|Born||23 December 1941|
|Occupation||poet, novelist, short-story and non-fiction writer|
|Notable works||Gardening in the Tropics, Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, Summer Lightning, Over The Roofs|
Life and career
Born in rural Jamaica 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 and later with the Jamaica Information Service. Senior later won a scholarship from the Thomson Foundation to study journalism in Cardiff, Wales. As a Commonwealth scholar she attended Carleton University School of Journalism 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 freelancer in public relations, publishing and speech writing 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. As the managing director of Institute of Jamaica Publications, Senior 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 Toronto, Canada, in the early 1990s. Senior returns to Jamaica and the wider Caribbean frequently while the region remains a central theme to her work. She writes, lectures and provides workshops around the world.
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, 2011), 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 most recent non-fiction book, Dying To Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal, was published in September 2014 - 100 years after the opening of the Panama Canal, 15 August 1914.
An extended critical evaluation of Senior's work can be found in Olive Senior by Denise deCaires Narain (2011) by Northcote House Publishers (UK) in collaboration with the British Council as part of the Writers and Their Work series.
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."
Recent translations include: ZigZag, translated into French by Christine Raguet, Geneva: Zoe, 2010; Eclairs de chaleur, translated into French by Christine Raguet, Geneva: Zoe, 2011, Depuis la Terrasse et autres nouvelles (translated into French by Marie-Annick Montout), special edition, L'Atelier d'écriture, Mauritius, 2011; Zomerweerlicht (Trans: Marie Luyten), Netherlands: Ambo/Novib, 1991; Das Erscheinen der Schlangenfrau (trans: Wolfgang Binder) Germany: Dipa/Verlag, 1996, and Unionsverlag, 2003; a Book Club Selection, The Berne Declaration, Switzerland, 1996.
A bilingual (English and French) book of Senior's poetry, Un Pipirit M'a Dit/A Little Bird Told Me will be released in 2014.
Awards and honours
In 2005, Senior was awarded a Musgrave Gold Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for her contributions to literature.
Selected List of Honours
- Commonwealth Writers Prize, for Summer Lightning, 1987;
- Hawthornden Fellow, Scotland, 1994;
- Dana Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing and International Education, St. Lawrence University, Canton NY, 1994-5;
- F.G. Bressani Literary Prize for Gardening in the Tropics,1995;
- Norman Washington Manley Foundation Award for Excellence (preservation of cultural heritage - Jamaica), 2003;
- Gold Medal of the Institute of Jamaica 2004;
- Humanities Scholar, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados, 2005
- Over the Roofs of the World shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for poetry 2005
- Runner up for the Casa de Las Americas Prize 2005;
- Shell shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award 2006;
- Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council works-in-progress grants, 2006.
- Dancing Lessons shortlisted for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Book Prize, 2011
- Isabel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award, 2011.
- Talking of Trees, Calabash, 1986.
- Gardening in the Tropics, McClelland & Stewart, 1994.
- Over the Roofs of the World, Insomniac Press, 2005
- Shell, Insomniac Press, 2007
- Summer Lightning and Other Stories, Longman, 1986. ISBN 978-0582786271
- Arrival of the Snake-Woman, Longman, 1989. ISBN 978-0582031708
- Discerner of Hearts, McClelland & Stewart, 1995. ISBN 978-0771080548
- Dancing Lessons, Cormorant Books, 2011. ISBN 978-1770860476
- Birthday Suit, Annick Press, 2012
- Anna Carries Water, Tradewind, 2013
- 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.
- Working Miracles: Women's Lives in the English-Speaking Caribbean, Indiana University Press, 1991.
- Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, Twin Guinep, 2004.
- Dying To Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal, University of the West Indies Press, 2014. ISBN 978-9766404574
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.