Reading changes lives. It changes the way we view the world. It changes how we view ourselves.
I was first introduced to Kincaid’s writing as an undergraduate when I was assigned a reading of My Garden [Book], a contemplative and intimate discussion on the relationship between gardener and garden.
Within the first few pages of my reading I realized I was venturing through territory that had yet to be charted in the course of my own personal thought. This book is not only about gardens, but also contemplates identity, possession and world views that Kincaid and I do not naturally have in common. It reads with such brutal honesty. I felt I had been given access to those most personal thoughts one normally tucks away under lock and key. I quickly digested several of Kincaid’s other works: Annie John, Lucy, The Autobiography of My Mother and a fierce political work titled A Small Place.
In each of these I felt a little bit of the world that I have grown up in was met with hostile and curious language from the narrator. Some of these stories were telling a tale of my white, American life from a different perspective, an Antiguan-American perspective, and most of it was difficult to digest and uncomfortable to comprehend. With every word I became enraptured by the complicity of my own existence and the existence of others.
Kincaid and I are very different. Although we are both women, Kincaid is a tall, Antiguan-American professor who loves to garden and often writes with a natural ability to confound her readers. Born in 1949, she is a woman who constantly reflects on her race, gender and how growing up under colonized rule formed a separation between her academic values and cultural Self.
I am a white American in my early twenties, raised in a privileged home where education was never considered an interference of cultural ethics but a foundation for them. For me, the literary works of Jamaica Kincaid expose confusion in the creation my own identity and provoke questions concerning my surrounding cultural structure and the legitimacy of how I define my Self.
My personal response to Kincaid’s work is not the product of theological invention. My reaction is a simple application of another world view to my own, one granted to me through literature. One woman is brave enough to write and another woman has the courage to read. This is the miracle of the written word. Kincaid uses her pen to reach over and poke at my own social constructs built within the boundaries of gender, race, occupation and education. The floor beneath who I think I am and who I think others are comes apart in an earthquake of literary moments. These moments exist because authors like Kincaid are brave enough to create them.
I have become addicted to the uncomfortable sensation that occurs when discovering a perspective that is unlike my own. It is this same discomfort that Kincaid speaks of in her final paragraph of My Garden [Book], “Eden is like that, so rich in comfort, it tempts me to cause discomfort; I am in a state of constant discomfort and I like this state so much I would like to share it (229).”
Connect with US writer, Reagan K. Reynolds on Twitter @ReaganKReynolds.
Learn more about Reagan as an artist on her Web site www.GloryTreeFlowers.com.