Kamau Brathwaite, poet who celebrated Caribbean culture, 89

Kamau Brathwaite, whose lyrical poetry wove together the history and imagery of his native Barbados, the Caribbean and the African diaspora, as well as his personal experiences, died Feb. 4 at his home in Barbados. He was 89.

Mia Amor Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, in the eastern Caribbean, announced his death, calling him “one of the titans of post-colonial literature and the arts.”

Brathwaite’s many books of poetry included “Born to Slow Horses” (2005), which won the Griffin International Poetry Prize.


“To read Kamau Brathwaite,” the judges’ award citation said, “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.”

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Brathwaite, who was also a scholar of history, literature and philosophy and was a professor emeritus at New York University, was interested in what unified the diverse Caribbean before colonialism fractured it.

Lawson Edward Brathwaite was born May 11, 1930, in Bridgetown, Barbados, to Hilton and Beryl (Gill) Brathwaite.

His father was a warehouse clerk. He took the name Edward Kamau Brathwaite in the 1970s as a way to embrace all of his heritage; the grandmother (or, in some tellings, the mother) of a Kenyan writer who was a close friend is said to have suggested “Kamau” while Brathwaite was on a fellowship at the University of Nairobi.

Brathwaite’s first wife, Doris Welcome, died of cancer in 1986. In 1998 he married Beverly Reid, who survives him along with a sister, Joan; a son from his first marriage, Michael; and a granddaughter.