The West Indies has a rich tradition of superb fiction writing, with West Indian writers such as Derek Walcott, V. S. Naipaul, and Jean Rhys winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Other notable West Indian fiction writers include Jamaica Kincaid, Sam Selvon, Andrew Salkey, and George Lamming.
These writers have explored a wide range of themes in their work, including colonialism, slavery, migration, and the Caribbean identity. Their novels, short stories, and poetry have been translated into many languages and have been praised for their beauty, power, and originality.
West Indian fiction is a vital part of the global literary canon, and it continues to be produced by a new generation of talented writers. These writers are using their work to explore the challenges and possibilities of the 21st century, and they are helping to shape the future of Caribbean literature.
Here are ten of the very best West Indian writers:
Jean Rhys, Dominica (1890 – 1979)
Jean Rhys was a British novelist who was born and grew up in the Caribbean island of Dominica. Her work is often characterized by its focus on the themes of exile, alienation, and the female experience.
Rhys’s first novel, Postures (1928), was a semi-autobiographical work that explored her experiences as a young woman in London. Her subsequent novels, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931) and Voyage in the Dark (1934), continued to explore these themes, and they established Rhys as a major voice in British fiction.
In 1966, Rhys published her most famous novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. This novel is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and it tells the story of Antoinette Cosway, the first wife of Mr. Rochester. Wide Sargasso Sea was a critical and commercial success, and it won the prestigious William Faulkner Foundation Award.
Rhys’s later work, including Good Morning, Midnight (1939) and Smile Please (1979), continued to explore the themes of exile, alienation, and the female experience. Her work is now considered to be among the most important in 20th-century British fiction.
Rhys’s writing is characterized by its lyrical prose, its sharp insights into the human condition, and its unflinching portrayal of the female experience. She was a master of the short story, and her work is often praised for its psychological depth and its evocative depiction of atmosphere.
Rhys’s work has been influential on a number of other writers, including Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, and Zadie Smith. She is considered to be one of the most important British novelists of the 20th century, and her work continues to be read and admired by readers around the world.
Samuel Selvon, Trinidad and Tobago (1923 – 1994)
Samuel Selvon was a Trinidadian novelist and short-story writer who is best known for his work in the “nation language” tradition. This tradition uses a creolized English that reflects the speech patterns of the Caribbean people. Selvon’s novels and stories often explore the experiences of West Indian immigrants in Britain, and they are characterized by their humour, warmth, and compassion.
Selvon’s first novel, A Brighter Sun (1952), tells the story of a young Indian man who leaves his village in Trinidad to work on a road construction project in the city. The novel is a sensitive and insightful portrait of the challenges of adjusting to life in a new culture.
Selvon’s most famous novel is The Lonely Londoners (1956). This novel tells the story of a group of West Indian immigrants who come to London in search of a better life. The novel is a humorous and moving account of the immigrants’ experiences, and it is considered to be a classic of Caribbean literature.
Selvon’s other novels include Turn Again Tiger (1958), The Housing Lark (1965), And Moses Ascending (1975). He also wrote several collections of short stories, including Ways of Sunlight (1957) and Those Who Eat the Cascadura (1972).
Selvon’s work has been praised for its humour and its celebration of Caribbean culture. He is considered to be one of the most important writers of the Caribbean diaspora, and his work continues to be read and enjoyed by readers around the world.
George Lamming, Barbados (1927-2022)
George Lamming was a novelist, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his first novel, In the Castle of My Skin (1953), which is considered a classic of Caribbean literature. Lamming’s novels explore themes of colonialism, identity, and the search for home.
Lamming’s first novel, In the Castle of My Skin, was published in 1953. The novel tells the story of a young boy growing up in Barbados during the 1930s. The novel is notable for its use of stream-of-consciousness narration and its exploration of the themes of colonialism and identity.
Lamming’s other novels include The Emigrants (1954), Of Age and Innocence (1958), Season of Adventure (1960), Water with Berries (1971), and Natives of My Person (1972). He also wrote several collections of essays, including The Pleasures of Exile (1960) and Conversations (1992).
Lamming was a major figure in the development of Caribbean literature. His novels and essays helped to shape the way that the Caribbean was seen by the world. He was also a vocal critic of colonialism and racism.
Derek Walcott, Saint Lucia (1930-2017)
Derek Walcott was a Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright from Saint Lucia. He was also a gifted fiction writer, and his short stories and novels are some of the most important works of Caribbean literature.
Walcott’s fiction is characterized by its rich imagery, its lyrical prose, and its deep engagement with the history and culture of the Caribbean. His stories often explore the themes of colonialism, displacement, and identity, and they offer a powerful and moving testament to the human spirit.
Some of Walcott’s most well-known short stories include “The Last Dragon,” “The Schooner Flight,” and “The Spoiler’s Return.” His novels include In a Green Night, The Castaway, and Omeros.
Walcott’s fiction is a vital part of the Caribbean literary canon, and it continues to be read and studied by readers all over the world. His work is a testament to the power of art to confront the challenges of history and to celebrate the human spirit.
V.S. Naipaul, Trinidad (1932-2018)
V.S. Naipaul was a Nobel Prize-winning novelist. His work is characterized by its sharp social commentary, its exploration of the themes of displacement and alienation, and its elegant prose style.
Naipaul’s first novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, was published in 1961. It tells the story of a Hindu shopkeeper in Trinidad who struggles to achieve success in a society that is often hostile to his culture. The novel was a critical and commercial success, and it established Naipaul as a major voice in Caribbean literature.
Naipaul’s subsequent novels continued to explore the themes of displacement and alienation. In The Mimic Men (1967), he tells the story of a former colonial official who is forced to leave his home in the Caribbean and start a new life in England. In Guerrillas (1975), he tells the story of a group of expatriates who become involved in a violent political uprising in Africa.
Naipaul’s work has been praised for its intelligence, its wit, and its insights into the human condition. He is one of the most important writers of the 20th century, and his work continues to be read and studied by scholars and students around the world.
Jamaica Kincaid, Antigua (1949 -)
Jamaica Kincaid is a Caribbean-American novelist, essayist, gardener, and gardening writer. Her work is known for its lyrical prose, its exploration of themes of colonialism, gender, and family, and its often autobiographical nature.
Kincaid’s first book, At the Bottom of the River, was published in 1983. It is a collection of short stories that explore the experiences of growing up female in the Caribbean. Her novel Annie John (1985) is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story that tells the story of a young girl’s journey from childhood to adolescence.
Kincaid’s later work includes the novels Lucy (1990), The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), and Mr. Potter (2007). She has also written several essays, including A Small Place (1988), a searing indictment of colonialism and its effects on the Caribbean.
Kincaid’s work has been praised for its honesty, its insights into the human condition, and its beautiful prose. She is a unique and important voice in contemporary literature.
Caryl Phillips, Saint Kitts (1958 -)
Caryl Phillips is a novelist, playwright, and essayist. He is best known for his novels, which explore the themes of migration, identity, and race. His novels are often set in multiple countries and cultures, and they feature characters who are forced to negotiate their identities in a world that is constantly changing.
Phillips’s first novel, The Final Passage (1985), tells the story of a young woman who emigrates from the Caribbean to England. The novel explores the challenges of adjusting to a new culture and the complexities of racial identity. Phillips’s subsequent novels, such as A State of Independence (1986), Higher Ground (1989), and Crossing the River (1993), continue to explore these themes.
Phillips has also written several works of non-fiction, including The European Tribe (1987), The Atlantic Sound (2000), and A New World Order (2001). These works provide insights into Phillips’s own experiences as a migrant and his thoughts on the nature of identity and belonging.
Phillips’s fiction has been praised for its lyrical prose, its psychological depth, and its insights into the human condition. He is considered one of the most important writers of the Black Atlantic, and his work has had a significant influence on other writers, such as Zadie Smith and Marlon James.
Edwidge Danticat, Haiti (1968 -)
Edwidge Danticat is a Haitian-American novelist, short story writer, and essayist. She is the author of several award-winning books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), The Farming of Bones (1998), and Claire of the Sea Light (2013). Her work is known for its lyrical prose, its sensitive portrayal of women and children, and its exploration of the themes of exile, memory, and identity.
Danticat’s writing is informed by her Haitian heritage. She draws on the rich oral tradition of Haiti in her work, and her stories often feature the voices of women and children. She is also a gifted storyteller, and her work is characterized by its suspenseful plots and its vivid characters.
Danticat’s work has been translated into over twenty languages. She has won numerous awards for her writing, including the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. She is a role model for many young writers, and her work continues to inspire readers around the world.
Marlon James, Jamaica (1970 -)
Marlon James is a Jamaican novelist who has won international acclaim for his work. His novels are known for their rich historical detail, their complex characters, and their vibrant prose.
James’s novels are notable for their use of multiple perspectives, their complex and often violent plots, and their rich historical and cultural detail. He is a master of suspense and atmosphere, and his work is often described as “epic” and “grandiose.” His first novel, John Crow’s Devil (2005), tells the story of a biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in 1957. His second novel, The Book of Night Women (2009), is about a slave woman’s revolt in a Jamaican plantation in the early 19th century. His 2014 novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, explores several decades of Jamaican history and political instability through the perspectives of many narrators.
James’s most recent novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf (2019), is a fantasy novel set in a fictional African continent. The novel has been praised for its epic scope, its complex characters, and its innovative use of language.
James’s work has been translated into over 20 languages, and he has won numerous awards, including the Man Booker Prize, the American Book Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He is a professor of English at Macalester College in Minnesota.
Tiphanie Yanique, Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands, (1980 -)
Tiphanie Yanique is a Caribbean-American fiction writer, poet, and essayist. She is the author of the novel Land of Love and Drowning (2014), which won the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award from the Center for Fiction, the Phillis Wheatley Award for Pan-African Literature, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Family Foundation Award, among other honors. She has also published a collection of stories, How to Escape from a Leper Colony (2010), which was a 2010 National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree.
Yanique’s fiction is known for its lush prose, its complex characters, and its exploration of themes of race, identity, and belonging. Her work has been praised for its originality, its emotional power, and its insights into the Caribbean experience.
In Land of Love and Drowning, Yanique tells the story of two sisters, Evangeline and Jeanette, who are forced to flee their home in the Virgin Islands after their father is murdered. The novel follows the sisters as they travel to New York City, where they must grapple with the challenges of life in a new country.
How to Escape from a Leper Colony is a collection of stories that explore the lives of Caribbean people in the United States. The stories in the collection are linked by the theme of exile, and they offer a nuanced and complex portrait of the Caribbean diaspora.
And that’s our list of the 10 best West Indian writers. What’s your take on these authors – any surprises, or any fantastic Caribbean authors missing from the list?