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Jamaican literature is internationally renowned. The island has been the home or birthplace of many important authors. One of the most important aspects of Jamaican literature is the local patois, a variation of English. The official language spoken in Jamaica is English.
The tradition of storytelling in Jamaica is a long one, beginning with folktales told by the slaves during the colonial period. Jamaica's folk stories are most closely associated with those of the Ashanti tribe in Africa, from which many of the slaves originated. Some European tales were also brought to the island by immigrants, particularly those from the United Kingdom. In folktales, the local speech style is particularly necessary. It infuses humor into the stories, and is an integral part of the retelling.
Perhaps the most popular character in Jamaican tales, Anancy (also spelled Anansi, 'Nancy Spida, and Brer Nansi) is an African spider-god who makes an appearance in tales throughout the Caribbean region. He is a trickster god, and often goes against other animal-god characters, like Tiger and Donkey, in his stories. These stories are thought to be ways the slaves told about outsmarting their owners as well.
Jamaican Thomas MacDermot (1870-1933) is credited with fostering the creation of Jamaican literature (according to critic Michael Hughes, MacDermot was "probably the first Jamaican writer to assert the claim of the West Indies to a distinctive place within English-speaking culture"), and his Becka's Buckra Baby as the beginning of modern Caribbean literature.
Jamaican-born Claude McKay (1889–1948) is credited with inspiring France's Negritude (“Blackness”) movement, as well as being a founding father of the Harlem Renaissance. Having established himself as a poet in Jamaica, he moved to the U.S. in his 20s and proceeded to travel to France, but never returned to his birthplace.
Una Marson was also well known for her poetry and her activism as a feminist, and Louise Bennett-Coverly is another Jamaican poet known for her unique voice. Similarly, St. Lucian Nobel prize-winner, Derek Walcott, studied at the University in Jamaica. Other Jamaican writers who have gained international acclaim include Hazel Dorothy Campbell, the late Mikey Smith and Linton Kwesi Johnson. In 2014, Mervyn Morris was appointed Poet Laureate of Jamaica.
The island's local dialect has become an important element to Jamaican literature and other arts. The speech style is particularly notable in poetry or in prose's dialogue.
Notable Jamaican writers
- Lindsay Barrett, poet, novelist, journalist
- Edward Baugh, poet and scholar
- Louise Bennett-Coverly, poet, folklorist, educator
- James Berry, poet, anthologist
- Erna Brodber, novelist
- Margaret Cezair-Thompson
- Colin Channer, novelist, short-story writer
- Kwame Dawes, poet, critic
- Jean D'Costa, novelist
- Herbert de Lisser, journalist and author
- Gloria Escoffery, painter, poet and art critic
- John Figueroa, poet and educator
- Honor Ford-Smith, actress, playwright, scholar and poet
- Lorna Goodison, poet
- John Hearne, novelist, journalist and teacher
- A. L. Hendriks, poet and critic
- Nalo Hopkinson, science fiction writer
- Marlon James, novelist
- Linton Kwesi Johnson, poet
- Thomas MacDermot, poet, novelist and editor
- Roger Mais, novelist
- Una Marson, poet, playwright
- Claude McKay, poet and novelist
- Anthony McNeill, poet
- Kei Miller, poet
- Mervyn Morris, poet
- Mutabaruka, poet
- Rex Nettleford, scholar, social critic
- Orlando Patterson, historical and cultural sociologist
- Geoffrey Philp, poet, novelist, playwright
- Velma Pollard, novelist
- Patricia Powell, novelist
- Claudia Rankine, poet, playwright
- V. S. Reid, novelist
- Trevor Rhone, playwright and film maker
- Leone Ross, novelist, short story writer, journalist
- Andrew Salkey, novelist, poet
- Dennis Scott, poet, playwright
- Olive Senior, poet, novelist
- M. G. Smith, poet
- Mikey Smith, poet
- Anthony C. Winkler, novelist
- Sylvia Wynter, novelist, dramatist, critic, essayist
- Kerry Young, novelist
- Becka’s Buckra Baby from the Digital Library of the Caribbean (1904)
- One Brown Girl and - a Jamaica Story from the Digital Library of the Caribbean (1909)
- Also in the All Jamaica Library, but not written by Thomas MacDermot, Maroon Medicine, by E. A. Dodd (listed as E. Snod) from the Digital Library of the Caribbean