A few weeks ago, I fulfilled a twenty-one-year long goal; I met Jamaica Kincaid. For my Div III project (senior thesis) at Hampshire College I wrote the first third of a novel and did an extensive research project on Jamaica Kincaid. I read everything she had written up to that point, maybe six times. I made notes, highlighted, underlined, used sticky notes, and colored dots to mark the pages as I read. I discovered a musical rhythm to her work that acted almost like a refrain from one book to the next.
While I was writing the paper, Jamaica was to make an appearance at the Odyssey Bookstore in South Hadley, MA, but there was a snowstorm. I never got to meet her. I’ve moved between three different states, cut my book collection in half maybe ten times over those years, but those books have always been kept together in a little set on my shelves. One, because no one wants to read them after I stapled some of the pages back in or wants to read past all my chicken scratch in the margins. Two, because I knew someday I would get a chance for her to sign my copies.
I brought the books to the University of Albany Second Annual Bookfest. I watched Jamaica and Richardo Cortes discuss a piece she had written years ago for Talk of the Town for the New Yorker that he illustrated and turned into a children’s mystery. The book is titled Party A Mystery. I was mesmerized. Her voice sounded exactly as I imagined in my head for the year and a half I worked on the paper.
After, I stood in line with my books in hand, ready for her to sign. A woman came around to mark title pages with big yellow sticky notes to make it easier for Jamaica to find. She looked at my copies and smiled. “She gonna love those,” the woman told me. I couldn’t smile in return; I was so nervous.
“What happened to my books?” Jamaica Kincaid asked as she flipped through the pages.
I told her we were supposed to meet twenty-one years earlier. She remembered that it was a bad winter and knew the bookstore well. I quickly explained the project and how much her words had meant to me. She asked, which was my favorite, and I told her it was My Brother because it was the one I related to the most. I had a similar experience, and it made me feel connected to another person in a way I hadn’t before.
Her fingers ran over the pages, “I didn’t know there was so much to learn from my writing.”
I told her there was a whole world to learn from her. I shook her hand and thanked her for being such an inspiration and walked away before tears came up. A few minutes later, I ran into a friend of mine, and I told her what happened and showed her the books. She ran her fingers over them as well.
“I know you’re all emotional, just think how she feels. You just made her day.” She said. I hadn’t thought about it that way. In front of Jamaica Kincaid, I couldn’t get past all my feelings and awkwardness to think about her side of it. The moral of the story: always meet your heroes. Even if you fan-girl out all over them.