Kamau Brathwaite

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite (/kəˈmaʊ 'braθweɪt/, born 11 May 1930, Bridgetown, Barbados) is widely considered one of the major voices in the Caribbean literary canon.[1] A professor of Comparative Literature at New York University,[1] Brathwaite is the 2006 International Winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize, for his volume of poetry Born to Slow Horses.[2]

Brathwaite holds a Ph.D. from the University of Sussex (1968)[2] and was the co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM).[3] He received both the Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships in 1983,[2] and is a winner of the 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature,[2] the Bussa Award, the Casa de las Américas Prize for poetry,[2] and the 1999 Charity Randall Citation for Performance and Written Poetry from the International Poetry Forum.[4]

Brathwaite is noted[5] for his studies of Black cultural life both in Africa and throughout the African diasporas of the world in works such as Folk Culture of the Slaves in Jamaica (1970); The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (1971); Contradictory Omens (1974); Afternoon of the Status Crow (1982); and History of the Voice (1984), the publication of which established him as the authority of note on nation language.[6][7]


Born Lawson Edward Brathwaite in the capital city of Bridgetown, Barbados,[8] he started his secondary education in 1945 at Harrison College in Bridgetown. In 1949 he won the Barbados Island Scholarship to attend Cambridge University, where he studied English and History.[8] In 1953, Brathwaite received an honours B.A. in History from Pembroke College, Cambridge,[2][8] and he also began his association with the BBC's Caribbean Voices programme in London.[8] In 1954 he received a Diploma of Education from Pembroke College, Cambridge; the year 1955 found Brathwaite working as an Education Officer on the Gold Coast/Ghana with the Ministry of Education. In 1960 he married Doris Monica Wellcome,[8] a Guyanese graduate in Home Economics and Tropical Nutrition from the University of Leicester,[9] while he was on home leave from Ghana.

While in Ghana, Brathwaite's writing flowered, with Odale's Choice (a play) premiering in Ghana at Mfantsiman Secondary School. A full production of the play was later taken to Accra. In 1962-63, Brathwaite crossed the waters again and found himself as Resident Tutor in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies in St Lucia. Later in 1963, he made his journey to the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus in Kingston, Jamaica, to teach in the History Department.

In 1966, Brathwaite spearheaded, as co-founder and secretary, the organization of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) from London.[3]

In 1971 he launched Savacou, a journal of CAM, at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus in Kingston, Jamaica. That same year, Brathwaite received the name Kamau from Ngugi wa Thiong'o's grandmother at Limuru, Kenya, while on a City of Nairobi Fellowship to the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Kamau Brathwaite spent three self-financed "Maroon Years", 1997-2000, at "Cow Pasture", his now famous and, then, "post-hurricane" home in Barbados. During this period he married Beverley Reid, a Jamaican.

In 1992 Brathwaite took up the position of Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University, subsequently dividing his residence between Barbados and New York.[10]

In 2002 the University of Sussex presented Kamau Brathwaite with an Honorary Doctorate.[11]

In 2006, he was the sole person that year to be awarded a Musgrave gold medal by the Institute of Jamaica, with eight silver and bronze medals going to other recipients.[12][13] In 2010, Brathwaite reported the theft of the medal, as well as other items from his New York home in the previous four years.[14][15][16]

Honours and awards[edit]

Selected works[edit]

Selected works of Brathwaite and the year of publication follow:

  • Four Plays for Primary Schools (1964)
  • Odale's Choice (1967)
  • Rights of Passage (1967)
  • Masks (1968)
  • Islands (1969)
  • Folk Culture of the Slaves in Jamaica (1970)
  • The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 (1971)
  • The Arrivants (1973)
  • Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean (1974)
  • Other Exiles (1975)
  • Days & Nights (1975)
  • Black + Blues (1976)
  • Mother Poem (1977)
  • Soweto (1979)
  • History of the Voice (1979)
  • Jamaica Poetry (1979)
  • Barbados Poetry (1979)
  • Sun Poem (1982)
  • Afternoon of the Status Crow (1982)
  • Gods of the Middle Passage (1982)
  • Third World Poems (1983)
  • History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone Caribbean Poetry (1984)
  • Jah Music (1986)
  • X/Self (1987)
  • Sappho Sakyi's Meditations (1989)
  • Shar (1992)
  • Middle Passages (1992)
  • The Zea Mexican Diary: 7 September 1926 - 7 September 1986 (1993)[21]
  • Trenchtown Rock (1993)
  • Barabajan Poems (1994)
  • Dream Stories (1994)
  • Words Need Love Too (2000)
  • Ancestors (2001)
  • Magical Realism (2002)
  • Golokwati (2002)
  • Born to Slow Horses (2005) (winner of the 2006 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
  • Limbo. As published in Oxford AQA GCSE English Anthology, 2005 and 2008
  • Elegguas (2010)[22]


  • [Fr] Kamau Brathwaite, Le détonateur de visibilite / The Visibility Trigger, traduction par Maria-Francesca Mollica et Christine Pagnoulle, Louvain: Cahiers de Louvain, 1986.
  • [Es] Kamau Brathwaite, Los danzantes del tiempo: antología poética, selección, introducción y entrevista, Christopher Winks ; versión en español Adriana González Mateos y Christopher Winks, México: Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México, 2009.
  • [Es] Kamau Brathwaite, La unidad submarina: ensayos caribeños, Selección, estudio preliminar y entrevista de Florencia Bonfiglio, Buenos Aires: Katatay, 2010.
  • [It] Kamau Brathwaie, "Retamar", "Word-Making Man", "The New Year Midnight Poems", "Nest", "Calabash", "Song", cura e traduzione di Andrea Gazzoni, La Rivista dell'Arte, 2:2 (2012), 168-212.1
  • [Fr] Kamau Brathwaite, RêvHaïti, traduction par Christine Pagnoulle, Montréal: Mémoire d'Encrier, 2013.
  • [It] Kamau Brathwaite, Diritti di passaggio, cura e traduzione di Andrea Gazzoni, Rome: Ensemble Edizioni, 2014.

Critical writing about Brathwaite[edit]


  1. ^ a b Staff (2011). "Kamau Brathwaite.", New York University, Department of Comparative Literature.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Staff (2010). "Bios – Kamau Brathwaite.", The Center for Black Literature. The National Black Writers Conference, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Robert Dorsman, translated by Ko Kooman (1999). "Kamau Brathwaite", Poetry International Web.
  4. ^ Timothy J. Reiss (2002). Sisyphus and Eldorado: Magical and Other Realisms in Caribbean Literature. Africa World Press. ISBN 978-0-86543-891-0. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  5. ^ Annie Paul (editor) (2007). Caribbean Culture: Soundings on Kamau Brathwaite. University of the West Indies Press. pp. 1–36. ISBN 978-976-640-150-4. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  6. ^ Montague Kobbe, "Caribbean Identity and Nation Language in Kamau Brathwaite's Poetry", Latineos, 23 December 2010.
  7. ^ Carolyn Cooper, "Fi Wi Nation, Fi Wi Language", Jamaica Woman Tongue.
  8. ^ a b c d e Staff (2001). "Brathwaite, Edward Kamau – Biographical Information", eNotes Literature Criticism, Poetry Criticism, Edward Kamau Brathwaite Criticism.
  9. ^ Anne Walmsley (1992). The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966-1972: A Literary & Cultural History. New Beacon Books. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-873201-01-5. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  10. ^ "Edward Kamau Brathwaithe", Puerto Rico Encyclopedia.
  11. ^ "University of Sussex awards honorary degrees" (press release), 15 July 2002.
  12. ^ "Nine awarded IOJ Musgrave medals for '06", Jamaica Gleaner, 17 September 2006.
  13. ^ "Brathwaite gets Musgrave gold", Jamaica Gleaner, 5 October 2006.
  14. ^ "Kamau Brathwaite's Musgrave Medal Stolen", The Gleaner, 5 April 2010.
  15. ^ "(Part 1) Kamau Brathwaite disgraced abroad...", The Bajan Reporter, 16 March 2010.
  16. ^ "(Part 2) Kamau Brathwaite: No justice at Cow Pasture nor NYC...", The Bajan Reporter, 18 March 2010.
  17. ^ Staff, "Kamau Brathwaite. Griffin Poetry Prize 2006. International Winner. Book: Born to Slow Horses. Publisher: Wesleyan University Press", The Griffin Trust.
  18. ^ Staff (5 October 2006). "Brathwaite gets Musgrave gold", Jamaica Gleaner.
  19. ^ Admin (7 October 2010). "Twelve to receive 2010 Musgrave Awards", Institute of Jamaica.
  20. ^ "Announcing the 2015 Frost Medalist, Kamau Brathwaite", Poetry Society of America, 2 March 2015.
  21. ^ Kamau Brathwaite; Sandra Pouchet Paquet (January 2003). The Zea Mexican Diary: 7 September 1926 - 7 September 1986. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-13644-4. Retrieved 14 August 2011. 
  22. ^ Kamau Brathwaite (15 October 2010). Elegguas. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-6943-1. Retrieved 16 August 2011. 

External links[edit]