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Voices From the Gaps

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Sandra Jackson-Opoku

Our names are unimportant. Though we are known by many names, we have but one purpose. The head itself has two ears, but it does not hear in twos. We watch over our blood in the land of the living, helping where we can. Waiting to find the daughter of deepest memory and bring her home to us one day. We can reach through from the spirit world as you just have my dear. Touching the souls of those descendants who seem lost.

          — The River Where Blood is Born

Biography / Criticism

Sandra Jackson-Opoku was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She attended Columbia College in Chicago for three years, majoring in Journalism. She then transferred to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she changed her major to Communications/Afro-American Studies, attaining her BA in 1976. During her college years Jackson-Opoku studied under two people who she cites as literary influences, African writer: Chinua Achebe and Caribbean writer Michael Thelwell. Other authors who have influenced her include African-American writer Toni Morrison and Latin American writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

An avid traveler, Jackson-Opoku also gains inspiration from her vast experiences abroad. She says, "Possibly I write best when I travel. The solitude is something every writer craves. " What originally began as a travelogue from journals written as an exchange student in Nigeria in the mid-70's her first novel, The River Where Blood Is Born, was a labor of love that took some two decades to complete. The novel won the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Award for Fiction in 1998. Her works have also received much praise from critics and fellow authors. According to author Ana Castillo, "Sandra Jackson-Opoku's first novel is a treasure. . . It is the achievement of a mature and gifted writer. " Jackson-Opoku has received several honors and awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and two Gwendolyn Brooks Poet Laureate Awards.

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The author demonstrates a unique style of poetic prose. She presents each chapter of her novels, The River Where Blood Is Born and Hot Johnny (And the Women Who Loved Him) in a lyrical tone. When interviewed by Robert Fleming, author of The Wisdom of the Elders she says, "I'm a poet first and foremost. I wanted to use poetic language in my prose to get a sense of quality like that found in African language. I see poetry and prose as not that different. Looking at our African roots, our storytelling uses all forms, all woven together like Kente clothe. I used poetic language to suggest certain types of reality. "

A major theme illustrated in both novels is multigenerational ties. Through her characters she gives voice to the African belief of the past (forefathers), present (living) and future (unborn generations). The novels intertwine multiple voices to create a story of a matriarchal bloodline. Each of the women characters in the novels discover via journeying that they are all connected not only through similar experiences but kinship.

Her usage of an ancestral chorus serves to remind readers of the importance of their indigenous roots. She encourages readers to explore the connections between history and present life experiences. Her empowering words express a universal message of connectedness to all women across the life span.

Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writing have been seen in Essence magazine. For the past twenty years, she has traveled the world presenting papers, lectures and workshops at bookstores, libraries and educational institutions. In addition to writing, Jackson-Opoku owns a small communications consulting firm in Chicago that provides editorial, scriptwriting and corporate communications services. She has taught at Columbia College, Chicago State University and the Robert Taylor Housing Projects special programs division. Jackson-Opoku currently divides her time between Chicago and Florida, where she is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Miami, Florida. She has two children, Kimathi and Adjoa.

Selected Bibliography

Works by the Author

Works about the Author

Related Links

Nextext - Women's Voices
Contains information about Jackson-Opoku's poem "Ancestors: In Praise of the Imperishable" as well as biographical information about the author and a study guide for the poem.

African American Literature Book Club
A review of Jackson-Opoku's Hot Johnny.

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This page was researched and submitted by Karen Boone, Stacie Diedrichsen, and BreAnn Fosse on 12/20/06.