Celebrated Writer Jamaica Kincaid Releases First Children’s Book In Nearly 40 Years

by Gee NY
Jamaica Kincaid attends the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal Ceremony and introduces Maya Angelou (deceased) at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre on September 30, 2014 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Celebrated writer and Harvard University professor Jamaica Kincaid is sharing her gardening expertise with Black youth through her first children’s book in nearly four decades, “An Encyclopedia of Gardening for Colored Children”.

The Antiguan-American novelist, essayist, and gardening writer teamed up with renowned visual artist Kara Walker to illustrate the book, which delves into the plant life that has shaped the colonized world.

Kincaid, who had been contemplating the idea for some time, managed to convince Walker to take on the project despite her initial hesitation about creating picture books.

“I wrote to Kara, but I was absolutely sure that this was an insulting idea to her, that she would say no. So when she responded yes, I probably didn’t read the whole email, I just immediately wrote back,” Kincaid shared with Harper’s Bazaar.

During the pandemic, Walker developed an interest in gardening and turned to Kincaid’s 1991 work, My Garden Book. This newfound passion led her to accept Kincaid’s request for illustrations, inspired by Kincaid’s 50-year history of writing that showcases her bold intelligence.

“Hilton [Als] mentioned that you were on Instagram, so I would see your flowers. I suddenly felt a connection that I really needed,” Walker said. “Being an artist and Black woman and feeling somewhat isolated … I needed a figure who was not just a friend, that I felt mentored by, in a way outside of the art.”

Through their mutual respect for each other’s work, Kincaid and Walker brought An Encyclopedia of Gardening for Colored Children to life. The book draws inspiration from the Garden of Eden, with Kincaid interpreting the Tree of Life as agriculture and the Tree of Knowledge as horticulture.

When it came to the title, Kincaid faced pressure from her publisher to remove the term “colored,” but she stood firm in her decision.

“Is them not the word ‘colored’? The word ‘colored’ applies to all,” Kincaid said. “If you’re going to use it to designate one group of people, it’s all people. White is a color—it’s not the absence of color and the rest of us are a color. White is a color, too. You could say ‘for all children,’ but I love the word ‘colored.’ I didn’t want ‘children of color.’ No, no.”

Kincaid is celebrated for literary classics like The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), Lucy (1990), and A Small Place (1988).

Her new release offers readers an ABC of the plants that define our world and unveils the often brutal history behind them.

Walker’s provocative, enthralling, multi-layered watercolors bring Kincaid’s words to life in this stimulating exploration of gardening and history.

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