Get to know: Dr. OPAL PALMER ODISA

Opal Palmer Adisa, poet and novelist, was born on November 6, 1954, in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father, Orlando Palmer, was a chemist who worked in sugar refineries. Her mother, Catherine Palmer, was an executive secretary in those same refineries (Agard 43).

Growing up, Adisa was repeatedly scolded by her parents to act like "a lady," a demand she would later rebel against as an adult, embracing her sexuality instead of trying to hide it (Dawes 189). Despite her rather conservative upbringing, Adisa was heavily influenced by "talawah" and "big women," women in Jamaica who displayed a freedom and self reliance separate from the men in society (Dawes 188).

Adisa went to school in the United States at the age 16. She attended college and received her B.A. from Hunter College of the City University of New York, and returned to Jamaica in ‘76. In 1979, Adisa left Jamaica and continued her education at San Francisco State University, receiving two masters in English and Drama. Finally, she gained her Ph.D in '92 from the University of California, Berkeley ("Opal Palmer Adisa").

When Adisa returned to Jamaica after receiving her first degree, her perception of her homeland had changed since she left, as she states, "Basically, what I felt on returning in '76 and leaving in '79 was that there was no place for me." Adisa felt that she had been marked in some way by her education in the U.S., at least in the eyes of other Jamaicans. Furthermore, the internal conflicts of the island between class and race had conspired to make Jamaica a dangerous place to live. Adisa says of her decision to leave that it was "fraught with disappointment, anger, and frustration at the classism that prevailed" (Dawes 184).

Adisa’s initial interest in writing can probably be traced back to the stories she was told by her Aunt Zilla, who Adisa would visit during the summer. Since she was frequently around storytelling, Adisa reflects on “always writing, or at least making up stories and poems in [her] head" (Agard 43). When she left for Hunter College, she was not aspiring to major in English or Creative Writing, but Mathematics. Adisa made the shift to writing after attending a poetry reading by Sonia Sanchez, and reading the novel Cane by Jean Toomer (Leach). Other influences on her writing include Kamau Brathwaite and Mervyn Morris, both of whom she met and came to know personally when she returned to Jamaica in the mid-seventies. In her interview with Kwame Dawes, she says she had "been influenced a lot more so by fiction or prose than by poetry" (188).

Opal Palmer Adisa's poems have appeared in many publications worldwide. She has no fewer than twelve published works, including several collections of her poems, a children's book, and two poetry/jazz collections with Devorah Major. Since 1999, Adisa has served as the parenting editor for the publicly funded KPFA radio station, in Berkeley California. In 2002, Adisa was nominated as the Poet Laureate of California.

Adisa has three children, and divides her time between her duties as a mother, a professor at California College of the Arts, a radio personality, and a public speaker and performer (Adisa). Visit Dr. Opal Palmer Adisa Website

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