinguished Writer Award from the South Asian Literary Association
2008: University of California at Berkeley International House Alumna of the Year Award
2009: Cultural Jewel Award from the Indian Culture Center, Houston
PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award for Arranged Marriage: Stories
Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction for Arranged Marriage: Stories
2011: Light of India Jury’s Award for Journalism and Literature

Selected Bibliography

  • Albert, Janice. “How now, my metal of India?” English Journal (Sept 1997): 99-100.
  • Divakaruni, Chitra. Black Candle. Corvallis: CALYX Books,1991.
  • —.”Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.” San Francisco Chronicle (24Dec 1995):  A10.
  • —. “Dissolving Boundaries.” (1997). Web. <$597>
  • Holt, Patricia. “Women feel tug of two cultures.” San Francisco Chronicle (1 Aug 1995):  E5.
  • Mehta, Julie. “Arranging One’s Life.” (1996). Web. <>
  • “Profiles: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.” Web. <>
  • Softky, Elizabeth. “Cross-cultural understanding spiced with the Indian Diaspora.” Black Issues in Higher Education (18 Sept 1997): 26+.

Related Sites

MAITRI homepage

Author: Nilu N. Patel, Spring 1998
Last edited: June 2012

Alvarez, Julia


Image of Julia Alvarez

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Although Julia Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950, her family moved to the Dominican Republic shortly after her birth, and it was there that she spent the majority of her childhood. In 1960, when Alvarez was ten years old, her family emigrated to the United States, fleeing the Dominican Republic because of Alvarez’s father’s involvement with an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship. In New York, Alvarez received her education in boarding schools and realized while in high school that she wanted to pursue a career as a writer. In 1967, she began studying at Connecticut College; after two years, she transferred to Middlebury College where, in 1971, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree (summa cum laude). Alvarez also attended Syracuse University, from which she received her M.F.A. in 1975, and Bread Loaf School of English, where she took graduate courses in English and American literature.

In the years since 1975, Alvarez has held various positions. From 1975 until 1978, she served as a writer-in-residence for Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina schools. She has taught creative writing and English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-81), University of Vermont (1981-83), and University of Illinois (1985-88). In 1984, she was the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University. Having previously served as a professor at Middlebury College from 1988 to 1998, she is currently a writer-in-residence there.

Major Themes

Having spent the majority of her life in the United States, Alvarez considers herself an American, yet her writing bridges the realms of Latina and American culture. Her stories can often be traced to her Dominican roots, but they are flooded with insights about the human experience. She does not target her writing to a specific ethnic population; rather, she recognizes the similarities among all people and focuses her work in those commonalities. “I am a Dominican, hyphen, American,” she comments. “As a fiction writer, I find that the most exciting things happen in the realm of that hyphen–the place where two worlds collide or blend together” (Stavans 553). In her writing she strives to uncover the truths of human existence, truths that extend beyond any ethnic or gender barrier. In the words of Susan Miller, Alvarez “experiment[s] with the cross-fertilization of language and cultures” (77). Her works reflect the multiple identities she has assumed as a woman, a Latin American, and an American.

For Alvarez, writing serves several purposes. She says, “I write to find out what I’m thinking. I write to find out who I am. I write to understand things” (Requa 2). Her responsibility to the reader lies in the expression of herself, in the sharing of the insights she has gleaned in her life. In an interview, she quotes Russian writer Anton Chekhov, who says, “The writer’s not there to solve the problem, but to state the problem correctly” (qtd. in Requa 2). Alvarez has done a tremendous job of stating the problem in her beautifully written novels. Through the captivating stories of her characters’ lives, she unveils such powerful issues as the male chauvinism characteristic of Hispanic families, the role of women under dictatorships, and the misogyny manifested in political structures (Stavans 555). Ilan Stavans describes Alvarez as daring “to turn the novel into a political artifact” (556).

Awards and Honors

Benjamin T. Marshall Poetry Prize from Connecticut College, 1968 and 1969
Prize from Academy of American Poetry, 1974
Creative writing fellowship from Syracuse University, 1974-75
Kenan grant from Phillips Andover Academy, 1980
Poetry award from La Reina Press, 1982
Exhibition grant from Vermont Arts Council, 1984-85
Robert Frost Poetry fellowship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, 1986
Third Woman Press Award, first prize in narrative, 1986
Award for younger writers from General Electric Foundation, 1986
Grant from National Endowment for the Arts, 1987-88
Syndicated fiction prize from PEN, 1990
Grant from Ingram Merrill Foundation, 1990
Josephine Miles Award from PEN Oakland, 1991
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents selected as notable book by American Library Association, 1992
selected as notable book by the American Library Association, 1998
Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, 2002
Belpre Medal for Before We Were Free, 2004
Belpre Medal for Return to Sender, 2010

Works by Julia Alvarez

Fiction & Other Work

  • —. Before We Were Free. New York: Knopf, 2002.
  • —. A Cafecito Story. White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2001.
  • —. Finding Miracles. New York: Knopf, 2004.
  • —. Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia. New York: Knopf, 2005.
  • —. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.
  • —. How Tia Lola Came to visit Stay. New York: Knopf, 2001.
  • —. How Tia Lola Learned to Teach. New York: Knopf, 2010.
  • —. How Tía Lola Saved the Summer. New York: Knopf, 2011.
  • —. In the Name of Salomé, Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000.
  • —. In the Time of Butterflies. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1994.
  • —. Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. New York: Penguin, 2007.
  • —. Return to Sender. New York: Knopf, 2009.
  • —. Saving the World. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006.
  • —. The Secret Footprint. New York: Knopf, 2001.
  • —. Something to Declare. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1998.
  • —. Yo! Plume, Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1997.


  • —. Homecoming. New York: Grove Press, 1984.
  • —. The Housekeeping Book. Burlington: CES MacDonald, 1984.
  • —. Old Age Ain’t for Sissies. Ed. Sanford: Crane’s Creek Press, 1979.
  • —. The Other Side/El Otro Lado. New York: Penguin Group, 1996.
  • —. Seven Trees. Cambridge, MA: Kat Ran Press, 1998.
  • —. The Woman I Kept to Myself. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2004; 2011.

Selected Bibliography

  • Miller, Susan. “Family Spats, Urgent Prayer: Fiction: Celebrating the Strength of Latinas.” Newsweek (17 October 1994): 77.
  • Requa, Marny. “The Politics of Fiction.” Fronter Magazine (3 November 1997).
  • Stavans, Ilan. “Las Mariposas.” Nation (7 November 1994): 552-6.
  • Venegas, Margarita. “Ethnic Roots, Love of Storytelling Fill Novels of Julia Alvarez.” Creative Loafing Online (21 March 1997).

Author: Susan Walker, Fall 1997
Last edited: March 2012

Naipaul, V. S.


Photo of Naipaul

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Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born in Chaguanas, Trinidad, on August 17, 1932. His Hindu grandfather had emigrated to Trinidad from West India as an indentured servant. His father, Seepersad (1906-53), was a journalist, whose literary aspirations were inherited by V.S., and his brother, Shiva. The family moved to Port of Spain, where Naipaul attended Queen’s Royal College. In 1948, he was awarded a Trinidad government scholarship, which he used to study literature at University College, Oxford, beginning in 1950. Following his graduation in 1953, Naipaul worked as a freelance writer with the BBC, hosting the program “Caribbean Voices,” and contributed to the literary journal, The New Statesman. He married an English woman — Patricia Ann Hale — in 1955. Since then, he has resided in London, traveling extensively and writing many critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and essays. In 1990, Naipaul was knighted by the Royal family. For many years, he had an affair with Margaret Gooding, but when his wife died in 1996, and remarried shortly thereafter to a Pakistani woman named Nadira Alvi.

Themes and Form

One day, deep in my almost fixed depression, I began to see what my material might be: the city street from whose mixed life we had held aloof, and the country life before that, with the ways and manners of a remembered India. It seemed easy and obvious when it had been found; but it had taken me four years to see it. Almost at the same time came the language, the tone, the voice for that material. It was as if voice and matter and form were part of one another.

Naipaul “Reading and Writing”

Naipaul’s first books are set in Trinidad.  A House for Mr. Biswas, his first major novel, is an imaginative account of the Indian experience in Trinidad based on his father’s life and his own youth. A few years after its publication he went to India, finding only disappointment in the recognition that colonialism and the new world had stripped him of the capability of contentment there. This realization is the subject of An Area of Darkness.

His work went in a new direction in the early 1960s, beginning with Mr.Stone and the Knights Companion — the setting is England and the tone is more serious and philosophical. Naipaul’s feelings of alienation, his disdain for both England and Trinidad, and his sense of responsibility as a post-colonial writer weighed heavily on him, culminating in The Mimic Men.

A few years later, after the publication of The Loss of El Dorado, which examined the early history of Trinidad in light of the surrounding world affairs, Naipaul attempted to return to Trinidad. But he soon retreated to England, unable to find happiness there. During this period, his work broadened. “Fiction, which had once liberated me and enlightened me, now seemed to be pushing me toward being simpler than I really was.” In a Free State, which was awarded the Booker Prize, transcended the boundaries of genre. It consists of short stories, a novella, and two excerpts from a travel diary. The only common thread is the concern with issues of freedom for the individual and the decolonized world. Naipaul’s position as a social and political critic grew with the publication of his next few books, all of which treated the issues surrounding colonization.

Beginning with Finding the Center, Naipaul’s writing moved away from critical analysis of the problems of freedom. Instead, he embraced the people and places he visited, withholding judgment and seeing beauty where he once saw futility. The synthesis of autobiography and fiction continued, and even became the subject matter of The Enigma of Arrival. In “Reading and Writing,” Naipaul explains: “So, as my world widened, beyond the immediate personal circumstances that bred fiction, and as my comprehension widened, the literary forms I practiced flowed together and supported one another; and I couldn’t say that one form was higher than another.” Travel and autobiographical books followed. In India: A Million Mutinies, Naipaul’s views of his family’s homeland are reconsidered and adjusted but as always, themes of alienation, mistrust, rootlessness, mockery, and self-deception will certainly continued  to pervade this work.

Naipaul’s experiments with form are perhaps his greatest achievements. Of this, he wrote: “Literature, like all living art, is always on the move. It is part of its life that its dominant form should constantly change” (“Reading and Writing”)

Major Works

  • Naipaul, V. S. An Area of Darkness. 1964.  New York: Vintage Books, 1981.
  • —. A Bend in the River. 1979.  New York: Vintage Books. 1980.
  • —. A Flag on the Island. London: Andre Deutsch, 1967.
  • —. A House for Mr. Biswas. 1961.  New York: Vintage Books,1984.
  • —. Among the Believers. London: Andre Deutsch, 1981.
  • —. A Turn in the South. New York: Knopf, 1989.
  • —. A Way in the World. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
  • —. Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.
  • —. Guerrillas. 1975.  New York: Vintage Books, 1980.
  • —. In a Free State. 1971.  New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
  • —. India: A Million Mutinies Now. New York: Penguin, 1995.
  • —. India: A Wounded Civilization. 1977.  New York: Vintage Books, 1978.
  • —. The Enigma of Arrival. New York: Knopf, 1987.
  • —. Finding the Center. New York: Knopf, 1984.
  • —. The Loss of El Dorado. 1970.  New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
  • —. The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies. 1962. New York: Vintage Books, 1981.
  • —. Miguel Street. 1959.  New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
  • —. The Mimic Men. 1967.  New York; Vintage Books, 1985.
  • —. Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion. 1963.  New York: VintageBooks, 1985.
  • —. The Mystic Masseur. 1957.  New York: Vintage Books, 1984.
  • —. The Overcrowded Barracoon. 1972.  New York: Vintage Books,1984.
  • —. The Return of Eva Peron with the Killings in the Trinidad. 1980. New York: Vintage Books, 1981.
  • —. The Suffrage of Elvira. 1958.  New York: Vintage Books, 1985.


  • John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize  1958
  • Somerset Maugham Award  1960
  • Hawthornden Prize  1964
  • W. H. Smith Prize  1968
  • Booker Prize  1971
  • The Jerusalem Prize  1983
  • David Cohen Prize  1993
  • The Nobel Prize  2001

Works Cited

  • Hammer, Robert D. Critical Perspectives on V. S.  Naipaul. Washington D.C.:  Three Continents Press, 1977.
  • Kelly, Richard. V. S. Naipaul. New York: Continuum, 1989.
  • King, Bruce. V. S. Naipaul. London: MacMillan, 1993.
  • Naipaul, V. S. “Reading and Writing.” New York Review of Books 18 Feb. 1999: 13-18.
  • Naipaul, V. S. “The Writer and India.” New York Review of Books 4 Mar. 1999: 12-16.
  • White, Landeg. V. S. Naipaul: A Critical Introduction. London: MacMillan, 1975.

Related Links

Review of Beyond Belief: Islamic Excusions among the Converted Peoples

Nobel Prize

Naipaul’s controversial statement about women authors

Author: Zach Okun, Spring 1999

Last edited: June 2012

Partition of India

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
- Jawarharal Nehru, “Tryst With Destiny” speech celebrating Indian independence

The partition of India (1947) Image by themightyquill/CC Licensed

The partition of India (1947) Image by themightyquill/CC Licensed

August 14, 1947 saw the birth of the new Islamic Republic of Pakistan. India won its freedom from colonial rule at midnight the next day, ending nearly 350 years of British presence in India. When the British left, they partitioned India, creating the separate countries of India and Pakistan to accommodate religious differences between Pakistan, which has a majority Muslim population, and India, which is primarily Hindu.

Whether the partition of these countries was wise and whether it was done too soon is still under debate. Even the imposition of an official boundary has not stopped conflict between them. Boundary issues, left unresolved by the British, have caused two wars and continuing strife between India and Pakistan.

The partition of India and its freedom from colonial rule set a precedent for nations such as Israel, which demanded a separate homeland because of irreconcilable differences between the Arabs and the Jews. The British left Israel in May 1948, handing the question of division over to the UN. Unenforced UN Resolutions to map out boundaries between Israel and Palestine have led to several Arab-Israeli wars and the conflict still continues.

Reasons for Partition

By the end of the 19th century, several nationalist movements had emerged in India. Indian nationalism had expanded as the result of British policies of education and the advances made by the British in India in the fields of transportation and communication. However, British insensitivity to and distance from the people of India and their customs created such disillusionment among Indians that the end of British rule became necessary and inevitable.

While the Indian National Congress was calling for Britain to Quit India, in 1943 the Muslim League passed a resolution demanding the British Divide and Quit. There were several reasons for the birth of a separate Muslim homeland in the subcontinent, and all three parties — the British, the Congress and the Muslim League — were responsible.

As colonizers, the British had followed a divide-and-rule policy in India. In the census they categorized people according to religion and viewed and treated them as separate from each other. The British based their knowledge of the people of India on religious texts and the intrinsic differences they found in them, instead of examining how people of different religions coexisted. They also were fearful of the potential threat from the Muslims, who were the former rulers of the subcontinent, ruling India for over 300 years under the Mughal Empire. To win them over to their side, the British helped establish the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh and supported the All-India Muslim Conference, both of which were institutions from which leaders of the Muslim League and the ideology of Pakistan emerged. As soon as the league was formed, Muslims were placed on a separate electorate. Thus, the separateness of Muslims in India was built into the Indian electoral process.

There was also an ideological divide between the Muslims and the Hindus of India. While there were strong feelings of nationalism in India, by the late 19th century there were also communal conflicts and movements in the country that were based on religious identities rather than class or regional ones. Some people felt that the very nature of Islam called for a communal Muslim society. Added to this were the memories of power over the Indian subcontinent that the Muslims held, especially in old centers of Mughal rule. These memories might have made it exceptionally diffficult for Muslims to accept the imposition of colonial power and culture. Many refused to learn English and to associate with the British. This was a severe drawback as Muslims found that cooperative Hindus found better government positions and thus felt that the British favored Hindus. Consequently, social reformer and educator Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who founded Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College, taught the Muslims that education and cooperation with the British was vital for their survival in the society. However, tied to all the movements of Muslim revival was the opposition to assimilation and submergence in Hindu society.

Hindu revivalists also deepened the chasm between the two nations. They resented the Muslims for their former rule over India. Hindu revivalists rallied for a ban on the slaughter of cows, a cheap source of meat for the Muslims. They also wanted to change the official script from the Persian to the Hindu Devanagri script, effectively making Hindi rather than Urdu the main candidate for the national language.

The Congress made several mistakes in their policies which further convinced the League that it was impossible to live in an undivided India after freedom from colonial rule because their interests would be completely suppressed. One such policy was the institution of “Bande Matram,” a national anthem historically linked to anti-Muslim sentiment, in the schools of India where Muslim children were forced to sing it.

The Congress banned support for the British during the Second World War while the Muslim League pledged its full support, which found favor from the British, who needed the help of the largely Muslim army. The Civil Disobedience Movement and the consequent withdrawal of the Congress party from politics also helped the league gain power, as they formed strong ministries in the provinces that had large Muslim populations. At the same time, the League actively campaigned to gain more support from the Muslims in India, especially under the guidance of dynamic leaders like Jinnah. There had been some hope of an undivided India, but the Congress’ rejection of the interim government set up under the Cabinet Mission Plan in 1942 convinced the leaders of the Muslim League that compromise was impossible and partition was the only course to take.

Impact and Aftermath of Partition

“Leave India to God. If that is too much, then leave her to anarchy.” — Mahatma Gandhi, May 1942

The partition of India left both India and Pakistan devastated. The process of partition claimed many lives in riots, rapes, murders, and looting. Women, especially, were used as instruments of power by the Hindus and the Muslims.

Fifteen million refugees poured across the borders to regions completely foreign to them because their identities were rooted in the geographical home of their ancestors, not their religious affiliations alone. In addition to India’s partition, the provinces of Punjab and Bengal were divided, causing catastrophic riots and claiming the lives of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike.

Many years after partition, the two nations are still trying to heal the wounds left behind. The two countries began their independence with ruined economies and lands without an established, experienced system of government. They lost many of their most dynamic leaders, such as Gandhi, Jinnah and Allama Iqbal, soon after the partition. Pakistan later endured the independence of Bangladesh, once East Pakistan, in 1971. India and Pakistan have been to war multiple times since the partition and they are still deadlocked over the issue of possession of Kashmir.


1600: British East India Company is established.

1857: The Indian Mutiny or The First War of Independence.

1858: The India Act: power transferred to British Government.

1885: Indian National Congress founded by A. O. Hume to unite all Indians and strengthen bonds with Britain.

1905: First Partition of Bengal for administrative purposes. Gives the Muslims a majority in that state.

1906: All India Muslim League founded to promote Muslim political interests.

1909: Revocation of Partition of Bengal. Creates anti-British and anti-Hindu sentiments among Muslims as they lose their majority in East Bengal.

1916: Lucknow Pact. The Congress and the League unite in demand for greater self-government. It is denied by the British.

1919: Rowlatt Acts, or black acts passed over opposition by Indian members of the Supreme Legislative Council. These were peacetime extensions of wartime emergency measures. Their passage causes further disaffection with the British and leads to protests. Amritsar Massacre. General Dyer opens fire on 20,000 unarmed Indian civilians at a political demonstration against the Rowlatt Acts. Congress and the League lose faith in the British.

1919-Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms (implemented in 1921). A step to self-government in India within the Empire, with greater provincialisation, based on a dyarchic principle in provincial government as well as administrative responsibility. Communal representation institutionalised for the first time as reserved legislative seats are allocated for significant minorities.

1920: Gandhi launches a non-violent, non-cooperation movement, or Satyagraha, against the British for a free India.

1922: Twenty-one policemen are killed by Congress supporters at Chauri-Chaura. Gandhi suspends non-cooperation movement and is imprisoned.

1928: Simon Commission, set up to investigate the Indian political environment for future policy-making, fails as all parties boycott it.

1929: Congress calls for full independence.

1930: Dr. Allama Iqbal, a poet-politician, calls for a separate homeland for the Muslims at the Allahabad session of the Muslim League. Gandhi starts Civil Disobedience Movement against the Salt Laws by which the British had a monopoly over production and sale of salt.

1930-31: The Round Table conferences, set up to consider Dominion status for India. They fail because of non-attendance by the Congress and because Gandhi, who does attend, claims he is the only representative of all of India.

1931: Irwin-Gandhi Pact, which concedes to Gandhi’s demands at the Round Table conferences and further isolates Muslim League from the Congress and the British.

1932: Third Round Table Conference boycotted by Muslim League. Gandhi re-starts civil disobedience. Congress is outlawed by the British and its leaders.

1935: Government of India Act: proposes a federal India of political provinces with elected local governments but British control over foreign policy and defense.

1937: Elections. Congress is successful in gaining majority.

1939: Congress ministries resign.

1940: Jinnah calls for establishment of Pakistan in an independent and partitioned India.

1942: Cripps Mission to India, to conduct negotiations between all political parties and to set up a cabinet government. Congress adopts Quit India Resolution, to rid India of British rule. Congress leaders arrested for obstructing war effort.

1942-43: Muslim League gains more power: ministries formed in Sindh, Bengal and North-West Frontier Province and greater influence in the Punjab.

1944: Gandhi released from prison. Unsuccessful Gandhi-Jinnah talks, but Muslims see this as an acknowledgment that Jinnah represents all Indian Muslims.

1945: The new Labour Government in Britain decides India is strategically indefensible and begins to prepare for Indian independence. Direct Action Day riots convince British that Partition is inevitable.

1946: Muslim League participates in Interim Government that is set up according to the Cabinet Mission Plan.

1947: Announcement of Lord Mountbatten’s plan for partition of India, 3 June. Partition of India and Pakistan, 15 August. Radcliffe Award of boundaries of the nations, 16 August.

1971: East Pakistan separates from West Pakistan and Bangladesh is born.

Literature and Film Dealing with the Partition of India

  • Bhalla, Alok, ed. Stories About the Partition of India. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1994.
  • Desai, Anita. Clear Light of Day. New York: Penguin, 1980.
  • Garam Hawa (“Hot Air”). Dir. M.S. Sathyu. Unit 3 MM, 1973.
  • Ghosh, Amitav. The Shadow Lines. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.
  • Kesavan, Mukul. Looking Through Glass. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1995.
  • Manto, Sadaat Hassan. Best of Manto. Ed. and Trans. Jai Ratan. Lahore: Vanguard, 1990.
  • Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. New York: Penguin, 1991.
  • Sahni, Bhisham. Tamas. New Delhi: Panguin, 1974.
  • Sidhwa, Bapsi. Cracking India. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1991.
  • Singh, Khushwant. Train to Pakistan. New York: Grove Press, 1956.

Print Sources

  • Azad, Maulana Abul Kalam. India Wins Freedom. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1960.
  • Hasan, Mushirul, ed. India’s Partition: Process, Strategy, and Mobilization. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
  • Kanitkar, V.P. The Partition of India. East Sussex: Wayland, 1987.
  • Lord Birdwood. India and Pakistan: A Continent Decides. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1954.
  • Philips and Wainwright, eds. The Partition of India: Policies and Perspectives 1935-1947. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1970.
  • Sharma, Kamalesh. Role of Muslims in Indian Politics (1857-1947). New Delhi: Inter India, 1985.

Author: Shirin Keen, Spring 1998
Last edited: July 2012

Nettleford, Rex

The power to create and innovate remains the greatest guarantee of respect and recognition.

(Nettleford Mirror 227)

Biography: The Formation of a Caribbean Intellectual

Rex Nettleford, 2009 (by Geoffrey Philp)/CC Licensed

Image by Geoffrey_Philp)/CC Licensed

Rex Nettleford, a leading Caribbean intellectual visionary and renaissance figure, was born on February 3rd, 1933 in the rural town of Falmouth, Jamaica. Enveloped by the folklore of of Jamaica and the natural integration of music and movement in life, Nettleford cultivated an acute sensibility for the creative ingenuity and resilience evidenced in the collective intellect of the black rural community. His creative imagination was fostered by an immersion in the daily rhythms of country life. He also cultivated a keen appreciation for the dynamic process of creolisation as witnessed in diverse religious practices, eclectic music traditions and resistant speech patterns. It is this quality of cultural tenacity on the part of the Afro-creolised populations that Nettleford holds in great esteem and which serves as the nodal point through which he formulates his ideas concerning Caribbean identity in its postcolonial formations.

Nettleford was educated in British schools in Jamaica. Trained first at the Cornwall College in Montego Bay, he went on to pursue a history degree at The University College of the West Indies (London University) before moving on to postgraduate studies in politics as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. After this, Nettleford returned to Jamaica because he never lost sight of his commitment to his native home and the promotion of its national vernacular culture. At a time when the country’s most talented and educated peoples were being siphoned off to fill the ivory towers and corporate offices in the metropolis, Nettleford returned to his island home and launched a public intellectual and artistic career whose effects reverberated throughout the Caribbean and its diasporic communities.

Many have argued that Rex Nettleford’s location as a “third-world”scholar, operating from the periphery of the Western academy, has hindered the international readership and acclaim of his works. But for Nettleford, the work of the “organic intellectual” begins at home, and thus his commitment is first and foremost “to the preparation of a citizenry ready for participation in the political, social and economic processes of its country” (Mirror 229). One of the tasks of the Caribbean and/or “third-world” postcolonial intellectual is to counter the judgment that indigenous creative works of art are not the equal of Western masterpieces. The first means of accomplishing this task requires artists and writers to work in their native tongue and and to use indigenous epistemologies to examine cultural phenomena and processes that are the lived reality of Caribbean citizens. Nettleford’s Caribbean compatriots, Stuart Hall and Derek Walcott also opened spaces for critical scholarship on the Caribbean and contributed significantly to the intellectual climate of diverse communities. However, their location in the metropolitan centers of North America and Britain affords them access to a broader community of transnational postcolonial subjects, but it has also moved them away from the local articulations of nationhood, identity and cultural development as experienced and negotiated in the Caribbean territories. Nettleford thus provides a voice from within the region that later became the source of dialogue for those in the metropolis.

Nettleford’s importance to the Caribbean and Caribbean nationals living across the globe derives from the fact that his master project has been the decolonization of the Caribbean spirit and imagination. His writings, lectures and choreography reflect a profound conviction in the creative power of the peoples of the region, a power struggling to unleash itself from the conjunction of historical and neocolonial forces. In 1962, the year Jamaica gained independence from Britain, Nettleford co-founded the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC) in order to promote and create indigenous dance forms. As former professor of Extramural Studies at the University of the West Indies Mona, Jamaica, Nettleford directed the University’s Adult Education Programme, which afforded thousands of men, and women throughout the Anglophone Caribbean access to higher education. As founder of the Trade Union Education Institute, through which factory and estate workers collaborated with academic scholars, Nettleford aimed to bridge the divide between the classes and bring theory in closer proximity to praxis. Nettleford’s scholastic achievements culminated with his 1998 appointment as Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.

In February, 2010, while in New York in order to participate in a United Nations meeting about the state of global racial discrimination, Nettleford died of a heart attack.

The hidden history of Jamaica is here seen as the history of the struggle of the African component to emerge from the subterranean caverns into which it has been forced.

(Nettleford Mirror 194)

The Poetics and Politics of Caribbean Cultural Identity — The Works of Rex Nettleford

The centrality of the experiences of Caribbean peoples and their struggles for intellectual, cultural and political independence has remained pivotal to Nettleford’s intellectual and artistic engagements over the past forty years. The seeds of his future articulations on Caribbean cultural identity were sown in his first acclaimed publication, Mirror, Mirror: Race, Identity and Protest in Jamaica (1970). Set in the turbulent context of the newly independent Jamaica of the 1960s, Nettleford holds a mirror up to Jamaican society and reveals the schizophrenic and ambivalent relation black Jamaicans have towards their identities as national subjects. Nettleford argued that the three critical variables of race, identity and protest constitute a trinity that “closely interact[s] in the social evolution of contemporary Jamaica” (10), which he situates along a trajectory of lessons and legacies acquired from the time of Emancipation. The quest for identity forms a critical nexus around which the newly independent citizenry has tried to come to terms with the legacies of colonialism and the anxieties of self-governance. At the center of the anxiety is a psychic split between the cultural traces of a fragmentary African heritage that the overwhelming black majority inherited, and the simultaneous desire to renounce that heritage and identify with the cultural symbols of the white/brown ruling elite. The multiracial nationalist ethic is thus predicated on this dissonant state of inbetweenness and half-identification (21) and serves to keep the new nation in a constant state of schizophrenia. For Nettleford, Caribbean nationalisms all fall victim to this splintered sense of self because for the most part newly independent Caribbean countries have all bought into a hybrid, creolisation model that valorizes assimilation into a Euro-Creolized New World heritage and away from a historical antecedent of slavery and Africa. The mimicry of European cultural values and aesthetics is therefore a day-to-day reality for postcolonial subjects who are heirs to an ideology of creolisation manifested in a valorization of Europe. Thus, in his critical examination of postcolonial Caribbean societies and artistic endeavors, Nettleford aims to unearth and hone an Afro-creolised aesthetics towards emancipatory ends (Inward Stretch 30-70).

During this volatile time of self-definition, Nettleford expressed a commitment to articulating and making accessible the cause of minority groups in the face of what he calls “the underlying lack of social conscience among the more fortunate classes in Jamaica” (54). In an attempt to deflect the nation’s prominent preoccupation with European aesthetics and cultural attributes, Nettleford turned towards an intellectual engagement with the social pariah of Jamaican and Caribbean society at the time — the Rastafarian. According to Rastafarian beliefs, the growing of locks, the creation of an indgenized creole lexicon and pride in their regal African ancestors were all modalities of protest and self-definition. The significance of their presence in the pivotal moment of Jamaica’s independence cannot be underestimated as Nettleford has indicated:

Inward Stretch, Outward Reach, 1995

Inward Stretch, Outward Reach, 1995

More generally the role of the Rastafarians has been to bring to the attention of the Jamaican society the urgent need to root identity and national cohesion in a recognition of the origins of its black majority and to redress the imbalance of history’s systematic weakening of any claim to achievement which descendants of Africans would otherwise make in the New World. In this they have been a revitalizing force, albeit a discomforting and disturbing one. (Inward Stretch 110)

These qualities of defiance and self-determination are what illustrate the resilience and creative ingenuity of the Jamaican people and it is what Nettleford seeks to express, make accessible and foster among the masses.

Nettleford’s subsequent work on Caribbean culture includes Caribbean Cultural Identity (1978) and his 1995 collection of essays, Inward Stretch, Outward Reach: A Voice from the Caribbean. Both of these works begin with the premise that culture constructed from the lived experiences and realities of Caribbean peoples serves as the principle means of constructing a cohesive national and regional identity and also the prime vehicle for economic development.

The Creative Imagination and Creative Intellect — Nettleford as Artist

In discussing Rex Nettleford’s intellectual achievements and contributions to the cultural and sociopolitical landscape of the Caribbean we must also acknowledge his longstanding active role in artistic productions throughout the Caribbean, specifically with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica (NDTC). Three years after the start of Walcott’s Trinidad Theatre Workshop, the historical experiences of Caribbean struggle and survival and the condition of postcoloniality found expression in the rhythmic kinesthetic vocabulary formulated in the organic choreography of NDTC. In the wake of Jamaica’s independence, August 6, 1962, Rex Nettleford and Eddy Thomas founded a company of unpaid dancers, musicians, designers, technicians who were to become the cultural ambassadors of not only Jamaica, but also the Caribbean. As artistic director, principal choreographer, and former lead dancer of the NDTC, Nettleford introduced the Jamaican masses to the indigenous practices of Kumina (an ancestral veneration religion), Pocomania (an Afro-Christian syncretic religious expression) and the rich folk music traditions from across the island. Thus, he catapulted these secretive cultural expressions into venerated national icons of ingenuity and survival. The theatrical stage became the forum in which the movement vocabulary and aesthetics found in the indigenous rituals and dances of rural Jamaica were visibly asserted, reformulated and reinterpreted by performers and audiences alike. Moreover, their continued presence in the company’s repertoire speaks of the centrality of an Afro-creolised sensibility in the Caribbean ethos.

Nettleford’s belief in the organic connection between the arts of a people, their everyday life and their historical experiences is continuously given voice in choreography that affirms the varied cultural symbols the Jamaican people have acquired and reformulated. For Nettleford, the arts are a great source of cultural survival and resistance and should be cultivated to promote awareness of self and social change because “the creative imagination lies beyond the reach of the vilest oppressor” (Dance Jamaica 15).

Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.

(Fanon 206)

International Organizations and Honors

Nettleford’s intellectual and artistic contributions to the issues of black identity in the Western world as well as his understanding of the role of culture and development, has earned him great respect throughout the Americas Europe and Africa. He was chairman of London’s Commonwealth Arts Organization, a member of the Executive Board of UNESCO, chairman of the International Council on the University Adult Education, and founding and longest-serving Governor of the International Development Research Council (Ottawa). Professor Nettleford has also served as consultant on cultural development to the Organization of American States.

Rex Nettleford has received many honours and awards for his work. His compatriots honoured him in 1975 with the national honor of Order of Merit( O.M.). He was the recipient of the Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica, the Living Legend Award for the Black Arts Festival, Atlanta U.S.A. The Institute of Jamaica named him a Fellow in 1991, the fourth time it has awarded this honor in its more than 100-year history and the University he serves has recognized his extraordinary talent by presenting him with the coveted Pelican Award. In 1994, he received the Zora Neale Hurston-Paul Robeson Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement from the National Council for Black Studies, USA. In 2003, the Rhodes Trust established the Rex Nettleford Fellowship in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies.

Works by Rex Nettleford

  • Nettleford, Rex. Caribbean Cultural Identity. Los Angeles: UCLA IOB, 1978.
  • —. Dance Jamaica: Cultural Definition and Artistic Discovery. New York: Grove Press, 1985.
  • —. Inward Stretch Outward Reach: A Voice from the Caribbean. New York: Caribbean Diasporic Press Inc. Medgar Evers College CUNY, 1995.
  • —. Jamaica in Independence: The Early Years. (Editor). Kingston: Heinemann, 1988.
  • —. Manley and the New Jamaica. Jamaica: Longman Caribbean, 1971.
  • —. Mirror, Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica. Kingston: William Collins and Sangster Jamaica Ltd, 1970.
  • —. Race, Discourse and the Origins of the Americas. (Co-edited with Vera Hyatt). Washington D.C. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.
  • —. The Rastafarians in Kingston Jamaica (with M.G. Smith & F.R. Augier). Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 1967.
  • —. The University of the West Indies: A Caribbean Response to the Challenge of Change (with Phillip Sherlock). Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 1987.

Works Cited

  • Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press Inc, 1963.
  • Nettleford, Rex. Mirror, Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica. Kingston: William Collins and Sangster Jamaica Ltd, 1970.
  • —. Dance Jamaica: Cultural Definition and Artistic Discovery. New York: Grove Press, 1985.
  • —. Inward Stretch Outward Reach: A Voice from the Caribbean. New York: Caribbean Diasporic Press Inc. Medgar Evers College CUNY, 1995.

Related Works on Creolisation and Rastafari

  • Bolland, Nigel, O. “Creolization and Creole Societies: A Cultural Nationalist View of Caribbean Social History.” Intellectuals in the Twentieth-Century Caribbean, vol. 1, Spectre of the New Class: The Commonwealth Caribbean, ed Alistar Hennesey, 50-79. London: Macmillan, 1992.
  • Braithwaite, Kamau, E. The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  • Burton, Richard D.E. Afro-Creole: Power, Opposition and Play in the Caribbean. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.
  • Chevannes, Barry. Rastafari Roots and Ideology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994.

Related Sites

Who’s Who in Jamaica

Nettleford’s obituaries

Interview on YouTube

Author: Yanique Hume, Spring 2000

Last edited: June 2012

Schwarz-Bart, Simone


Simone Schwarz-Bart is an internationally known writer in the company of Guadeloupean novelists Maryse Condé and Myriam Warner-Vieyra. Born in 1938 in the French West Indies to a teacher and military man, Schwarz-Bart studied in Pointe-á-Pitre, Paris and Dakar. Her four novels have each achieved laudatory reviews in The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Times, Présence Africaine, Figaro Littéraire, The French Review, Savacou, Nouvelle Revue Française, The New Yorker, and many others in the United States and abroad. Her oeuvre lucidly narrates the harsh realities Caribbean women endure in the clutches of slavery and colonization. Publication of her six-volume work, Hommage à la Femme Noire (In Praise of Women of Color) in 1989, testifies to her lifelong commitment to unearthing the unknown history and culture of black women of the diaspora. In her lifetime, Schwarz-Bart has lived in France, Africa, and Switzerland. She currently resides in both Lausanne, France and Guadeloupe.

The Schwarz-Bart Partnership

Last of the Just, 1960

Last of the Just, 1960

When she was eighteen and a student in Paris, Simone met writer André Schwarz-Bart. They married in 1961 and, two years later, he won the Prix Goncourt for Le Dernier Des Justes (The Last of the Just). A Polish Jew, André Schwarz-Bart lost both of his parents during the Holocaust. The Last of the Just charts the history of one Jewish family since the year 1000. Both deeply politically committed, the couple began a stunning creative collaboration which resulted in two first-class historical novels, Un Plat de Porc aux Bananes Vertes (A Plate of Pork With Green Bananas) and La Mulâtresse Solitude (A Woman Named Solitude). Well-received by critics, A Plate of Pork with Green Bananas recounts a Martinican woman’s alienation from French society and her search for her lost Caribbean identity. Elderly and disabled, Mariotte spends her final days in a Paris asylum for the aged as she revisits her past.

In their second collaboration, the couple continue to revisit history from the perspective of a woman of color. Reconstructing the events of one slave woman’s existence in the late eighteenth century, La Mulâtresse Solitude portrays Solitude’s disturbing encounters during colonial slavery in Guadeloupe. Critics often attribute full authorship of this novel to André Schwarz-Bart, not always giving equal credit to Simone. In her essay on La Mulâtresse Solitude, Charlotte Bruner acknowledges this collaboration as she points to the work’s publication history. In its publicity, Simone is mentioned as a collaborator who is part of the couple’s shared purpose of “telling the history of Guadeloupe in a cycle of novels of historic reconstruction.” However, the Seuil edition names only her husband. When it was translated into English the year of its original publication, Simone finally attained credit as co-author. Simone is further attributed credit in Donald Herdeck’s Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographic Critical Encyclopedia. Mention of the joint authorship of Solitude also appears in Le Dernier des Justes, in the list of André Schwarz-Bart’s forthcoming works. The publisher note reads “in collaboration with his wife, Simone, André Schwarz-Bart has embarked on publication of a sequel in the form of a novel” (Bruner 238). To date, no studies exist which consider the Schwarz-Bart partnership in depth.

Major Themes

In her later novels and one-act play, Ton Bon Capitaine (Your Handsome Captain), Schwarz-Bart weaves the multiple locations and languages of her heritage as she constructs a matrilineal narrative of Guadeloupean women’s identities. Publishing widely beyond the two novels she and her husband composed together, her first solo act, when it first appeared in 1972, enjoyed critical acclaim and was later translated into twelve languages. The story of three generations of Guadeloupean women, Pluie et Vent sur Telumée Miracle (The Bridge of Beyond), is hailed by critics for its lyrical examination of exile as it doubly impacts the lives of West Indian women. Her fourth novel, Ti Jean L’Horizon (Between Two Worlds), fuses magical realism with science fiction in its depiction of a legendary Guadeloupean folk hero. As with all of her fiction, her play Ton Beau Capitaine dramatizes the unyielding trauma of exile and the subtleties of patriarchal domination. Inspired by her grandmother’s wisdom and integrity, Simone Schwarz-Bart’s unforgettable women characters use the power of expression to combat the abuses of racial and sexual domination.


  • Schwarz-Bart, Simone. “An Author’s Perspective on Her Own Creation: Reflections of Simone Schwarz-Bart on Her Novel Pluie et Vent Sur Télumée Miracle.”  BIM 18. 71 (December 1987): 27-35.
  • —. Hommage à la Femme Noire (In Praise of Women of Color). Paris: Éditions Consulaires, 1989.
  • —. La Mulâtresse Solitude (A Woman Named Solitude). Paris: Seuil, 1972.
  • —. Pluie et Vent sur Télumée Miracle (The Bridge of Beyond). Paris: L’Harmattan, 1972.
  • —. Ti Jean L’Horizon (Between Two Worlds). Paris: Seuil, 1979.
  • —. Ton Beau Capitaine (Your Handsome Captain). Paris: Seuil, 1987.
  • —. Un Plat de Porc aux Bananes Vertes (A Plate of Pork With Green Bananas). Paris: Seuil, 1967.


  • Bruner, Charlotte. “A Caribbean Madness: Half Slave and Half Free.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 11.2 (1984): 236-48.
  • Busia, Abena P.A. “This Gift of Metaphor: Symbolic Strategies and the Triumph of Survival in Simone Schwarz-Bart’s The Bridge of Beyond.” Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. Eds. Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido.  Lawrenceville, NJ: Africa World Press, 1990. 289-301.
  • Black Literature Criticism Supplement. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999.
  • Black Writers: A Selection of Sketches from “Contemporary Authors.” Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.
  • Herdeck, Donald, ed. Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-Critical Encyclopedia. Washington: Three Continents Press, 1979.
  • Karamcheti, Indira. “The Geographics of Marginality: Place and Textuality in Simone Schwarz-Bart and Anita Desai.” Feminist Explorations of Literary Space.  Eds. Margaret R. Higonnet and Joan Templeton. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. 125-146.
  • McKinney, Kitzie.  “Memory, Voice, and Metaphor in the Works of Simone Schwarz-Bart.” Postcolonial Subjects: Francophone Women Writers. Eds. Mary Jean Green, Karen Gould, Micheline Rice-Maximin, Keith L. Walker, and Jack A. Yeager. Minneapolis/ London: University Minnesota Press, 1996. 22-41.
  • Robinson, Lillian. Modern Women Writers. NY: Continuum, 1996.

Author: Michelle Hunter, Spring 2000

Last edited: June 2012

Third World and Third World Women

What geographical regions constitute the Third World? Who are Third World women? Who defines and writes about the terms “Third World” and “Third World Women”? The answers to the above questions are important to both postcolonial studies and feminist studies.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak explains that the term “Third World” was initially coined in 1955 by those emerging from the “old” world order:

The initial attempt in the Bandung Conference (1955) to establish a third way — neither with the Eastern nor within the Western bloc — in the world system, in response to the seemingly new world order established after the Second World War, was not accompanied by a commensurate intellectual effort. The only idioms deployed for the nurturing of this nascent Third World in the cultural field belonged then to positions emerging from resistance within the supposedly ‘old’ world order — anti-imperialism, and/or nationalism (270).

Kum Kum Sangari argues that the term “Third World” not only designates specific geographical areas, but imaginary spaces. According to Sangari, “Third World” is “a term that both signifies and blurs the functioning of an economic, political, and imaginary geography able to unite vast and vastly differentiated areas of the world into a single ‘underdeveloped’ terrain” (217). Sangari is critical of the way “Third World” is used by the West to indiscriminately lump together vastly different places.

Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism book cover

Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, 1991

Chandra Talpade Mohanty defines the Third World geographically:

The nation-states of Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-east Asia, China, South Africa, and Oceania constitute the parameters of the non-European third world. In addition, black, Latino, Asian, and indigenous peoples in the U.S., Europe, Australia, some of whom have historic links with the geographically defined third worlds, also define themselves as third world peoples (5).

Cheryl Johnson-Odim explains that “the term Third World is frequently applied in two ways: to refer to ‘underdeveloped’/over-exploited geopolitical entities, i.e. countries, regions, even continents; and to refer to oppressed nationalities from these world areas who are now resident in ‘developed’ First World countries.” Johnson-Odim further identifies problems some Third World women have with First World feminism:

While it may be legitimately argued that there is no one school of thought on feminism among First World feminists — who are not, after all, monolithic — there is still, among Third World women, a widely accepted perception that the feminism emerging from white, middle-class Western women narrowly confines itself to a struggle against gender discrimination. (314, 315)

The use of the term “Third World Women” by Western feminists has been widely critiqued. Mohanty uses the term interchangeably with “women of color” (7). She argues that “what seems to constitute ‘women of color’ or ‘third world women’ as a viable oppositional alliance is a common context of struggle rather than color or racial identifications. Similarly, it is third world women’s oppositional political relation to sexist, racist, and imperialistic structures that constitutes our political commonality” (7). Although she uses the term “third world women,” Mohanty argues that western feminisms appropriate the production of the”third world woman as a singular monolithic subject,” for a “discursive colonization” (51). Furthermore, western feminisms articulate a discursive colonization through the production of “third world difference”: “that stable, ahistorical something that apparently oppresses most if not all of the women in [third world] countries” (53-54). Western feminisms’ use of the category of “third world woman” and “third world difference” ties into a larger, latent cultural and economic colonialism:

In the context of the hegemony of the Western scholarly establishment in the production and dissemination of texts, and the context of the legitimating imperative of humanistic and scientific discourse, the definition of the ‘third world woman’ as a monolith might well tie into the larger cultural and economic praxis of ‘disinterested’ scientific inquiry and pluralism which are the surface manifestations of a latent economic and cultural colonization of the ‘non-Western’ world (74).

Trinh T. Minh-ha argues that “‘difference’ is essentially ‘division’ in the understanding of many. It is no more than a tool of self-defense and conquest” (14). Trinh’s concern is with the use of the third world woman as the “native” Other in Western anthropology and feminisms. Answering the question, “‘why do we have to be concerned with the question of Third World women? After all, it is only one issue among many others,’” Trinh replies:

Delete the phrase Third World and the sentence immediately unveils its value-loaded cliches. Generally speaking, a similar result is obtained through the substitution of words like racist for sexist, or vice-versa, and the established image of the Third World Woman in the context of (pseudo)-feminism readily merges with that of the Native in the context of (neo-colonialist) anthropology (17).

Self-defined Third World women who inhabit a place within First World feminist academia are also the subject of critique. Diane Brydon writes, “now that the marginal is being revalued as the new voice of authority in discourse, it is tempting to accept the imperial definition of the colonized as marginal”(4). In a direct attack on Mohanty and Trinh as well as bell hooks, Sara Suleri argues that:

Rather than extending an inquiry into the discursive possibilities represented by the intersection of gender and race, feminist intellectuals like hooks misuse their status as minority voices by enacting strategies of belligerence that at this time are more divisive than informative. Such claims to radical revisionism take refuge in the political untouchability that is accorded the category of Third World Woman, and in the process sully the crucial knowledge that such a category has still to offer to the dialogue of feminism today (765).

Suleri also argues:

[The] claim to authenticity — only a black can speak for a black; only a postcolonial subcontinental feminist can adequately represent the lived experience of that culture — points to the great difficulty posited by the ‘authenticity’ of female racial voices in the great game which claims to be the first narrative of what the ethnically constructed woman is deemed to want (760).

Similarly, Suleri attacks hooks and Trinh for claiming that “personal narrative is the only salve to the rude abrasions that Western feminist theory has inflicted on the body of ethnicity” (764). Suleri advocates examining how “realism locates its language within the postcolonial condition,” and suggests that “lived experience does not achieve its articulation through autobiography, but through that other third-person narrative known as the law” (766).

As the above arguments indicate, the terms “Third World” and”Third World Women” are by no means stable categories. Rather, these terms are a locus of contention not only between First World feminisms and Third World women, but also between Third World women themselves within the complex field of postcolonial studies.

See also: Gender and Nation, Nawal el Saadawi, Women, Islam, and the Hijab, Chicana Feminism, FGM, Victorian Women Travellers


  • Brydon, Diana. “Commonwealth or Common Poverty?” Kunapipi: Special Issue on Post-Colonial Criticism 11-1 (1989): 1-16.
  • Johnson-Odim, Cheryl. “Common Themes, Different Contexts: Third World Women and Feminism.” Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism.Eds. Mohanty, Russo, Torres. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991.
  • Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Introduction” and “Under Western Eyes.” Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Eds. Mohanty, Russo, Torres. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1991.
  • Sangari, Kumkum. “The Politics of the Possible.” The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse. Eds. Abdul Jan Mohamed and David Lloyd. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. The Spivak Reader. Eds. Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean. London: Routledge, 1996.
  • Suleri, Sara. “Woman Skin Deep: Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition.” Critical Inquiry (Summer 1992): 756-769.
  • Trinh, Minh-ha. “Difference: ‘A Special Third World Woman Issue.” Discourse 8 (Fall-Winter 86-87): 10-37.

Author: Nicola Graves, Spring 1996  Last edited: May 2012