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Kamau Brathwaite, born in Barbados in 1930, is an internationally celebrated poet, performer, and cultural theorist. Co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement, he was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge and has a PhD from the University of Sussex in the UK. He has served on the board of directors of UNESCO’s History of Mankind project since 1979, and as cultural advisor to the government of Barbados from 1975-1979 and again since 1990. Brathwaite has received numerous awards, among them the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bussa Award, the Casa de las Américas Prize, and the Charity Randall Prize for Performance and Written Poetry. He has received Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, among many others. His book, The Zea Mexican Diary (1992) was The Village Voice Book of the Year. Brathwaite has authored many works, including Middle Passages (1994), Ancestors (2001) and The Development of Creole Society, 1770-1820 (2005).

Over the years, he has worked in the Ministry of Education in Ghana and taught at the University of the West Indies, Southern Illinois University, the University of Nairobi, Boston University, Holy Cross College, Yale University and was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. Brathwaite is currently a professor of comparative literature at New York University. He divides his time between CowPastor, Barbados and New York City.

We were saddened to learn of Kamau Brathwaite’s passing in February, 2020. As tributes pour in acknowledging Brathwaite, his work and his accomplishments, Barbados Today offers these moving reflections.

Born to Slow Horses

Wesleyan University Press
2006 Winner
United States

Judges’ Citation

To read Kamau Brathwaite is to enter into an entire world of human histories and natural histories, beautiful landscapes and their destruction, children’s street songs, high lyricism, court documents, personal letters, literary criticism, sacred rites, eroticism and violence, the dead and the undead, confession and reportage.

To read Kamau Brathwaite is to enter into an entire world of human histories and natural histories, beautiful landscapes and their destruction, children’s street songs, high lyricism, court documents, personal letters, literary criticism, sacred rites, eroticism and violence, the dead and the undead, confession and reportage. An epic of one man (containing multitudes) in the African diaspora, Brathwaite’s world even has its own orthography and typography, demanding total attention to the poem, forbidding casual glances. Born to Slow Horses is a major book from a major poet. Here political realities turn into musical complexities, voices overlap, history becomes mythology, spirits appear in photographs. And, in it what may well be the first enduring poem on the disaster of 9/11, Manhattan becomes another island in the poet’s personal archipelago, as the sounds of Coleman Hawkins transform into the words and witnesses and survivors. Throughout Born to Slow Horses, as in his earlier books, Brathwaite has invented a new linguistic music for subject matter that is all his own.