A Conversation with Olive Senior

“New Dance Steps to a Jamaican Beat: A Conversation with Olive Senior.” Caribbean Women: Riding the Waves of Resistance, special issue of ProudFlesh: New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness, edited by Opal Palmer Adisa, no. 8, 2013, pp. 61-68.

Intro Excerpt: Olive Senior is one of the most well-known Caribbean writers of our time and her oeuvre which spans nearly three decades bears witness to her giftedness with the written word. Senior, born and raised in Jamaica, is often celebrated for her collections of poetry and short stories, including Gardening in the Tropics (1994) and Summer Lightning and Other Stories (1986) for which she won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Her non-fiction works such as Working Miracles: Women’s Lives in the English-Speaking Caribbean (1991) and The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage (2003) also reveal her depth of knowledge in the culture of Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region. Recently, Senior delighted her fan base with the publication of her first novel, Dancing Lessons (2011).
Reminiscent of some of her other works, themes quite visible in Dancing Lessons are relationships/friendships, rural/urban differences, class status, education, and political corruption. Present, too, are powerful motifs and symbols, including dancing/music, writing, mangoes, and a garden (a familiar presence in her writing). I met up with Senior at the University of the West Indies, Mona before she conducted a workshop for high school students preparing for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE), which features Gardening in the Tropics. In the interview, Senior discusses various aspects of Dancing Lessons and ultimately reveals that readers learn about much more than dancing lessons after reading her novel.