‘Girl’ by Jamaica Kincaid

Becoming a teacher did much to refresh my love of reading: it lets you go over and over small bits of text and share them too. I came across Jamaica Kincaid as a writer of teenagers, but actually she has a wide range and a startling biography.‘Girl’ is a very short story entirely in the imperative about the duties of a young girl in the Caribbean – another story about women, and cleaning. The voice, shape and details are all spot on: I love to teach this; it’s the definition of a rich text.

First published in The New Yorker, June 1978 and collected in At the Bottom of the River (FSG, 1983)

‘Figures in the Distance’ by Jamaica Kincaid

This story navigates a child’s early encounters with death. Aspects of her life find sharp and bright relief as she entertains a humorous and deeply creative kind of curiosity about the end, and everyday occurrences take on a sinister mystique: ‘One person had known very well a neighbor who had gone swimming after eating a big lunch at a picnic and drowned. Someone had a cousin who in the middle of something one day just fell down dead. Someone knew a boy who had died after eating some poisonous berries. “Fancy that,” we said to each other.’

First published in The New Yorker, 1983. Subsequently included as part of the novel Annie John (Vintage)