Opal Palmer Adisa

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Opal Palmer Adisa (born 1954) is a Jamaica-born award-winning poet, novelist, performance artist and educator.[1] Anthologised in more than 100 publications, she has been a regular performer of her work internationally.

Early life[edit]

She was raised ten miles outside Kingston, Jamaica, and attended school in the capital. In 1970 she went to study at Hunter College, New York, and in 1979 moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue an MA in creative writing.[2] As noted by David Katz, "Adisa’s work has been greatly informed by her childhood experience of life on a sugar estate in the Jamaican countryside, where her father worked as a chemist and her mother as a bookkeeper. It was in this setting that young Opal was introduced not only to the art of storytelling, but also, after her parents divorced, to the ceaseless oppression faced by women and the ongoing injustices heaped on the poor. Such formative experiences, coupled with her mother’s efforts to improve the lives of those around her, gave Adisa the desire to “give voice to the voiceless” at an early age." [3]

Work and writing[edit]

Since 1993, Opal Palmer Adisa has taught literature and served as Chair of the Ethnic Studies/Cultural Diversity Program at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Dr. Adisa has two masters degrees from San Francisco State University, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. She has previously taught undergraduate and graduate courses at California College of the Arts, Stanford University, University of Berkeley, and San Francisco State University. In the spring of 2010, she became a member of the teaching staff at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), St Croix Campus, and also served as editor of The Caribbean Writer, UVI’s famous journal of Caribbean literature, for two years.[4]

An important element of her poetry is the use of nation language, about which she has said: "I have to credit [Louise] Bennett for granting me permission, so to speak, to write in Nation Language, because it was her usage that allowed me to see the beauty of our language. Moreover, there are just some things that don’t have the same sense of intimacy or color if not said in Nation language.... I use nation language when it is the only way and the best way to get my point across, to say what I mean from the center of my navel. But I also use it, to interrupt and disrupt standard English as s reminder to myself that I have another tongue, but also to jolt readers to listen and read more carefully, to glean from the language the Caribbean sensibilities that I am always pushing, sometimes subtly, other times more forcefully. Nation language allows me to infuse the poem with all of the smells and colors of home."[5]

Artists residencies[edit]


  • Council for a performance of “Daughters of Yam”, with Devorah Major
  • Pushcart Prize for the short story "Duppy Get Her", 1987
  • PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award for Tamarind and Mango Women, 1992
  • Writer in Residence for Wadastick Artists & Scholars at Laurel Hill, North Carolina
  • Writer in Residence for the McColl Tryon Center for the Visual Arts in Charlotte, NC
  • Distinguished Writer for the Middle Atlantic Writers Association
  • Creative Work Fund Grant for West Oakland Senior Citizen Oral History Project, San Francisco, CA
  • Nominated International Woman of the Year International Biography Center, England
  • Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for "The Brethren", in The Caribbean Writer, University of the Virgin Islands, St Croix
  • Writer-in-Residence, Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausaulito, California
  • Daily News Prize for best poems in The Caribbean Writer, University of the Virgin Islands, St Croix
  • Master Folk Artist for Storytelling, California Arts Council
  • Distinguished Bay Area Woman Writer Award/California Legislative Assembly Certificate of presented by the National Women's Political Caucus
  • Master Folk Artist for Storytelling, California Arts Council
  • Creative Work Fund Grant for West Oakland Senior Citizen Oral History Project, San Francisco, California
  • Creative Artist Fellowship Award for Storytelling, Cultural Funding Program, City of Oakland


  • Pina, The Many-Eyed Fruit (children’s), Julian Richardson Publishing, 1985.
  • Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories (short stories), Kelsey St. Press, 1986. ISBN 0-932716-20-2
  • Traveling Women (short story collection with Devorah Major), Jukebox Press, 1989. ISBN 0-932693-01-6
  • Fierce Love (poetry/jazz recording with Devorah Major), 1992.
  • Tamarind and Mango Women (poetry), 1992. ISBN 0-920813-71-2
  • It Begins With Tears (novel), Heinemann, Caribbean Writers Series, 1997.
  • Leaf-of-Life (poetry) Jukebox Press, 2000.
  • The Tongue Is a Drum (poetry/jazz CD with Devorah Major), 2002.
  • Caribbean Passion (poetry), Peepal Tree Press, 2004.
  • Eros Muse (poetry and essays), Africa World Press, March 2006. ISBN 1-59221-397-9
  • I Name Me Name (poetry), Peepal Tree Press, 2006.
  • Until Judgement Comes: Stories about Jamaican Men (short stories), 2007.
  • Caribbean Erotic (editor, with Donna Aza Weir-Soley; anthology), Peepal Tree Press, 2010.
  • Painting Away Regrets (novel), Peepal Tree Press, 2011.
  • 4-headed woman (poetry), Tía Chucha Press, 2013.


  1. ^ Nelson, Barbara (2 March 2008). "Opal Palmer In love with Mr Write". Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved 22 August 2010. 
  2. ^ Margaret Busby, "Opal Palmer Adisa", Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent (192), London: Vintage, 1993, p. 873.
  3. ^ David Katz, "Fruit of Passion" and "'I focused on the difficult'" (interview with Adisa), Caribbean Beat, Issue 75, September/October 2005.
  4. ^ The Caribbean Writer homepage.
  5. ^ Michela A Calderaro, "'A Space Occupied by Swirling Caribbean Waters': An Interview with Opal Palmer Adisa", Calabash - A Journal of Caribbean Arts and Letters, Volume 5, Number 1: Summer/Fall 2008.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]