Kamau Brathwaite, originally, L. Edward, was born in Barbados in 1930. He read History at Cambridge between 1950-53, and received a Ph D at the University of Sussex in 1968. In between, he worked in Ghana between 1955-1962, discovering that much more of Africa had survived the middle passage to the Caribbean than most West Indians either realised or acknowledged. In the UK during the mid 1960s he was one of the key figures in the founding of the Caribbean Artists Movement and on his return to the Caribbean, where he taught History for many years at UWI, Mona, Jamaica, he was a central figure in the decolonisation of Caribbean literature and culture through his role as editor and publisher of Savacou and his involvement in yard theatre, pioneering performance poetry and making contact between campus and Kingston sufferers.
As a historian, his Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820(1971) remains one of the most important reconceptualisations of Caribbean history in his insistence on the role of African slaves in the creation of social and cultural institutions which nativised plantation society.
As a literary critic his occasional essays (collected in Roots (1993), including 'Jazz and the West Indian Novel', 'The African Presence in Caribbean literature') and monographs such as Contradictory Omens (1979) and History of the Voice (1984) are landmarks in providing Caribbean writing with an aesthetic and context of its own.
However, it is through his poetry that his wider international reputation has been made. In Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968) and Islands (1969), collected into The Arrivants in 1973, Brathwaite explored the Africa/Caribbean dynamic and the region's historical legacy. His second major trilogy, Mother Poem (1977), Sun Poem (1982) and X/Self (1987), revised and collected into Ancestors in 2001, explores aspects of Brathwaite's own Barbadian heritage. As a poet, Brathwaite has never stood still, and his work, always marked by his immersion in jazz and later by reggae, has explored a visual analogy for nation language which Brathwaite calls 'Video Sycorax', a typographical style full of inventions, disruptions and visual/aural word play. More recently, he has written a series of poems-into-prose, works which explore his 'time of salt', the series of deep tragedies which shook his life to its foundations (the death of his beloved wife and literary collaborator, Zea Mexican [Doris Brathwaite], the hurricane which destroyed his library, and his personal encounter with the dark violence which erupted in Jamaica in the 1980s onwards). These works include Dream Stories (1994), The Zea Mexican Diary (1994) and Trench Town Rock.
From the early 1990s he taught at New York University and lived mainly in the United States. He now lives in Barbados.