Jean D’Costa

Photo: JIS Photographer

Jean D’Costa is a Jamaican writer, best known for her important and influential works of children’s literature.

Jean D’Costa was born Jean Creary on January 13, 1937 in St. Andrew, Jamaica to parents who were elementary school teachers. The family lived in various parts of rural Jamaica and Jean, along with her two older siblings, attended the schools where their parents taught. In 1948 she began attending St. Hilda’s High School in St. Ann on a government scholarship and moved on to  St. Hugh’s High School in Kingston, in 1955. After completing high school, she entered the University College of the West Indies (UCWI), now the University of the West Indies (UWI). She completed a degree in English, with honours, in 1958. Following this, she went to England in 1959 on a scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree in Jacobean Drama at the Oxford University.

Soon after completing her studies at Oxford, D’Costa began teaching Old English and Linguistics at the UCWI in 1962, and eventually became a freelance writer. Between 1977 and 1980 she researched archaic Jamaican creole and culture. In 1980 D’Costa joined the staff at the Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, teaching Caribbean Literature, Creative Writing, Linguistics, and Old English.

D’Costa published her first book, Sprat Morrison in 1972. Escape to Last Man’s Peak followed in 1976, and Voice in the Wind in 1978. These three works have long been considered required reading for first-year Caribbean high schoolers.

She also wrote and published books for the younger seven to ten age group. These are Duppy Tales (1997), Caesar and the Three Robbers (1996), and Jenny and the General (2006).

A collaborative effort with Velma Pollard produced Over Our Way, a collection of short stories for pre-teens, in 1981. And with Professor Barbara Lalla, she published Voices in Exile: Jamaican Texts of the 18th and 19th Centuries in 1989 and Language in Exile: Three Hundred Years of Jamaican Creole in 1990 – both works provided a historical analysis of Jamaican language and culture.

For her outstanding contributions to children’s literature and linguistics, D’Costa has won several accolades. She was awarded the Jamaica Reading Association’s Children’s Writers Award in 1976. She also attained The Hamilton College Gertrude Flesh Bristol award in 1984 and the Institute of Jamaica’s Silver Musgrave Medal in 1994.

In 1967, Jean married journalist, David D’Costa, with whom she now lives in Florida, in the United States of America. She retired as Leavenworth Professor Emeritus from Hamilton College in 1998.

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