Caryl Phillips was born in St Kitts in 1958. He was only twelve weeks old when his parents settled in Leeds where he was brought up. Since his graduation from Oxford, he has led a brilliant writing and teaching career that has taken him worldwide, from Sweden and Poland to India and Australia. He now teaches at Yale University. He started out as a playwright, and is now mainly known as an essayist and a novelist. He has won many awards for his writing, including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for Crossing the River, in 1993) and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (for A Distant Shore, in 2004). His latest books are the collection of essays Colour Me English (2011) and the novel The Lost Child (2015). He lives in the United States, but frequently journeys back to England and the Caribbean, two areas that still significantly feed his creative imagination.
Phillips’s work […] is frequently preoccupied with the tensions between belonging and exclusion; between migration and settlement; strangeness and familiarity; arrival and departure. Phillips is a writer who often appears most at home when he is away, journeying between places.
Caryl Phillips is one of the major British writers of his generation. He is, however, known to be resistant to pigeonholing and to all the labels that have repeatedly tried to circumscribe his art. This is partly due to his multiple cultural affiliations but also to the impressive diversity of his talents. He is the author of several plays, of scripts for radio, television and the cinema, and is also a prolific writer of essays. But Phillips is best-known as a novelist and has so far published ten novels for which he has received major awards. His work shows a deep sense of moral responsibility to the history that has produced him and which has all too often been silenced or at least only partially represented. This is true from his first novelabout West Indian emigration to England, The Final Passage (1985) to his latest, The Lost Child (2015), which interweaves the story of a twentieth-century broken family with that of Emily Brontë’s.
While Phillips’s writing conveys a deep understanding of the impact of exile on the culture and psyche of the West Indies, its original contribution is to show that Caribbean migration is part of British history and therefore participates in the construction of a new British sensibility. Moreover, Phillips’s compassionate engagement with lonely, marginalized characters helps us to transgress such artificial boundaries as race, gender and nation, and calls into question the myths of homogeneity that all too often underlie colonising impulses, both personal and collective. This is why Phillips’s work affords an uncompromising, yet eminently humane, reflection on the composite societies in which we live.
Cite this: Ledent, Bénédicte. “Caryl Phillips.” Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds, 2017, https://writersmakeworlds.com/caryl-phillips/. Accessed 13 October 2020.