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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 is credited for fostering the creation of Jamaican literature, and his Becka's Buckra Baby (Becka’s Buckra Baby available openly and freely online from the Digital Library of the Caribbean) as the beginning of modern Caribbean literature. Jamaican Claude McKay 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.
McKay is not the only Jamaican poet, Una Marson was 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 writers who have recently gained acclaim in Jamaica are Hazel Dorothy Campbell and the late Mikey Smith.
The island's local dialect has become an important element to their literature and other arts. The speech style is particularly notable in poetry or in prose's dialogue.
- 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