Photo Essay - The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

Jamaica KincaidJamaica Kincaid (1949– ) (Miami-Dade College (CC BY-SA))

Jamaica Kincaid is lauded internationally as a distinctive literary voice of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The prolific and award-winning author is particularly known for mixing autobiography and fiction to examine issues of identity in the diaspora. Common themes in her work are mother-daughter relationships, colonialism, language, and death. Born Elaine Potter Richardson in Antigua, she was sent by her family to the U.S. when she was in her teens. She first published her writings anonymously (in the New Yorker) before settling on her pen name in 1974. Kincaid's widely anthologized first book At the Bottom of the River (1983) launched what DCALAB author Daryl Cumber Dance describes in depth as the "Kincaid canon," a series of books in which "the author captivates the reader with powerful stories characterized by her unique lyricism, her deceptively simple imagery, and the mesmerizing effect of her endless repetitions." Kincaid, who has been elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has taught as a lecturer at Harvard and in 2009 she joined the faculty at Claremont McKenna College as Josephine Olp Weeks Chair and professor of literature, teaching courses on autobiography and fiction writing.

Gawain Garth FaganGawain Garth Fagan (1940– ) (Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons)

Born in Jamaica, Garth Fagan began his illustrious dance career as a young student and performer with Ivy Baxter Dance Group in Jamaica before he relocated to the United States at age 20. In the 1970s in Rochester, New York, he formed a group of inner city youth into a company that would eventually become Garth Fagan Dance. A visionary choreographer, Fagan developed what DCALAB author Olivier Stephenson describes as a "distinctive style and dance vocabulary consisting of ballet and modern dance along with African and Caribbean rhythms and postures," expressed in acclaimed works for Garth Fagan Dance from "Griot New York" (a collaboration with Wynton Marsalis celebrating the cultural heritage of African- and Caribbean-descended citizens of New York) to "Mudan 175/39" (with choreography set to music by Chinese and Chinese-American composers Zhou Long, Tan Dun, and Lei Liang). Fagan has also choreographed for Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Jose Limon Company, New York City Ballet's 50th Anniversary, Joseph Papp's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and Duke Ellington's street opera "Queenie Pie." His numerous awards and honors in the U.S. and Jamaica include a Tony for Best Choreography for the staged version of Walt Disney's The Lion King. Fagan is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at SUNY Brockport, where he began teaching in 1970.

François Dominique Toussaint LouvertureFrançois Dominique Toussaint Louverture (1740s—1803) (Biblioteca de la Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias del Trabajo Universidad de Sevilla)

In 1804, Haiti (then Saint-Domingue) attained independence as the result of a successful revolution, which began in 1791 with an unprecedented uprising of black slaves, and ended with overturning both slavery and European colonial rule. Toussaint Louverture, an emancipated slave, led the Haitian Revolution until Napoleon's army captured and deported him to Fort de Joux in France, where he died in captivity in 1803. According to DCALAB author Madison Smart Bell (biographer of Toussaint Louverture and author of an acclaimed trilogy of novels inspired by the Haitian Revolution), Louverture "may stand as the most extraordinary individual of all time." Bell writes, "The epitome of a self-made man, Toussaint rose from slavery to defeat the great armies of Europe, including Napoleon's finest, on the field of battle and outwitted the great powers of Europe in the realm of politics. His catalytic role turned the slave rebellion of Saint-Domingue into a national revolution, laying the foundation for the first independent black state in the Western Hemisphere." In addition to Bell's publications, Louverture's role in the Haitian Revolution has been memorialized in plays (including one by C. L. R. James), an opera (by David Blake), songs (by Santana and Wyclef Jean), paintings (by Jacob Lawrence and Jean-Michel Basquiat), poems (by William Wordsworth), literature (by Ralph Ellison and Kenneth Roberts), and many historical and biographical texts.

Antônio Francisco LisboaAntônio Francisco Lisboa ("O Aleijadinho") (1720/38–1814) (Alexandre Machado, CC BY-SA)

The most famous Brazilian artist of the colonial era, Antônio Francisco Lisboa was a pioneering architect and sculptor— today his work can be found in Mina Gerais, Brazil largely in the architecture and statuary of churches. He was the illegitimate mixed-race child of a Portuguese carpenter and his black slave, and as DCALAB author Mónica Dom ínguez Torres writes "Despite being a mulatto within a highly discriminatory social order, Lisboa achieved during his own lifetime recognition as an artist, as well as a certain economic standing." Although a degenerative disease eventually left him deformed and unable to move his limbs (thus his nickname "O Aleijadinho" or "Little Cripple"), the artist continued to work, reportedly carried by slaves and with tools tied to his hands. His masterpieces, the churches of St. Francis in Ouro Preto and S ão Jo ão del Rei and the sculptures at the Sanctuary of the Our Lord Jesus of Matosinhos in Congonhas do Campo, exemplify the artist's spatial design innovations and his personal rearticulation of the European rococo style of the era. Though his late Baroque style became unfashionable at the end of the artist's life, Brazilian nationalism in the mid-twentieth century led to a rediscovery of his work both nationally and internationally, resulting in his status as a Brazilian national hero, dubbed by art historian Germain Bazin a "Brazilian Michelangelo."

Miriam MirandaMiriam Miranda (c. 1965–) (

A tireless Garifuna activist and advocate for the rights of all Afro-descendant and indigenous people of Honduras, Miriam Miranda is the general coordinator and leading spokesperson of the National Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH). The Afro-indigenous Garifuna people of St. Vincent fought both French and British colonizers in the late 1700s and early 1800s and were ultimately deported from the island, settling in Honduras and later in other parts of the Caribbean. DCALAB author Glenn Chambers writes, "Although Miranda is the representative of the organization [OFRANEH], she is a strong adherent to the communal tradition of the Garífuna, and she acts on their behalf through consensus rather than individual aspirations. Because of this, it is difficult to separate Miriam Miranda and her activism from the larger Afro-descendant and indigenous movements for equality in Honduras." At great personal risk, Miranda has confronted the Honduran government and authorities in order to advocate for her constituents since the 1980s. She has led OFRANEH in public actions against land development initiatives including tourist resorts on Garfiuna lands, and she campaigns for Garifuna fishing rights and promotes causes that better the lives of Honduran women.

Dido Elizabeth BelleDido Elizabeth Belle (1760?–1804) (Wikipedia)

Dido Belle's case was unusual among the mixed-race offspring of unions between European aristocrats and enslaved Africans in the Caribbean. Her father, Captain (and later Admiral) John Lindsay of the Royal Navy, brought her back to England where she grew up as a free mixed-race woman in a white European household. This double portrait depicts Dido with her white cousin, Elizabeth Murray, both of whom were raised by Lindsay's uncle William Murray (first Earl of Mansfield) and his wife. DCALAB author Kathleen Chater writes, "Belle seems to have had the same ambiguous status as other illegitimate natural children, like the (white) daughter of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Her family supported her, but she was neither given the full privileges of legitimate offspring nor treated as a menial servant. She received an allowance, was given expensive presents, and people knew that she lived in the household." As Lord Chief Justice of England, Belle's great-uncle William Murray presided over important cases related to slavery (notably, Somersett v Stewart 1772 and Zong 1783).

Maurice Rupert BishopMaurice Rupert Bishop (1944–1983) (

Maurice Bishop led the Grenadan New Jewel Movement that rose in 1973 to oppose the Gairy regime's corruption and crimes against its people, ending with a revolutionary coup d'etat in 1979. According to DCALAB author Nicole L. Philip-Dowe, Bishop's revolutionary ideology was shaped in part by his early experiences in London, where he earned a law degree in the 1960s: "Racism and the economic disparity of rich and poor formed part of Bishop's experience in London. The rise of black nationalism and black power made evident by the works of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and Malcolm X of the United States helped to influence and shape Bishop's political outlook and consciousness. By the early 1970s Bishop could be defined as a revolutionary democrat further influenced by the revolutionary movements in Cuba, Angola, and Mozambique, along with the writings of Karl Marx, Lenin, and C. L. R James." Bishop served as Prime Minister of Grenada's revolutionary socialist regime from 1979 to 1983. Political divisions within the People's Revolutionary Government (PRG) led to his house arrest and execution shortly before the United States invaded Grenada and ended the PRG's rule in 1983.

Victoria Santa Cruz GamarraVictoria Santa Cruz Gamarra (1922–2014) (

A talented and visionary figure in the performing arts (dance, music, poetry, costume design, acting, writing, directing, and more), Victoria Santa Cruz was an international arts educator and theorist of Afro-Peruvian origin who developed a distinctive pedagogical and creative method based on her personal experiences with ancestral memory. Along with her brother Nicomedes, Victoria Santa Cruz led a revival of African-descended arts and culture in Peru's theaters beginning in the 1950s, and is credited with re-discovering the choreography of several forgotten Afro-Peruvian dances as well as inspiring young Afro-Peruvians to reconnect with their African ancestry. Over the course of her varied career Santa Cruz, studied in France, directed her Peruvian theater and dance ensemble in a performance at the 1968 Olympics, served as the head of Peru's National School of Folklore, and directed Peru's internationally touring National Folklore Company. She also participated in a Senegalese colloquium on 'Negritude in Latin America' at the invitation of the Senegalese president, and became a professor of theater at Carnegie-Mellon University in the United States, before retiring in Lima in the early 2000s. DCALAB author Heidi Feldman writes that after Santa Cruz's death in 2014 "her legacy remained active, as her former students and those inspired by her enigmatic leadership continued the work of reviving and performing the black musical heritage in Peru."

Albert HuieAlbert Huie (1920–2010). Self-Portrait. ( Fair Use © Albert Huie)

Dubbed the "father of Jamaican painting," Albert Huie was one of Jamaica's first professional artists and one of the island's most successful and popular painters. DCALAB author Claudia Hucke notes that Huie was strongly influenced by anti-colonial movements, especially cultural nationalism" "Along the lines of cultural nationalism, Huie was one of the first Jamaica artists to include black subjects as key characters in his paintings. Up until then, portraits had been mainly reserved for the white elite of the island." Over the course of his career, Huie's interests included portraits (especially of black subjects), nudes (with special attention to the variety of skin tones among black subjects), landscapes, and genre pieces featuring scenes from working-class life. Some of his most famous works include The Vendor (which can be seen on Jamaican postage stamps), The Counting Lesson (exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair in New York), and Miss Mahogany (which was controversial due to its depiction of a beauty pageant contestant in the nude). Huie was trained in Jamaica, Canada, and England and lived and worked in the U.S., Canada, and Jamaica..

Frantz FanonFrantz Fanon (1925–1961) (

Born in Martinique and profoundly influenced by the work of his teacher Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon was a soldier, a psychiatrist, an author, and an outspoken and original theorist of decolonization. Fanon fought in the Free French Army during World War II and he was a member of the Algerian Liberation Front while serving as head of the psychiatric ward of an Algerian hospital during the Algerian War. Fanon was later exiled to Tunisia. Although he died of leukemia at the age of 36, Frantz Fanon's legacy lives on through his widely read and influential books on the psychological conditions of colonialism and racism. DCALAB author Carolyn Vellenga Berman writes, "The Wretched of the Earth had an enormous impact on anti-imperialist and antiracist struggles worldwide, becoming an inspirational text for the Black Power movement in the 1960s and 1970s. In subsequent decades, the exploration of identity, subjectivity, and the effects of culture in Black Skin, White Masks also became a crucial point of reference for postcolonial theory. . . . Thoughtful, prescient, and often paradoxical, Fanon's written works anticipated many historical twists and turns—not only in decolonization, but also in theories of creolization and 'stereotype threat' as well as critiques of nationalism and economic globalization."

Celia CruzCelia Cruz (1925–2003) (Photofest)

Known as the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz began her multi-decade professional singing career performing son, mambo, cha-cha, bolero, and other Cuban genres as a young woman in Havana. With the popular Cuban dance band La Sonora Matancera, she broke new ground for female performers in 1950s Cuba by achieving widespread success as a female lead singer with a dance band. After the Cuban Revolution, Cruz and La Sonora Matancera defected from Cuba while on tour in Mexico in 1960, relocating to the United States, where Cruz lived and worked until her death in 2003. With musicians including Tito Puente, Willie Colón, Ray Barretto, and Hector Lavoe, Cruz popularized the dance music called "salsa" that emanated from 1970s New York with its musical roots in Cuba and Puerto Rico, and she toured internationally as the only female musician in the Fania All-Stars. She was known for performing in elaborate costumes and makeup, and for her trademark cry "Azucar!" (Sugar!). Cruz cultivated mainstream appeal for salsa, and regularly performed songs that referenced the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, though she avoided the overtly political lyrics favored by many male salseros in the 1970s. However, in public life she was an outspoken critic of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. DCALAB author Rebecca Bodenheimer writes, "On the island, Cruz's songs were subjected to absolute censorship, banned from radio and all public media circulation. However, tapes of her music continued to circulate clandestinely, and despite her political orientation, she was held in high esteem by Cubans of all ages, who claimed her as their own."