Olive Senior

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Olive Senior was born in 1941 in Trelawny, Jamaica, a famous novelist, poet and short story writer; she was brought up in Jamaica and educated in both Jamaica and Canada. She is a graduate of the Montego Bay High School and Carleton University, Ottawa.

 

She was editor of two of the Caribbean’s leading journals a Social and Economic Studies at the University of the West Indies and Jamaica Journal, published by Institute of Jamaica Publications of which she was also Managing Director. Olive Senior has worked internationally as a creative writing teacher and lecturer on Caribbean literature and culture.

 

She is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes. Her work in recording and disseminating the cultural heritage of Jamaica was honoured in 2003 with the Norman Washington Manley Foundation Award for Excellence and in 2004 with the Gold Medal of the Institute of Jamaica.

 

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.

 

Returning home, Senior found a job as an information officer with the Jamaica Information Service, and moved to a post as a public relations officer for the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce in 1969. She edited its Journal, and then became the publications editor for the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica in 1972.

 

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. Olive Senior has published two books of poetry: Talking of Trees (1986) and Gardening in the Tropics (1994).

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She is the author of three collections of short stories: Summer Lightning (1986) which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1987, Arrival of the Snake-Woman (1989) and Discerner of Hearts (1995) and of several non-fiction works on Caribbean culture, including: A-Z of Jamaican Heritage (1984) 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.

 

Her works, though written in English, remain heavily influenced by the region’s patois, and draw heavily upon its oral storytelling traditions. In both her verse and fiction, Senior critiques the political and cultural ties that continue to bind Jamaica to its British colonial past.

 

Her protagonists often find themselves divided between the resulting two worlds of assimilation and preservation, and she gives their speech and inner dialogues a corresponding tone. “The Canadian journal also liked the way that “senior writes of characters endlessly concerned with their prospects, an attitude that keeps them in perpetual motion.”