Gardening is a Kind of Colonialism | Writer Jamaica Kincaid | Louisiana Channel

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The Antiguan-American writer Jamaica Kincaid speaks about her relationship to gardening. “The naming of plants means the possession, which leads me to Christopher Columbus and the naming of the world. You possess the world by putting a name on it, and then you begin to understand it.”

Jamaica Kincaid got her interest in gardening from her mother. She started to plant things, “and nothing would grow” when she had children.

“Nothing is more inspiring than failure. When I fail at something, I keep doing it. So, I kept gardening. And it became an obsession, it was very hard on my family because I could abandon everything for the garden.”

But Kincaid became interested in plants and how they got their names:

“Understanding the naming of plants led me to Linnea’s understanding that naming means the possession, which leads me to Christopher Columbus and the naming of the world. You possess the world by putting a name on it, and then you begin to understand it. But you begin the understand the terms you entered into a relationship with it, which is possession. You almost never ever have any respect for the thing you have named in a sense looking at it, it might have something other than your use for it.”

“So, if I would do anything in the garden, I would naturally write about it. It led me to ideas of conquest. The role plants have played in various empires, for instance, plants played a bigger role in the economic development in the British Empire than the Spanish empire or even the French Empire, and why is that?”

Jamaica Kincaid (born 1949) is an Antiguan-American novelist, essayist, gardener, and gardening writer. She was born in St. Johns, Antigua, in the Caribbean. At 16, she settled in New York after leaving Antigua to work as an au pair, then studied photography at the New York School for Social Research and attended Franconia College in New Hampshire. Around 1973 she changed her name from Elaine Potter Richardson to Jamaica Kincaid, partly because she wanted anonymity for her writing. She was a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine from 1974-to 96. Kincaid published her first book ‘At the Bottom of the River’, a collection of short stories, in 1983. Her first novel ‘Annie John’ appeared in 1985 – the story of a 10-year-old growing up in Antigua. The novel ’Lucy’ came in 1990. ‘The Autobiography of my Mother’ (1996) is a novel set in Dominica and told by a 70-year-old woman looking back on her life. ‘A Small Place’ (1988) is a short book about the effects of colonialism. Kincaid published more books about gardening, including ‘My Garden (2000). Her novel ‘See Now Then’ (2013) won the Before Columbus Foundation America Book Award in 2014. Jamaica Kincaid is often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Jamaica Kincaid was interviewed by Danish writer Merete Pryds Helle in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival in August 2021 at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

Cameras: Rasmus Quistgaard
Edit: Jarl Kaldan
Produced by Christian Lund

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022.

Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling.

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