Born in England of Guyanese parents, Oonya has lived and worked for most of her life in various Caribbean islands and is currently based in Grenada. A creative writer and novelist, she also works freelance as a researcher and consultant in the arts, private sector, with youth and international organizations, focusing on social development.
Oonya started writing in 1997 and her first novel Buxton Spice, is a story of a young girl’s growing sexual awareness and sexuality set in the multi-racial society of Guyana disintegrating under a corrupt government. Buxton Spice was auctioned in London between major publishers and was published by Phoenix House, Orion UK 1998, and by Dutton/Plume, USA 1999, Beacon Press USA 2004. Also published in Spanish (Tusquet Editores,1999 – El Arbol de los Sentidos), French (Grasset, 1999 – Les Secrets du Manguier), and in Italian, Dutch, Portuguese and Hebrew, serialised for radio by BBC Radio 4.
Her second novel, Tide Running, set in Tobago, is a vernacular account of a young Tobagonian's intimate, ultimately disastrous intersection with a wealthy interracial couple and the predicament of a young society looking to America for fantasies and heroes. It also raises unsettling questions about relationships, wealth and responsibility, racial, cultural and class differences. Tide Running was published by Picador, Macmillan UK, 2001, Farrar Straus & Giroux, USA, 2003, Beacon Press USA 2004 and won a Casa De Las Americas prize, 2002. It was also well received on both sides of the Atlantic, and Oonya was named a "Great Talent for the 21st Century" by the Orange Prize judges.
'All Decent Animals' is published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, USA May 2013. This novel looks at personal aesthetic choices and at the island of Trinidad, developing but rich, aiming at ‘world class’ status amidst its poor, island cousins. It is about relationships examined around the death of an architect bridging ‘first world/third world’, and through the city of Port of Spain. Loyalties, love, conflicting cultures and creativity are central themes as well as unspoken sexuality, HIV/AIDS and euthanasia.
All Decent Animals is a forthright inquiry into the complexity of character, social issues and island society, with all of its humour, mysticism and tragedy.
Oonya is working on a non-fiction narrative/novel in progress:
'Ti Marie' (working title) is based on documenting and then voicing an eighteen year old Grenadian girl’s life story of sexual abuse, violence, rape, love, sexuality and motherhood. It reflects her own and local perceptions of what is considered abuse or normal, and contrasts these with institutional and foreign views. It will look at how the heroine and her wider society deal with these issues, as she carries on with her life. The narrator’s authentic humorous language and irrepressible character will bring a fresh, vigorous approach to old universal themes and particular Caribbean psycho-social issues.
Kempadoo’s novels are used in several universities in the US, UK, Canada and the Caribbean and she has contributed to collections, anthologies and journals such as: Trinidad Noir, Akashic Books, 2008; Caribbean Dispatches – Beyond the Tourist Dream, Macmillan 2006; The Bomb, literary magazine.
Past projects include work with: UNAIDS, UNICEF, Agency for Reconstruction - Post-Hurricane Ivan Social Situation Analysis of Grenada.