Kamau Brathwaite

The Honourable Edward Kamau Brathwaite, CHB (/kəˈm ˈbræθwt/; 11 May 1930 – 4 February 2020),[1] was a Barbadian poet and academic, widely considered one of the major voices in the Caribbean literary canon.[2] Formerly a professor of Comparative Literature at New York University,[2] Brathwaite was the 2006 International Winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize, for his volume of poetry Born to Slow Horses.[3]

Kamau Brathwaite

BornLawson Edward Brathwaite
(1930-05-11)11 May 1930
Bridgetown, Barbados
Died4 February 2020(2020-02-04) (aged 89)
Pen nameEdward Brathwaite; Edward Kamau Brathwaite
OccupationPoet, academic
Notable worksRights of Passage (1967)
SpousesDoris Monica Wellcome, m. 1960–86 (her death);
Beverley Reid, m. 1998–his death
RelativesJoan Brathwaite

Brathwaite held a Ph.D. from the University of Sussex (1968)[4] and was the co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM).[5] He received both the Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships in 1983,[4] and was a winner of the 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature,[4] the Bussa Award, the Casa de las Américas Prize for poetry,[4] and the 1999 Charity Randall Citation for Performance and Written Poetry from the International Poetry Forum.[6]

Brathwaite was noted[7] 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.[8][9]

Brathwaite often made use of a combination of customized typefaces (some resembling dot matrix printing) and spelling, referred to as Sycorax video style.[10][11][12]

Drawing of Kamau Brathwaite on the cover of Liviticus, one of his last collections of poetry rendered in the Sycorax Video Style. Artist: Fay Helfer.


Early life and education

Lawson Edward Brathwaite was born in the capital city of Bridgetown, Barbados, to Hilton and Beryl (Gill) Brathwaite.[13] He began his secondary education in 1945 at Harrison College in Bridgetown, and while there wrote essays on jazz for a school newspaper that he started, as well as contributing articles to the literary magazine Bim.[14] In 1949 he won the Barbados Island Scholarship to attend the University of Cambridge, where he studied English and History.[14] In 1953, Brathwaite received a B.A. honours degree in History from Pembroke College, Cambridge,[4][14] and he also began his association with the BBC's Caribbean Voices programme in London, where many of his poems and stories were broadcast.[14] In 1954 he received a Diploma of Education from Pembroke College, Cambridge.

The years in Ghana

The year 1955 found Brathwaite working as an education officer in the Gold Coast with the Ministry of Education. This saw him "witness Kwame Nkrumah coming to power and Ghana becoming the first African state to gain independence, which profoundly affected his sense of Caribbean culture and identity", and he was also able to study with the musicologist J. H. Kwabena Nketia.[15]

In 1960, while he was on home leave from Ghana, Brathwaite married Doris Monica Wellcome,[14] a Guyanese graduate in Home Economics and Tropical Nutrition from the University of Leicester,[16] with whom he had a son, Michael.[15]

During his years in Ghana, Brathwaite's writing flowered, with Odale's Choice (a play) premiering at the Mfantsiman Secondary School in Cape Coast, in June 1962.[17] A full production of the play was later taken to Accra.

Return to the Caribbean and the UK

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,[5] other key figures involved being John La Rose and Andrew Salkey.[18][19]

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.[15]

His doctoral thesis from Sussex University on The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica was published in 1971 by Oxford University Press, and in 1973 he published what is generally considered his best work, The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy, comprising three earlier volumes: Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968) and Islands (1969).[20] An exhaustive bibliography of his work, entitled EKB: His Published Prose & Poetry, 1948–1986 was produced by his wife, Doris Monica Brathwaite, in 1986.[21][22] In response to her death later that year, Brathwaite wrote The Zea Mexican Diary: 7 September 1926 – 7 September 1986.[20][22]

Brathwaite described the years from 1986 to 1990 as a "time of salt," in which he chronicled the death of his wife in 1986, the destruction of his archive in Irish Town, Jamaica, by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, and his near-death experience as a result of a Kingston shooting in 1990.[23]

"Maroon years" and afterwards

Kamau Brathwaite spent three self-financed "Maroon Years", 1997 to 2000, at "Cow Pasture", his now famous and, then, "post-hurricane" home in Barbados. In 1998 he married Beverly Reid, a Jamaican.[15]

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.[24]

In 1994, Brathwaite was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for his body of work, nominated by Ghanaian poet and author Kofi Awoonor, edging out other nominees including; Toni Morrison, Norman Mailer, and Chinua Achebe.[25]

In 2002 the University of Sussex presented Kamau Brathwaite with an Honorary Doctorate.[26]

In 2004, after his retirement from New York University, Brathwaite began chronicling a Second Time of Salt, musing on what he deemed a "cultural lynching."[27]

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.[28][29][30] In 2010, Brathwaite reported the theft of the medal, as well as other items from his New York City home in the previous four years.[31][32][33]

Brathwaite was Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at New York University and resided in Cow Pasture, Barbados.[34][35]

He died aged 89 on 4 February 2020, and was accorded an official funeral on 21 February.[36]

Posthumous recognition and legacy

Shortly before his death, Brathwaite was offered and had accepted the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters, presented annually at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.[37] Announcing that the award, which recognises his contribution as a literary critic, literary activist, editor, and author on topics of Caribbean literature, as well as honouring the year of his 90th birthday, would be presented to his family in Barbados at a ceremony March, Bocas founder and director Marina Salandy-Brown said: "It now seems even more significant to honour him and, in this time of mourning, it is a small consolation to know that news of the award brought Prof Brathwaite pleasure in his final days."[38]

On 22 October 2020, a commissioned portrait of Brathwaite, painted by Errol Lloyd, was unveiled at his alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge.[39][40]

Honours and awards

Selected works

  • 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: A New World Trilogy (Rights of Passage; Islands; Masks) (1973)
  • Contradictory Omens: Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean (1974)
  • Other Exiles 1975. ISBN 9780192118554, OCLC 1941894
  • Days & Nights (Caldwell, 1975)
  • Black + Blues 1976. ISBN 9780811213134, OCLC 638843322
  • 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. ISBN 9780299136406, OCLC 27936656
  • Trench Town Rock (1993)
  • Barabajan Poems (1994)
  • DreamStories (1994)
  • Dream Haiti (Savacou North, 1995)
  • Words Need Love Too (2000)
  • Ancestors (New Directions, 2001). ISBN 9780811214483, OCLC 44426964
  • Magical Realism (2002)
  • Golokwati (2002)
  • Born to Slow Horses (2006), Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 9780819567451, OCLC 552147442 (winner of the 2006 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
  • Limbo. As published in Oxford AQA GCSE English Anthology, 2005 and 2008
  • Elegguas. Wesleyan University Press. 15 October 2010. ISBN 978-0-8195-6943-1. OCLC 436358418. Retrieved 16 August 2011.
  • Strange Fruit (Peepal Tree Press, 2016). ISBN 9781845233082, OCLC 999357248[47]
  • Liviticus (2017). ISBN 9780996224239, OCLC 983824256[48]
  • The Lazarus Poems (2017). ISBN 9780819576880, OCLC 984512184[35]


  • [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 Brathwaite, "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.
  • [It] Kamau Brathwaite, "Missile e capsula", in Andrea Gazzoni, Pensiero caraibico: Kamau Brathwaite, Alejo Carpentier, Édouard Glissant, Derek Walcott, Rome: Ensemble Edizioni, 2016.

Critical writing about Brathwaite

See also


  1. "Noted Barbadian poet and historian Brathwaite dies". Jamaica Observer. 4 February 2020. Retrieved 4 February 2020.
  2. Staff (2011). "Kamau Brathwaite.", New York University, Department of Comparative Literature.
  3. Staff (2006). "Kamau Brathwaite.", The Griffin Poetry Prize. The Griffin Poetry Prize, 2006.
  4. Staff (2010). "Bios – Kamau Brathwaite.", The Center for Black Literature. The National Black Writers Conference, 2010.
  5. Robert Dorsman, translated by Ko Kooman (1999). "Kamau Brathwaite" Archived 27 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Poetry International Web.
  6. 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.
  7. Annie Paul, ed. (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.
  8. Montague Kobbe, "Caribbean Identity and Nation Language in Kamau Brathwaite's Poetry", Latineos, 23 December 2010.
  9. Carolyn Cooper, "Fi Wi Nation, Fi Wi Language", Jamaica Woman Tongue, 13 November 2011.
  10. Laughlin, Nicholas (12 May 2007). "Notes on videolectics". The Caribbean Review of Books. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  11. McSweeney, Joyelle (Fall 2005). "Poetics, Revelations, and Catastrophes: an Interview with Kamau Brathwaite". Rain Taxi Review. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  12. Edmond, Jacob (20 November 2012). "Revolution with a twist – Kamau Brathwaite". Jacket 2 Magazine. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  13. Genzlinger, Neil (17 February 2020), "Kamau Brathwaite, Poet Who Celebrated Caribbean Culture, Dies at 89", The New York Times.
  14. Staff (2001). "Brathwaite, Edward Kamau – Biographical Information", eNotes Literature Criticism, Poetry Criticism, Edward Kamau Brathwaite Criticism.
  15. Innes, Lyn (5 February 2020), "Edward Kamau Brathwaite obituary", The Guardian.
  16. 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.
  17. James Gibbs, Nkyin-kyin: Essays on the Ghanaian Theatre, Rodopi, 2009, p. 43.
  18. "John La Rose", GPI website.
  19. Kathleen Ho, "The Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) and the Trinidad February Revolution of 1970", Northwestern University.
  20. Mario Relich, "Brathwaite, E. K. (Edward Kamau)", in Jeremy Noel-Tod, Ian Hamilton (eds), The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English, Oxford University Press, Second edition 2013, pp. 67–68.
  21. Doris Monica Brathwaite, EKB: His Published Prose & Poetry, 1948–1986, Savacou Cooperative, 1986, ISBN 978-9768006035.
  22. Kamau Brathwaite; Sandra Pouchet Paquet (January 2003). The Zea Mexican Diary: 7 September 1926 – 7 September 1986. University of Wisconsin Press. p. ix. ISBN 978-0-299-13644-4. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  23. Jenkins, Lee M. (Spring 2007). "Review: NewWorld/NewWord Style | Magical Realism by Kamau Brathwaite". Contemporary Literature. 48 (1): 165–171. doi:10.1353/cli.2007.0025. JSTOR 4489193 via JSTOR.
  24. "Edward Kamau Brathwaithe" Archived 23 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Puerto Rico Encyclopedia.
  25. "1994 – Kamau Brathwaite". Neustadt Prizes. 10 June 2013. Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  26. "University of Sussex awards honorary degrees" (press release), 15 July 2002.
  27. Brathwaite, Kamau. "The Second Time of Salts | Brathwaite | Scritture migranti".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. "Nine awarded IOJ Musgrave medals for '06" Archived 14 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Jamaica Gleaner, 17 September 2006.
  29. "Institute of Jamaica Awards 9 Musgrave Medals", Jamaica Information Service, 5 October 2006.
  30. "Brathwaite gets Musgrave gold" Archived 8 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Jamaica Gleaner, 5 October 2006.
  31. Livern Barrett, "Kamau Brathwaite's Musgrave Medal Stolen", The Gleaner, 5 April 2010.
  32. "(Part 1) Kamau Brathwaite disgraced abroad...", The Bajan Reporter, 16 March 2010.
  33. "(Part 2) Kamau Brathwaite: No justice at Cow Pasture nor NYC...", The Bajan Reporter, 18 March 2010.
  34. "Faculty | Department of Comparative Literature | NYU". complit.as.nyu.edu. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  35. "UPNEBookPartners – The Lazarus Poems: Kamau Brathwaite". www.upne.com. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  36. "Official funeral for Kamau Brathwaite", Barbados Today, 15 February 2020.
  37. "Bocas Lit Fest to honour literary icon", Trinidad & Tobago Guardian, 6 February 2010.
  38. Tyrell Gittens, "Bocas Lit Fest to posthumously honour Kamau Brathwaite", Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, 6 February 2010.
  39. "Portrait of Kamau Brathwaite Unveiled". Pembroke College. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  40. "Portrait of Dr. Kamau Brathwaite being unveiled today". George Padmore Institute. 22 October 2020. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  41. Staff, "Kamau Brathwaite. Griffin Poetry Prize 2006. International Winner. Book: Born to Slow Horses. Publisher: Wesleyan University Press", The Griffin Trust.
  42. Staff (5 October 2006). "Brathwaite gets Musgrave gold" Archived 8 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Jamaica Gleaner.
  43. Admin (7 October 2010). "Twelve to receive 2010 Musgrave Awards", Institute of Jamaica.
  44. "Announcing the 2015 Frost Medalist, Kamau Brathwaite" Archived 1 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Poetry Society of America, 2 March 2015.
  45. "Kamau Brathwaite: Poet, Historian, Honorary Fellow". Pembroke College. Retrieved 16 November 2020.
  46. "2018 PEN American Lifetime Career and Achievement Awards". PEN America. February 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2018.
  47. Strange Fruit, Peepal Tree Press.
  48. "Liviticus". SPD (Small Press Distribution). Retrieved 21 April 2017.
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