Jean D'Costa

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Jean D'Costa
Born (1937-01-13) 13 January 1937 (age 82)
St. Andrew, Jamaica
OccupationProfessor, linguist
LanguageEnglish, Jamaican Creole[1]
Alma materUniversity College of the West Indies
Oxford University
GenreChildren's literature
Notable awardsSilver Musgrave Medal (1994)
SpouseDavid D'Costa

Jean Constance D'Costa (born 13 January 1937)[1] is a Jamaican children's novelist, linguist, and professor emeritus. Her novels for children aged 11 to 13 have been praised for their use of both Jamaican Creole and Standard English.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born Jean Creary in St. Andrew, Jamaica, she was the youngest of three children born to parents who were both teachers.[2] They moved to the capital, Kingston in 1944.[2] Her father was also a Methodist minister.[1] Her family lived for various lengths of time in St. James and Trelawny.[2][3] She attended elementary school in rural Jamaica and then St. Hilda's High School in Brown's Town from 1949 to 1954, courtesy of a government scholarship.[2]

She obtained a scholarship to pursue her first degree, in English literature and language, at the University College of the West Indies (now the University of the West Indies, Mona) from 1955 to 1958,[1] and another scholarship for a Masters in Literature at Oxford University.[2]


After completing her master's program in 1962, she taught Old English and linguistics at the University College of the West Indies.[1][2] During this time she also contributed to education in Jamaica as a consultant with the Ministry of Education and worked on various education committees.[1]

From 1977 to 1980 she was involved in writing and research into the Jamaican dialect and culture.[2] She got another teaching position at Hamilton College (New York) and stayed there from 1980 to 1998, teaching Old English, Caribbean literature, creative writing, and linguistics.[2]

D'Costa started writing poetry during her undergraduate years.[1] Since then she has written several novels that were well received in her home country and the Caribbean. Her two most popular novels, Sprat Morrison (1972) and Escape to Last Man Peak (1976), have been used in schools throughout Jamaica and the Caribbean region.[4] Her novels are geared primarily towards children aged 11 to 13.[1]


Writing for children on the cusp of teenhood, D'Costa addresses "their need to relate to actuality ... and their need to retain some of the comforting illusions of childhood".[1] To satisfy the latter need, she draws from Jamaican folklore and oral traditions for the plots, themes, and tone of her works. Prominent in Caribbean folklore are "duppy stories" (ghost stories), in which ghosts or unsettled spirits return to haunt the land of the living.[3] In her third novel, Voice in the Wind, for example, D'Costa addresses children's perceptions about death and the supernatural.[1] She also references the oral tales that were traditionally told "at wakes and nine-nights".[3]

D'Costa paints a vivid picture of the Jamaican countryside, side by side with forays into that country's past.[3] And she draws liberally from Jamaican Creole for dialogue, while penning narrative prose in Standard English.[3] Her books have received critical praise for preserving and conveying Jamaican speech rhythms and dialect.[1]

Her use of language, together with her understanding that her works are models for children's own literary attempts, makes her books natural subjects for classroom discussion.[1] Sprat Morrison has been required reading in the "first grade" of Jamaican high schools since 1972, while Escape to Last Man Peak and Voice in the Wind are assigned by many teachers.[1] Students have corresponded with D'Costa and she has accepted invitations to speak in schools.[1]

Personal life[edit]

D'Costa retired from Hamilton College in 1998.[2] She was bestowed the title of professor emeritus upon her retirement.[2] emeritus means retired and holding honorary title .

She married David D'Costa, a journalist,[5] in 1967.[1] They relocated to Florida in 1997.[5]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • Children's Writers Award (Jamaican Reading Association, 1976)[1]
  • Gertrude Flesh Bristol Award (Hamilton College,1984)[1]
  • Silver Musgrave medal (Institute of Jamaica, 1994), for contributions to children's literature and linguistics[4]

Selected works[edit]

Novels and short stories[edit]

  • Jenny and the General. Carlong. 2006. ISBN 9766380767.
  • Miss Bettina's House. Carlong. 2004. ISBN 9766380694. (with Hazel D. Campbell)
  • Duppy Tales. Longman. 1997. ISBN 0582297931.
  • Caesar and the Three Robbers. Addison-Wesley Longman. 1996. ISBN 0582288142.
  • Voice in the Wind. Longman Caribbean. 1978. ISBN 0582767180.
  • Escape to Last Man Peak (1976; reprinted 1980)
  • Sprat Morrison. Ministry of Education, Jamaica. 1972. ISBN 9780003900095. (2nd edition, 1990)


  • Over Our Way: A Collection of Caribbean Short Stories for Young Readers (1981; 1993) (co-edited and co-authored with Velma Pollard)


Linguistic handbooks[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Joyce Johnson (1986). "Jean D'Costa". In Dance, Daryl Cumber (ed.). Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 160–165. ISBN 9780313239397.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Jean D'Costa". The University of the West Indies. August 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bridget Jones (1994). "Duppies and other Revenants: with particular reference to the use of the supernatural in Jean D'Costa's work". In Vera Mihailovich-Dickman (ed.). "Return" in Post-colonial Writing: A Cultural Labyrinth. Rodopi. pp. 23–32. ISBN 9051836481.
  4. ^ a b "Meet The Authors: Jean D'Costa". Carlong Publishers. Archived from the original on 30 July 2012. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  5. ^ a b Sage, Lorna (1999). The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English. Cambridge University Press. p. 175. ISBN 0521668131.

External links[edit]