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From "The Talk of the Town," Jamaica Kincaid's first impressions of snobbish, mobbish New York
Talk Pieces is a collection of Jamaica Kincaid's original writing for the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town," composed during the time when she first came to the United States from Antigua, from 1978 to 1983. Kincaid found a unique voice, at once in sync with William Shawn's tone for the quintessential elite insider's magazine, and (though unsigned) all her own--wonderingly alive to the ironies and screwball details that characterized her adopted city. New York is a town that, in return, fast adopts those who embrace it, and in these early pieces Kincaid discovers many of its hilarious secrets and urban mannerisms. She meets Miss Jamaica, visiting from Kingston, and escorts the reader to the West Indian-American Day parade in Brooklyn; she sees Ed Koch don his "Cheshire-cat smile" and watches Tammy Wynette autograph a copy of Lattimore's Odyssey; she learns the worlds of publishing and partying, of fashion and popular music, and how to call a cauliflower a crudite.
The book also records Kincaid's development as a young writer--the newcomer who sensitively records her impressions here takes root to become one of our most respected authors.
Fans of the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" column will rejoice with the publication of Kincaid's new book, a collection of 77 short pieces she wrote at the magazine between 1978 and 1983, when it was under the stewardship of William Shawn. Preceded by an adoring foreword by former colleague Ian Frazier, the book opens with Kincaid's modest description of her evolution into a star writer, the realization of a dream she held as a young girl on the West Indian island of Antigua. Following a chance meeting with New Yorker writer George Trow, Kincaid was hired to contribute to the "Talk of the Town," which she quickly made her own with a spare, highly innovative narrative style. Approaching her assignments as "little stories in themselves," Kincaid experimented with the form and substance of each piece. From her richly detailed account of New York City's West Indian-American Day carnival to a wry tale about a late-night party at the fashionable eatery Mr. Chow's, her exceptional ability to record events and conversations never fails her. Shawn's "Talk of the Town" had many restrictions; Frazier recalls that writers couldn't use curse words or write about sex or about the journalistic topic of the week. Within these constraints, Kincaid moves through a wide variety of subjects: the slick soul of R&B pros Archie Bell and the Drells, the First International Soap Opera Exposition, Gloria Vanderbilt's regal greetings at a book signing, the manic wit of Richard Pryor, a mock expense account for a luncheon for Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman and his wife. This collection is more than a chart of Kincaid's maturation into an accomplished writer; it's an astounding display of early literary skill and youthful daring.