Jackie Kay

b. 1961

Jackie Kay was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002.

Jackie Kay was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1961 to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father. She was adopted by a white couple at birth and was brought up in Glasgow, studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and Stirling University where she read English.

The experience of being adopted by and growing up within a white family inspired her first collection of poetry, The Adoption Papers (1991). The poems deal with an adopted child’s search for a cultural identity and are told through three different voices: an adoptive mother, a birth mother and a daughter. The collection won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award, the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award and a commendation by the Forward Poetry Prize judges in 1992.

The poems in Other Lovers (1993) explore the role and power of language, inspired and influenced by the history of Afro-Caribbean people, the story of a search for identity grounded in the experience of slavery. The collection includes a sequence of poems about the blues-singer Bessie Smith. Off Colour (1998) explores themes of sickness, health and disease through personal experience and metaphor. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, and she has written widely for stage and television.

Her first novel, Trumpet, published in 1998, was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Inspired by the life of musician Billy Tipton, the novel tells the story of Scottish jazz trumpeter Joss Moody, whose death revealed that he was, in fact, a woman. Kay develops the narrative through the voices of Moody’s wife, his adopted son and a journalist from a tabloid newspaper.

She has also published several collections of short stories – Why Don’t You Stop Talking (2002), Wish I Was Here (2006), and Reality, Reality (2012) – and a novel for children, Strawgirl (2002). Her collection of poetry for children Red, Cherry Red (2007) won the 2008 CLPE Poetry Award.

A new collection of poetry, Life Mask, was published in 2005;  a novella, Sonata, in 2006; Darling: New and Selected Poems in 2007; and a dramatised poem, The Lamplighter, appeared in 2008. The Lamplighter explores the Atlantic slave trade and was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2007. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award. Her Maw Broon Monologues, performed at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, and combining rhythmic verse and music, were shortlisted for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

Recent books include Red Dust Road (2010), a memoir about meeting her Nigerian birth father, which won the 2011 Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for the 2011 PEN/Ackerley Prize; Fiere (2011), a new collection of poetry, shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Poetry Award and the 2011 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award; and Bantam (2017), her first collection since being named Scottish Makar, the Scottish equivalent of Poet Laureate.

Jackie Kay lives in Manchester and is Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.  In 2006, she was awarded an MBE for services to literature. In 2014 she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Salford, where she has been the University ‘Writer in Residence’ since 2015. She was appointed Scottish Makar in 2016.

Articles by Jackie Kay

Weal and Woe: Ronald Harwood, Victoria Glendinning, Jackie Kay and Hanif Kureishi on their struggles and successes

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Jackie Kay at the V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize 2012

A recording of Jackie Kay and Paula Johnson discussing Kay's work, in a celebration of the short story for the V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize, from Monday 5 November 2012. The recording also features a reading of 2012's winning short story by its author Martina Devlin.

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