Lorna Goodison was born in Kingston, Jamaica, one of nine siblings, and was educated at St. Hugh's High School, a leading Anglican high school in Jamaica and the Jamaica School of Art, before going to New York to study at the Art Students League. She had also been writing poetry since her teenage years; some early poems appeared anonymously in the Jamaica Gleaner.
In her 20s, back in Jamaica, she taught art and worked in advertising and public relations before deciding to pursue a career as a professional writer. She began to publish under her own name in the Jamaica Journal, and to give readings at which she built up an appreciative audience.
In the early 1990s, Goodison began teaching part of the year at various North American universities, including the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan.
Goodison's most recent book is a memoir, From Harvey River (2008). She has published eleven collections of poems: Tamarind Season (1980), I Am Becoming My Mother (1986, winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Americas region), Heartease (1988), Poems (1989), Selected Poems (1992), To Us, All Flowers Are Roses (1995), Turn Thanks (1999), Guinea Woman (2000), Travelling Mercies (2001), Controlling the Silver (2005), and Goldengrove (2006). Goodison has also published two collections of short stories, Baby Mother and the King of Swords (1990) and Fool-Fool Rose Is Leaving Labour-in-Vain Savannah (2005).
She has also exhibited her paintings internationally, and her own artwork is usually featured on the covers of her books.
In 1999, Goodison was awarded the Musgrave Gold Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for her contributions to literature.
Goodison describes poetry as "a dominating, intrusive tyrant. It’s something I have to do--a wicked force".
Poet and literary scholar Edward Baugh says that "one of Goodison’s achievements is that her poetry inscribes the Jamaican sensibility and culture on the text of the world". Apart from issues of home and exile, her work also addresses the power of art to explore and reconcile opposites and contradictions in the Caribbean historical experience.
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