As part of Rosslyn Hill's 'Celebrating Black Lives' series, we celebrate the Scottish poet and novelist Jackie Kay.
Jackie Kay is a Scottish poet and novelist. Born on 9th November 1961 to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father, Kay was adopted when she was days old by a white family and brought up in Glasgow. Her first collection of poems, The Adoption Papers (1991), was published to much acclaim, receiving the Saltire Society Award for best first book and the Scottish Arts Council Book Award.
With adoptive parents active in Communist and anti-nuclear politics, Kay has channelled this radical challenging of the status quo into her poetry, where she explores themes such as the fluidity of identity, the confrontation of colonial histories, her queer relationships, and the importance of her Scottish and Nigerian heritages.
Kay has also written successful prose works – including her first novel Trumpet, which received the Guardian Fiction Prize, and her memoir Red Dust Road, which she calls a “love letter” to her adoptive parents.
Kay was given an MBE for services to literature in 2006 and was the Makar (National Poet for Scotland) from 2016 until 2021. She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle.
"When I was a teenager, I went to these things called “poems and pints nights” in the Highland Institute on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow (more pints than poetry). It was there I first heard poets such as [Liz] Lochhead and Tom Leonard, who wrote in their own voice. You didn’t have to pretend to be somebody else. And perhaps it is this that is the key to poetry’s endless successful reinventions: a proliferation of authentic and original voices, chiming with the voices of the entire population."
"I don’t think I ever set out to write with a message in mind. I was interested in how fluid identity can be, how people can reinvent themselves, how gender and race are categories that we try to fix, in order perhaps to cherish our own prejudices, how so called extraordinary people can live ordinary lives."
"Poetry should play an active role in public life. Particularly at the moment when things are becoming increasingly worrying across the world. It’s vital to have a strong alternative voice and that voice could be poetry."
"Scotland has become a multi-tongued, multi-ethnic community. Poetry holds up a unique mirror to a nation’s heart, mind and soul. As Makar, my ambition is to reflect the true face of today’s Scotland. Syrian refugees, Doric Scots, Nigerian Scots, Muslim Scots, Gaelic Scots… We’re all Scots and poetry can help bring us together."
Each month we mark the significant life of a person of colour as a positive statement and a contribution to redressing historical imbalances in our society. More profiles.
"Jackie Kay." The Poetry Archive, https://poetryarchive.org/poet/jackie-kay/.
"Jackie Kay." The Scottish Poetry Library, https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poet/jackie-kay/.
"Scotland's Makar - Jackie Kay." The Scots Magazine, 2018, https://www.scotsmagazine.com/articles/jackie-kay/.
Illustration by Reverand Kate Dean