Olive Senior was born and brought up in Jamaica and educated in Jamaica and Canada. She is a graduate of Montego Bay High School and Carleton University, Ottawa.
She started her career as a journalist with the Daily Gleaner and later entered the world of publishing. She was editor of two of the Caribbean's leading journals - 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. She left Jamaica in 1989, spent some years in Europe and since 1993 has been based in Toronto.
The Caribbean nevertheless remains the focus of her work, starting with her prizewinning collection of stories, Summer Lightning which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize followed by Arrival of the Snake-Woman and Discerner of Hearts. Her novel, Dancing Lessons was published by Cormorant Books in Canada 2011 and The Pain Tree, a collection of stories in the spring of 2015. Her illustrated children's books are Birthday Suit and Anna Carries Water.
Her poetry books are Shell, (shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award), Over the roofs of the world (shortlisted for Canada's Governor-General's Literary Award and Cuba's Casa de las Americas Prize), Gardening in the Tropics (winner of the F.J. Bressani Literary Prize), and Talking of Trees. A bilingual edition (English/French) of her poetry was published by Le Castor Astral in 2014 under the title Un Pipiri m'a dit/A Little Bird Told Me.
Olive Senior's non-fiction works on Caribbean culture include Dying to Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal (2015 OCM Bocas Literary Prize for Non-Fiction), the A-Z of Jamaican Heritage, Working Miracles: Women's Lives in the English-Speaking Caribbean and The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage.
Her work has been widely taught in schools and universities internationally. Summer Lightning has been a literature textbook in Caribbean schools and Gardening in the Tropics has been a poetry textbook for the CAPE syllabus as well the International baccalaureate.
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. She is also the recipient of the Centenary Medal and the Silver Medal of the Institute of Jamaica for contributions to literature. She was named Humanities Scholar 2005 by the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados. She is also the recipient of Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council works in progress grants.
Olive Senior has worked internationally as a creative writing teacher and lecturer on Caribbean literature and culture. She is on the faculty of the Humber School for Writers, Toronto and has taught in the writing programmes at University of Toronto, St Lawrence University, and Barnard College, Columbia University, New York. She has also led writing workshops at the University of Miami, the University of the West Indies, and in the Bahamas, Bermuda, the USA, UK and France and other places.
Her writing residences have included Ecla Aquitaine Résidences de la Prévôté, Bordeaux, France; University of Adelaide, Australia; University of Alberta and Banff International Writing Studio, Canada;, at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and Trinidad. She has been an Arts Council of England Visiting International Writer, a Hawthornden Fellow in Scotland, and Dana Distinguished International Writer at St Lawrence University.
Olive Senior's work has been broadcast on both sides of the Atlantic, including the BBC Book at Bedtime and the CBC Festival of Fiction. Her short story 'You Think I Mad, Miss?' was produced and performed as 'Mad Miss' by Theatre Archipelago in 2005 at Artword Theatre, Toronto. She wrote the radio play 'Window' for the CBC and was internet Poet-in-residence for the Commonwealth Institute in 1999. Her work has been included in the Best Poems on the Underground published by London Transport and she is a featured poet on The Poetry Archive.
Her work is represented in numerous anthologies worldwide and has been translated into several languages.