Sylvia Wynter was born in Cuba to Percival Wynter and Lola Maude Wynter (née Reid). At the age of two she returned to her home country, Jamaica, with her parents (both born there) and was educated at the St. Andrew High School for Girls. In 1946 she was awarded the Jamaica Centenary Scholarship for Girls, which took her to King's College London, to read for the B.A. honours in modern languages (Spanish) from 1947 to 1949. She was awarded the M.A. in December 1953 for her thesis, an edition of a Spanish comedia, A lo que obliga el honor.
In 1958 Wynter met the Guyanese novelist Jan Carew, who became her second husband. With Carew, she wrote pieces for the BBC and completed Under the Sun, a full-length stage play, which was bought by the Royal Court Theatre in London. In 1962 Wynter published her only novel, The Hills of Hebron.
After separating from Carew in the early 1960s, Wynter returned to academic study. In 1963, she was appointed assistant lecturer in Hispanic literature at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. She remained there until 1974. During this time the Jamaican government asked her to write Ballad for a Rebellion and a biography of Sir Alexander Bustamante, the first prime minister of independent Jamaica.
Wynter was invited by the Department of Literature at the University of California at San Diego to be a visiting professor for 1974-75. She then became chairperson of African and Afro-American Studies, and professor of Spanish in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Stanford University in 1977. She is now Professor Emeritus at Stanford University.
In the mid- to late 1960s Wynter began writing critical articles addressing her interests in Caribbean, Latin American, and Spanish history and literatures. In 1968 and 1969 she published We Must Learn to Sit Down Together and Talk About a Little Culture: Reflections on West Indian Writing and Criticism. Wynter has since written numerous articles in which she seeks to rethink the fullness of human ontologies, which, she argues, have been curtailed by what she describes as an overrepresentation of (western bourgeois) Man as if it/he were the only available mode of complete humanness. Wynter suggests how multiple knowledge sources and texts might frame our worldview differently.
Sylvia Wynter’s scholarly work is highly poetic, expository and complex. Her work attempts to elucidate the development and maintenance of modernity and the modern man. She interweaves science, astrology and critical race theory to explain how the European man comes to be the epitome of humanity, “Man 2” or “the figure of man.” In “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” Wynter explains that the West uses race to attempt to answer the question of who and what we are—particularly after the enlightenment period that unveils religion as incapable of answering that question.
- The Hills of Hebron (1962)
- Shh... It's a Wedding (1961)
- Miracle in Lime Lane (1962)
- 1865 Ballad for a Revolution (1965)
- Maskarade (1979)
- "Novel and History, Plot and Plantation" (1971), Savacou.
- "One-Love Rhetoric or Reality?—Aspects of Afro-Jamaicainism" (1972), Caribbean Studies 12:3.
- "After Word: High Life for Caliban" (1973).
- "Ethno or Socio Poetics" (1976), Alcheringa/Ethnopoetics, 2.
- "The Eye of the Other" (1977), in Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays.
- "A Utopia from the Semi-Periphery: Spain, Modernization, and the Enlightenment" (1979), Science Fiction Studies, 6.
- Beyond Liberal and Marxist Leninist Feminisms: Towards and Autonomous Frame of Reference (1982), San Francisco: Institute for Research on Women and Gender.
- "New Seville and the Conversion Experience of Bartolomé de Las Casas: Part One" (1984), Jamaica Journal, 17:2.
- "New Seville and the Conversion Experience of Bartolomé de Las Casas: Part Two" (1984), Jamaica Journal, 17:3.
- "The Ceremony Must Be Found: After Humanism" (1984), Boundary II, 12:3 & 13:1.
- "Beyond the Word of Man: Glissant and the New Discourse of the Antilles" (1989), World Literature Today, 63.
- "Beyond Miranda’s Meanings: Un/Silencing the ‘Demonic Ground’ of Caliban’s Women" (1990), Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature.
- Do Not Call Us Negroes: How Multicultural Textbooks Perpetuate Racism (1990), San Francisco: Aspire.
- "On Disenchanting Discourse: ‘Minority’ Literary Criticism and Beyond" (1990), The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse.
- "Rethinking ‘Aesthetics’: Notes Towards a Deciphering Practice", Ex-iles: Essays on Caribbean Cinema. 1992, pp. 237–279.
- "‘No Humans Involved’: An open letter to my colleagues" (1992), Voices of the African Diaspora, 8:2.
- "Beyond the Categories of the Master Conception: The Counterdoctrine of the Jamesian Poiesis" (1992), C.L.R. James’s Caribbean.
- "Columbus and the Poetics of the Propter Nos" (1992), Annals of Scholarship, 8:2.
- "‘Columbus, The Ocean Blue and ‘Fables that Stir the Mind’: To Reinvent the Study of Letters" (1992), Poetics of the Americas: Race, Founding and Textuality.
- "But What Does Wonder Do? Meanings, Canons, Too?: On Literary Texts, Cultural Contexts, and What It’s Like to Be One/Not One of Us" (1994), Stanford Humanities Review, 4:1.
- "The Pope Must Be Drunk, The King of Castile a Madman: Culture as Actuality and the Caribbean Rethinking of Modernity" (1995), Reordering of Culture: Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada in the 'Hood.
- "1492: A New World View" (1995), Race, Discourse, and the Origin of the Americas: A New World View.
- "Is Development a Purely Empirical Concept, or also Teleological?: A Perspective from ‘We the Underdeveloped" (1996), in Aguibou Y. Yansané (ed.), Prospects for Recovery and Sustainable Development in Africa.
- "'Genital Mutilation' or 'Symbolic Birth?' Female Circumcision, Lost Origins, and the Aculturalism of Feminist/Western Thought" (1997), Case Western Reserve Law Review, 47.
- "Africa, The West and the Analogy of Culture: The Cinematic Text After Man" (2000), Symbolic Narratives/African Cinema: Audiences, Theory and the Moving Image.
- "The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter" (2000), Small Axe, 8.
- "'A Different Kind of Creature': Caribbean Literature, the Cyclops Factor and the Second Poetics of the Propter Nos" (2001), Annals of Scholarship, 12:1/2.
- "Towards the Sociogenic Principle: Fanon, Identity, The Puzzle of Conscious Experience" (2001), National Identities and Socio-Political Changes in Latin America.
- "What It’s Like to Be Black", National Identities and Socio-Political Changes in Latin America.
- "Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation – An Argument" (2003), The New Centennial Review, 3:3.
- "On How We Mistook the Map for the Territory and Re-Imprisoned Ourselves in Our Unbearable Wrongness of Being, of Désêtre: Black Studies Toward the Human Project" (2006), Gordon & Gordon (eds), Not Only the Master’s Tools: African-American Studies in Theory and Practice.
- Human Being as Noun? or Being Human as Praxis - Towards the Autopoetic Turn/Overturn: A Manifesto (2007).
- Chang, Victor L. (1986). "Sylvia Winter (1928 - )". In Dance, Daryl C. Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 498–507. ISBN 978-0-313-23939-7.
- Jamaica Observer, 6 August 2010.
- "Sylvia Wynter awarded the Order of Jamaica - Hon Professor Wynter's response to the letter of congratulations on her award sent by Professor Brian Meeks on behalf of the CCT", Centre for Caribbean Thought, University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica.
- Buck, Claire (ed.), Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. London: Bloomsbury, 1992. ISBN 0-7475-0895-X
- Wynter, Sylvia, and David Scott. "The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter". Small Axe, 8 (September 2000): 119-207.
- Wynter, S. "Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument." CR: The New Centennial Review, Volume 3, Number 3, Fall 2003, pp. 257-337.
- Anthony Bogues (ed.), After Man, Towards the Human: Critical Essays on Sylvia Wynter, 2006.
- Kamau Brathwaite, "The Love Axe/1; Developing a Caribbean Aesthetic", BIM, 16 July 1977.
- Daryl Cumber Dance (ed.), Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, 1986.
- Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle, 2006.