The University of Wisconsin Press

Biography / Autobiography / Caribbean Literature / Poetry

The Zea Mexican Diary
7 September 1926–7 September 1986
Kamau Brathwaite
Foreword by Sandra Pouchet Paquet

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor

[Kamau Brathwaite is] one of the finest living poets of the Western hemisphere.”
London Times

In May of 1986 Edward Kamau Brathwaite learned that his wife, Doris, was dying of cancer and had only a short time to live. Responding as a poet, he began “helplessly & spasmodically” to record her passage in a diary. Zea Mexican is a collection of excerpts from this diary and other notes from this period of the Brathwaites’ lives, and few who read this book will fail to be caught up in the depth of Edward Brathwaite’s grief.

Zea Mexican is a tribute to Doris Brathwaite and an exploration of the creative potency of love. (The title comes from the name Brathwaite gave Doris, who was originally from Guyana of part Amerindian descent.) Exposing the intimacy of his marriage, this book is the closest Brathwaite has ever come to an autobiographical statement. In examining his life with Doris he found the courage to reveal something of his own character. But, more than an autobiography, Zea Mexican is an extraordinary work of literature, much of it written in the expressive “nation language” of Jamaica and the Caribbean. Brathwaite filters his pain through his poetic gift, presenting it to the reader with all the poignancy poetry conveys.

How important this personal view of the poet, the man, the philosopher, the romantic will be for the Brathwaite scholar! . . . Simply the most riveting, most poetic, most beautifully rendered autobiographical narrative that I've read in a long time. . . . To read Zea is more than simply to peruse a manuscript–it is to participate in a ritual.”
—Daryl Cumber Dance, author of New World Adams: Conversations with Contemporary West Indian Writer

Edward Kamau Brathwaite
is professor of comparative literature at New York University. Among his many books of poetry and scholarship are Ancestors, Black + Blues, Masks, Islands, Days and Nights, Middle Passages, Our Ancestral Heritage, and History of the Voice. He received the 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

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Brathwaite's book is white with a green-tinted image of a woman

July 1993  

LC: 92-056924 PR
230 pp.   6 x 9

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"In this indefinable text, a diary/memoir and then some, West Indian poet and scholar Kamau Brathwaite conjures his wife, Doris, and tells of her death from cancer. Brathwaite can give even the clichés of death and mourning their flat but real weight."
—Village Voice Literary Supplement

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