All her life, she has been meandering across borders, says Olive Senior, and her writing career reflects that. She writes in different genres—fiction, non-fiction, poetry.
“I’m of mixed background racially and socially. I travel a great deal. I live in several different worlds,” she adds. “But, ‘If crab no walk, him nuh see worl’ and I’m the perpetual seeker.”
The Caribbean is the focus of Olive’s award-winning work.
Olive’s newest collection of stories, The Pain Tree is set in Jamaica, and ranges widely in time period, theme, locale, and voice but her trademark intimate, gossipy voice is present, along with wit and wisdom, and deep insight into people in crisis or on the cusp of transformation.
A non-fiction book, Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal, will be released in October. Olive traces how the tiny islands of the West Indies provided the work force to construct the Panama Canal—and before that, the Panama Railroad. Her book allows the voices of the participants to tell their stories alongside the official accounts.
Not surprisingly, her achievements as a major contributor to Jamaican and Caribbean literature have been recognized with two prestigious awards: a Musgrave Gold Medal from the Institute of Jamaica and the Norman Washington Manley Foundation Award for Excellence.
With fifteen published books to date, Olive has had a remarkable career. Her first book, a collection of stories, Summer Lightning, received the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her novel Dancing Lessons was a finalist for both the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Among her many other acclaimed works is a children’s picture book, Anna Carries Water (with illustrations by Laura James), which won the Isabel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award, was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize (Young Reader’s Literature), and nominated for the Rainforest of Reading Award.
Also, her work is included in numerous anthologies and has been translated into several languages, including Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian.
Olive left Jamaica in 1989, spent some years in Europe, and since 1993, has been based in Toronto, Ontario.
Appearing in 41. Unexpected Events: Short Fiction