This list includes some of Jamaica’s top writers – novelists, poets, essayists, playwrights and multi-hyphenates who dabble in all of these genres.
1. Louise Bennett-Coverley
Miss Lou was born in Kingston on September 7, 1919. Growing up, she always had an irrepressible sense of humour and a flair for dramatics. Her first dialect poem was written when she was 14 years old. Over the years, she grew to become one of the island’s most beloved icons, proudly elevating the Jamaican dialect from something to be ashamed of to something to be highlighted and celebrated. Miss Lou worked in a number of areas, including broadcasting, with the popular children’s programme Ring Ding and authored a number of books in her lifetime, but the most popular ones are Jamaica Labrish (1966) andAnancy and Miss Lou (1979). Read more about Miss Lou here.
2. Erna Brodber
Dr Erna Brodber is an accomplished author, historian and social scientist whose creative and academic works have been published to wide acclaim. Her novels include The Rainmaker’s Mistake (2006), Louisiana (1994), Myal (1988) and Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home (1980). She was born on April 20, 1940 in Woodside, St Mary. In 2013, she was appointed by the UWI, Mona as writer-in-residence for the academic year. Dr Brodber has won numerous awards. In 2011 UWI, Mona, conferred on her the Honorary Doctor of Letters, and in 2004 she was awarded the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) for exemplary public service by the Government of Jamaica. Read more about Brodber here.
3. Colin Channer
Channer burst unto the literary scene in 1998 with Waiting in Vain, and has not looked back since. The novel was a national bestseller in the US, and was critically acclaimed. His second novel was Satisfy My Soul, and the two titles – both classic singles from a certain reggae icon, along with the themes explored, earned him the nickname “Bob Marley with a pen.” Since those early days, he has written several works, mostly novellas and short stories, including The Girl with the Golden Shoes and Passing Through, a series on inter-connected shorts. Additionally, he is the editor of the fiction anthologies Iron Balloons (2006) and Kingston Noir (2012), and coeditor of the poetry anthology So Much Things to Say (2010). He recently published his first poetry collection called Providential.
Channer is also one of the masterminds behind Calabash Literary Festival, now held biennially. It was founded in 2001 by Channer, Kwame Dawes and Justine Henzell, with the aim of creating a world-class literary festival with roots in Jamaica and branches reaching out into the wider world.
4. Jean D’Costa
D’Costa was born Jean Creary on January 13, 1937, and lived and worked in various parts of rural Jamaica. She attended St Hilda’s High School in Brown’s Town, St Ann and St Hugh’s High School in Kingston, before moving on to the University College of the West Indies in 1955. She earned an honours degree in English and later a Master of Letters in Jacobean drama at Oxford University.
She is popular for her children’s fiction, which includes Sprat Morrison (1972; 1990), Escape to Last Man Peak (1976), Voice in the Wind (1978), Duppy Tales (1997), Caesar and the Three Robbers (1996), and Jenny and the General (2006). She has also co-edited and co-authored an anthology of short stories, Over Our Way (1981; 1993).
5. Barbara Gloudon
Gloudon is most popularly known for her work in journalism, both in print and on the air. However, many in the local theatre space will know her work as a playwright, who has written more than 30 plays for the Little Theatre Movement (LTM) National Pantomime. Her first script was Moonshine Anancy in 1969, based on the landing of American astronauts on the moon. Gloudon, who was the arts beat reporter for The Gleaner at the time, was approached by LTM co-founder Greta Fowler to “try her hand” at writing a script. The rest, as they say, is history. Her most recent play is 2015’s Runeesha and the Birds.
6. Lorna Goodison
Lorna Gaye Goodison was born in Kingston, where she attended St Hugh’s High School. She began writing poetry as a teenager, submitting some of her early work to the Gleaner anonymously. Today, she is one of the most recognised Jamaican names in literary circles as both a poet and an author. Her books of poetry include Tamarind Season (1980), I Am Becoming My Mother (1986), Heartease (1988), To Us, All Flowers Are Roses (1995), Controlling the Silver (2005) and Supplying Salt and Light (2013). Her three short-story collections, namely Baby Mother and the King of Swords (1990), Fool-Fool Rose is Leaving Labour-in-Vain Savannah (2005) and By Love Possessed (2011). The memoir, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People (2007) received one of Canada’s largest literary prizes, the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Goodison has received numerous awards, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Americas Region), the Musgrave Gold Medal from Jamaica, and the Henry Russel Award for Exceptional Creative Work from the University of Michigan, where she lectures. Read more about this creative genius here.
7. Joan Andrea Hutchinson
An accomplished actor, teacher, singer, motivational speaker, poet and storyteller, Hutchinson is internationally celebrated for her poems, monologues, stories and performances, written and done in Jamaican Creole (JC). This multi-faceted cultural exponent has done extensive work in preserving the Jamaican-language heritage in ways only she can. And her dynamic repertoire is replete with the comedic and dramatic slices of Jamaican life. This is hardly surprising since her literary work is greatly influenced by none other than the late bastion of the Jamaican language, Louise Bennett-Coverley.
Hutchinson has produced seven books and three CDs, including Dat Bumpy Head Gal, Wild About Jamaica, Anancy and Aunty Joan, Inna Mi Heart and Kin Teet Kibba Heart Bun: Celebrating The Creativity Of Jamaican ‘Poor’ People.
8. Marlon James
He was born in Jamaica in 1970. His most recent novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, won the 2015 Man Booker Prize. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for fiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction, and the Minnesota Book Award. It was also a New York Times Notable Book. James is also the author of The Book of Night Women, which won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Minnesota Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction and an NAACP Image Award. His first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. James lives in Minneapolis, where he is an associate professor at Macalester College.
9. Kellie Magnus
Magnus, daughter of the famous broadcaster Alan, is one of the premier children’s books authors and publishers in Jamaica. She has author some 20 books and stories, including the Little Lion series — Little Lion Goes to School (2003), Little Lion at Bat (2007) and Little Lion Goes for Gold (2008). Additionally, she has written several books for the Ministry of Education’s revised primary school curriculum (I am Growing, Billy the Bully, Careful, Carefree, Doctor Birds and Sunday Dinner).
Her publishing company, Jackmandora, produced A Book for Baby and Trixie Triangle, which were selected for the 2011 BookStart Jamaica Pilot Programme. She is also one of the developers of Max and Friends, a multimedia package designed for children with autism and related developmental disorders. In addition, she is the chairman of Kingston Book Festival, an eight-day event for readers, writers, publishers and booksellers.