Adisa, Opal Palmer 1954–

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Adisa, Opal Palmer 1954–

PERSONAL: Born November 6, 1954, in Kingston, Jamaica; immigrated to the United States, 1970; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1980; daughter of Orlando and Catherine (James) Palmer; children: Shola, Jawara, Teju. Ethnicity: "African-Caribbean." Education: Hunter College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1975; San Francisco State University, M.A. (English), 1981, M.A. (drama), 1986; University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 1992. Politics: Democrat. Religion: "Humanist." Hobbies and other interests: Biking, nature walks.

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 10625, Oakland, CA 94610. Office—Ethnic Studies/Cultural Diversity Program, California College of the Arts, Oakland, CA 94618. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, lecturer, 1981–87; California College of the Arts, Oakland, associate professor, 1993–98, professor of literature and writing, 1998–, chair of ethnic studies and cultural diversity program, 1993–. Visiting professor at various institutions, including University of California, Berkeley, 1994–96; lecturer at other schools, including St. Mary's College, 1993, and Holy Names College, 1994; Headlands Center for the Arts, writer in residence, 1996–97. Performer on Fierce Love (collaborative poetry/jazz recording), Irresistible/Revolution, 1992; performer for poetry videos Despair Series, 1994, and Tamarind and Mango Women, Quilombo Enterprises 1995. Member of various museum boards and consortiums. Exhibitions: Artist, with works represented in shows, including "(in)Forming the Visual: (re)Presenting Women of African Descent," Montgomery Gallery, 1995; and "Art for the Holidays," Bedford Gallery, 1997–98.

MEMBER: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, National Association for Ethnic Studies, National Writers Union, Northern Association of African American Storytellers, Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action, California Poets in the Schools.

AWARDS, HONORS: Jamaica Festival Literature Competition, merit certificate, 1982, bronze medal, 1984; Pushcart Prize, 1987, for short story "Duppy Get Her"; named Distinguished Bay Area Woman Writer and recipient of certificate from California Legislative Assembly, both 1991; Josephine Miles Literary Award, PEN Oakland, 1992, for Tamarind and Mango Women; Daily News Prize, University of the Virgin Islands, 1995, for poems in The Caribbean Writer; Canute A. Brodhurst Prize, University of the Virgin Islands, 1996, for short story "The Brethren"; named distinguished writer, Middle Atlantic Writers Association, 1998; Creative Work Fund grant, 1998–99, for West Oakland Senior Citizen Oral History Project.


Pina, the Many-Eyed Fruit (children's book), Julian Richardson (San Francisco, CA), 1985.

Bake-Face, and Other Guava Stories (fiction), Kelsey Street Press (Berkeley, CA), 1986.

(With Devorah Major) Traveling Women (poetry), Jukebox Press (Oakland, CA), 1989.

Tamarind and Mango Women (poetry), Sister Vision Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

It Begins with Tears (novel), Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1997.

Leaf-of-Life (poetry), Jukebox Press (Oakland, CA), 2000.

Caribbean Passion (poetry), Peepal Tree Press (Leeds, Yorkshire, England), 2004.

Eros Muse (poetry and essays), African World Press (Lawrenceville, NJ), 2006.

Until Judgment Comes (short stories), Peepal Tree Press (Leeds, Yorkshire, England), 2006.

Poetry and short stories are represented in anthologies, including A Bite to Eat, edited by Andrea Adolph and others, Redwood Press, 1995; The Garden Thrives: Twentieth-Century African American Poetry, edited by Clarence Major, HarperPerennial, 1996; and Father Songs, edited by Gloria Wade-Gayles, Beacon Press, 1997; contributor to other books, including The Black Women's Health Book, edited by Evelyn C. White, Seal Press, 1990; and Winds of Change, edited by Adele S. Newson and Linda Strong-Leek, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1998. Contributor of poetry, short stories, essays, articles and book reviews to periodicals, including African American Review, Black Elegance, Caribbean Writer, Chimera, Crab Orchard Review, Garden Design, Journal of Multicultural Heartspeak, Papyrus, Third Force, and Zyzzyva.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Queen Mother of Verse: Louise Bennett, Jamaica's Folk Poet, an interview; Caribbean Women: Big and Little, photographs by Kathy Sloane.

SIDELIGHTS: Opal Palmer Adisa is an artist, storyteller, educator, and author who has established herself as a notable figure in Caribbean culture. As an author, Adisa has published fiction for children and adults, as well as poetry and essays. Her debut novel, It Begins with Tears, appeared in 1997. This work, according to a critic in Kirkus Reviews, "offers a vibrant slice of Jamaican life shaped by old legends and timeless passions." The novel features two narratives, one of which relates the interactions among various mythical deities, notably an argumentative couple referred to as Devil and She-Devil, who are planning their son's wedding in the timeless village of Kristoff. The novel's other narrative involves villagers of the actual town of Kristoff in Jamaica. Among these villagers is Monica, who had fled home as a young teen and found work as a prostitute, but who has decided to abandon her sordid trade and return to Kristoff. Once home, Monica conducts herself recklessly with several married men. Their jealous wives, in turn, conceive what an Americas reviewer described as "a cruel and painful punishment for Monica." The novel's two narratives converge when Monica, having been brutally punished by the vindictive wives, finds herself before the She-Devil. Then, as the Americas reviewer noted, "the high priestess of Eternal Valley sends [Monica] back to earth, where she will have a chance to amend her life." The novel culminates in ceremonies in both the eternal village, where the gods celebrate the marriage of their son, and on Earth, where the Kristoff women enact a cleansing ritual and the men renew their bonds of friendship with each other.

It Begins with Tears has been praised as an impressive literary work. The Americas reviewer declared that "Adisa's beautiful first novel will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart." The same critic noted that the work "contains a number of breathtaking and unforgettable scenes" and summarized it as "a remarkable book." Likewise, World Literature Today critic Adele S. Newson called It Begins with Tears "a splendid book" and commented that it is "artfully written and compelling." Newson added that Adisa "masterfully explores the issues, concerns, and motifs central to diaspora writers today: African cosmology, mother-daughter relationships … ways of seeing and knowing, as well as the community in flux." The Kirkus Reviews critic similarly cited Adisa's novel for its "rich textures and an exuberant vitality."

Adisa once told CA: "The stories I write come from a deep place. I want my writing to help people heal and move from the places where they are stuck. I particularly want my writing to help African people on the continent and throughout the diaspora to recover from the impact of slavery, to heal their wound, to remember their past glory, to rejoice in the sun and to keep dancing and blessing the world with their spirit and resilience. My writing is a prayer, is a chant, is a hymn. My writing is a gift, a bridge where all people can find a commonality and come together to celebrate life's joys. I write about friendship and people connecting because I know I am blessed, I have had and will continue to have a wonderful life, and despite the obstacles and challenges, everyone can find those places and those moments to just look at the sun, or feel the wind and say, 'I'm sure glad to be alive. I'm sure glad someone loved me. I'm sure glad someone greeted me today, but the blessing begins with me, meeting someone half way. That's what I am trying to say through my writing.'"



Mavor, Anne, Strong Hearts, Inspired Minds: Twenty-two Interviews with Artists Who Are Mothers, Rowanberry Books (Portland, OR), 1996.


Americas, March-April, 1998, review of It Begins with Tears, p. 61.

Crab Orchard Review, fall-winter, 1998, pp. 1-13.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1997, review of It Begins with Tears.

Voices, winter, 1997, pp. 4-5.

World Literature Today, winter, 1998, Adele S. Newson, review of It Begins with Tears, p. 188.


Opal Writes, (December 3, 2005).