Lorraine O’Grady was born in Boston to West Indian parents. A talented scholar, she was educated at the elite Girls Latin School before studying economics and Spanish literature at Wellesley College (class of 1955). While still a student, she passed the US government’s challenging Management Intern Program (MIP) exam and worked as a Research Economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1961, O’Grady left her post at the Department of Labor to write fiction, ultimately entering the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1965. By 1968, she was working in Chicago at a commercial translation agency while volunteering for Jesse Jackson and his organization Operation Breadbasket. However, after opening her own translation agency and fulfilling major contracts for Playboy and Encyclopædia Britannica, she decided to leave her career as a translator. In 1973, O’Grady moved to New York and became a critic for Rolling Stone and The Village Voice, reviewing acts like the Allman Brothers, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Sly and The Family Stone. After growing dissatisfied with her role in the music world, she accepted an offer to teach literature at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). There, she describes, “I felt I was home. I knew I was an artist.”
O’Grady has made important contributions to cultural criticism through both her art and her writing. In 1994, she doubled the length of her 1992 essay “Olympia’s Maid” by adding a remarkable “Postscript,” in which she expanded the argument on Black female subjectivity with her pathbreaking theorizing of the Both/And. O’Grady also launched an artist website In 2008 that serves as a living public archive. And in 2012, she donated her analogue archive to Wellesley College, making it available for research to the student body and general public at large.
O’Grady has been the subject of numerous one-person exhibits. Her retrospective, Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And, Brooklyn Museum (2021), traveled to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC (2022) and will be re-staged at the Davis Museum of Wellesley College in 2024. Other solo shows include: From Me to Them to Me Again, Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, GA (2018); Family Gained, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2018); Lorraine O’Grady: Initial Recognition, Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas, Seville, Spain (2016); and Lorraine O’Grady: When Margins Become Centers, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (2015). Her work has also been included in exceptionally  significant group exhibitions, such as Inheritance, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2023); Just Above Midtown: 1974 to the Present, Museum of Modern Art,  New York (2022); Michael Jackson: On the Wall, National Portrait Gallery, London (2018), which traveled to  Grand Palais, Paris (2018), The Bundeskunsthalle (National Art Museum), Bonn, Germany (2019), and Espoo Museum of  Modern Art, Finland (2019); Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern, London (2017), which traveled to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK (2018), Brooklyn Museum, NY  (2018), The Broad, Los Angeles (2019), de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA  (2019), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX (2020); and We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965–85, Brooklyn Museum, NY (2017), which traveled to California African American Museum, Los Angeles (2017), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY (2018), and the Institute of Contemporary Art , Boston (2018).
Her work is represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Tate Modern, London, among many others. She has received numerous awards, including the 2023 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Art; a 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women’s Caucus for Art; the Skowhegan Medal for Conceptual and Cross-Disciplinary Practices (2019); a 2015 Creative Capital Award in Visual Art; a Lifetime Achievement Award  from Howard University, Washington, D.C. (2015); the Distinguished Feminist Award, College Art  Association, New York (2014); an Art Matters grant (2011); a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship  (2011); and the Anonymous Was A Woman Award (2008), among others.
Lorraine O'Grady’s forthcoming solo exhibition will open in April 2024 in Chicago.  

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