Life and career
Born in rural Jamaica in in Trelawny, Cockpit Country, the seventh of ten children, she attended to Montego Bay High School For Girls. At the age of 19 she joined the staff of the Jamaica Gleaner in Kingston. She later won a scholarship to study journalism in Cardiff, Wales, and then at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where she earned a degree in 1967. While at university she began writing fiction and poetry. On her return to Jamaica, she worked as a journalist before joining the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies, where she edited the journal Social and Economic Studies (1972-77). In 1982 she joined the Institute of Jamaica as editor of the Jamaica Journal. She also oversaw the publication of a number of books on Jamaican history and culture.
After Hurricane Gilbert hit Jamaica in 1988, Senior moved to Europe, where she lived for short periods in Portugal, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, before settling in Canada in the early 1990s. She returns to Jamaica almost every year.
Senior has published three collections of poems: Talking of Trees (1985), Gardening in the Tropics (1994), and Over the Roofs of the World (2005). Her short story collection Summer Lightning (1986) won the Commonwealth Writers Prize; it was followed by Arrival of the Snake Woman (1989, 2009) and Discerner of Hearts (1995). Her first novel, Dancing Lessons (Cormorant Books), was shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize in the Canada region.
Her non-fiction works include The Message Is Change (1972), about Michael Manley's first election victory; A-Z of Jamaican Heritage (1984, expanded and republished as Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage in 2004); and Working Miracles: Women's Lives in the English-Speaking Caribbean (1991)
Senior's work often addresses questions of Caribbean identity in terms of gender and ethnicity. She has said: "I've had to deal with race because of who I am and how I look. In that process, I've had to determine who I am. I do not think you can be all things to all people. As part of that process, I decided I was a Jamaican. I represent many different races and I'm not rejecting any of them to please anybody. I'm just who I am and you have to accept me or not."
Awards and honours
In 2005, Senior was awarded a Musgrave Gold Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for her contributions to literature.
- The Message Is Change: A Perspective on the 1972 General Elections, Kingston Publishers, 1972.
- Pop Story Gi Mi (four booklets on Jamaican heritage for schools), Ministry of Education (Kingston, Jamaica), 1973.
- A-Z of Jamaican Heritage, Heinemann and Gleaner Company Ltd, 1984.
- Talking of Trees (poetry), Calabash, 1986.
- Summer Lightning and Other Stories, Longman, 1986.
- Arrival of the Snake-Woman (short stories), Longman, 1989.
- Working Miracles: Women's Lives in the English-Speaking Caribbean, Indiana University Press, 1991.
- Gardening in the Tropics (poetry), McClelland & Stewart, 1994.
- Discerner of Hearts (short stories), McClelland & Stewart, 1995.
- Over the Roofs of the World (poetry), Insomniac Press, 2005
- Shell, Insomniac Press, 2007
- Dancing Lessons (novel), Cormorant Books, 2011
- Birthday Suit (for children), Annick Press, 2012
- Anna Carries Water (for children), Tradewind, 2013
Interviews published in the Jamaica Gleaner:
- Laura Tanna, "One-on-one with Olive Senior (Pt. II)", 31 October 2004.
- Laura Tanna, "One-on-one with Olive Senior (Part 3)", 7 November 2004.