After completing primary school there, he moved to Kingston to attend Kingston College. He went on to earn a BSc in Economics from the University of the West Indies at Mona in 1962, and a PhD at the London School of Economics in 1965. After teaching sociology at the London School of Economics for two years he returned to the University of the West Indies as a lecturer in Sociology in 1967. In 1970 he left Jamaica to take a position as Visiting Associate Professor at Harvard where he is now John Cowles Professor of Sociology. Patterson was also, for eight years, Special Advisor for Social Policy and Development to Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica. He wrote a guest column for several weeks with the New York Times.
Orlando Patterson is the author of three novels: The Children of Sisyphus (1964); An Absence of Ruins (1967); and Die the Long Day (1972). His short stories and reviews have appeared in a variety of journals, and two of his short stories have been anthologised. His academic works include The Sociology of Slavery (1967); Black in White America: Historical Perspectives (1975); Ethnic Chauvinism (1977); Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (1982); Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (1991); The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment in America’s 'Racial' Crisis (1997); and Rituals of Blood: Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries (1999). Numerous essays have appeared in a variety of journals and books.
Orlando Patterson received the First Prize for Fiction for The Children of Sisyphus at the Dakar Festival of Negro Arts in 1966. He also won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction in 1991 for his Freedom and the Making of Western Culture. He holds honorary degrees from several universities, including the University of Chicago, U.C.L.A and La Trobe University in Australia. He was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Government of Jamaica in 1999."