Edward Kamau Brathwaite

Edward Kamau Brathwaite

The African diaspora, scattered among multiple Caribbean and continental countries around the world, is without doubt one of the most dramatic results of European colonization. Since the 16th century, the transfer of people from Africa to be used as slaves in the Americas began a profound dislocation in terms of both social aspects and identity. The impact of these events continues to affect the descendents today and has inspired the work of writers such as Edward Kamau Brathwaite, who has proposed the official use of the language of the workers and slaves of African origin to create the concept of a “national language.”

Born May 11, 1930, in Bridgetown, Barbados, and originally named Lawson Edward Brathwaite, Kamau Brathwaite is considered one of the most prominent poets, historians, essayists and playwrights in his home country and in the Caribbean. Renowned author Kofi Awoonor of Guyana recently described him as a poet with “total African awareness.” His parents were Hilton Brathwaite, a warehouse office worker, and Beryl Gill. He completed his secondary education at Hilton College and, after winning a scholarship, traveled to England and earned his bachelor’s degree in history at Pembroke College in Cambridge. In 1954, he earned a certificate in Education from the same institution and from 1955 to 1962 he worked in the Ghana Ministry of Education. In 1960, he married Doris Wellcome, who died of cancer in 1986 and served as inspiration for his book and tribute, The Zea Mexican Diary (1993). Beginning in 1962, he worked as a university professor at campuses of the University of the West Indies in St. Lucia and Jamaica and in 1968 he completed his doctoral degree at Sussex University in England.

Kamau Brathwaite’s literary work began in 1950 with the publication of various poems, stories and critical texts in the magazine Bim. In the late 1960s, a trilogy of poetry texts appeared and in 1973 they were compiled under the title The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy and made up his debut books, Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968) and Islands (1969). These were followed by some 30 other books of poetry, including Elegguas (2010), Slow Horses (2005), Ancestors (2001), Middle Passages (1992) and Black + Blues (1976). Kamau Brathwaite is also known for writing the children’s plays Four Plays for Primary Schools (1964) and Odale’s Choice (1967), as well as essays and historical texts, including Our Ancestral Heritage: A Bibliography of the Roots of Culture in the English-Speaking Caribbean (1976) and Barbados Poetry: A Checklist: Slavery to the Present (1979). His voluminous body of work has been recognized by international awards such as the Casa de las Americas Prize, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bussa Award and the Charity Randall Prize for Performance and Written Poetry. He has also received grants from the Guggenheim, Ford and Fulbright foundations.

Since 1993, Kamau Brathwaite has been a professor of comparative literature at New York University and he splits his residence between Barbados and New York.

Author: Alfredo Nieves Moreno
Published: April 14, 2012.

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