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Jackie Kay

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Jackie Kay
Kay in 2015
In office
15 March 2016 – 14 March 2021
Preceded byLiz Lochhead
Succeeded byKathleen Jamie
Personal details
Jacqueline Margaret Kay

(1961-11-09) 9 November 1961 (age 62)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Alma materUniversity of Stirling
OccupationProfessor of creative writing at Newcastle University
Known forPoet and novelist
Makar, 2016–2021
AwardsSomerset Maugham Award (1994); Guardian Fiction Prize (1998); Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year Award (2011)

Jacqueline Margaret Kay, CBE, FRSE, FRSL (born 9 November 1961), is a Scottish poet, playwright, and novelist, known for her works Other Lovers (1993), Trumpet (1998) and Red Dust Road (2011).[1][2] Kay has won many awards, including the Somerset Maugham Award in 1994, the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1998 and the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Book of the Year Award in 2011.[3][4]

From 2016 to 2021, Jackie Kay was the Makar, the poet laureate of Scotland.[5][6] She was Chancellor of the University of Salford between 2015 and 2022.[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Jackie Kay was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1961, to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father. She was adopted as a baby by a white Scottish couple, Helen and John Kay, and grew up in Bishopbriggs, a suburb of Glasgow.[8] They adopted Jackie in 1961, having already adopted her brother, Maxwell, about two years earlier. Jackie and Maxwell also have siblings who were brought up by their biological parents.[9]

Her adoptive father worked for the Communist Party full-time and stood for Member of Parliament,[8] and her adoptive mother was the Scottish secretary of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. As a child, Kay suffered racism from children and teachers at school.[10] John Kay died in 2019 at the age of 94.[11]

As a teenager she worked as a cleaner, working for David Cornwell—who wrote under the pen-name John le Carré—for four months. She recommended cleaning work to aspiring writers, saying: "It's great ... You're listening to everything. You can be a spy, but nobody thinks you're taking anything in." Cornwell and Kay met again in 2019; he remembered her and had been following her.[10]

In August 2007, Kay was featured in the fourth episode of the BBC Radio 4 series The House I Grew Up In, in which she talked about her childhood.[2]


Initially thinking of being an actor, she decided to concentrate on writing after Alasdair Gray, a Scottish artist and writer, read her poetry and told her that writing was what she should be doing.[12] She studied English at the University of Stirling and her first book of poetry, the partially autobiographical, The Adoption Papers, was published in 1991 and won the Saltire Society Scottish First Book Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book Award in 1992.[13] It is a multiply voiced collection of poetry that deals with identity, race, nationality, gender, and sexuality from the perspectives of three women: an adopted biracial child, her adoptive mother, and her biological mother. Her other prizes include the 1994 Somerset Maugham Award for Other Lovers, and the Guardian Fiction Prize for Trumpet, inspired by the life of American jazz musician Billy Tipton, a transgender man.[14]

In 1997, Kay published a biography of blues singer Bessie Smith; it was reissued in 2021.[15] An abridged version read by the author featured as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week in the last week of February 2021.[16]

Kay writes extensively for stage (in 1988 her play Twice Over was the first by a Black writer to be produced by Gay Sweatshop Theatre Group),[17] screen and for children. Her drama The Lamplighter is an exploration of the Atlantic slave trade. It was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in March 2007, produced by Pam Fraser Solomon, during a season marking the bicentenary of the Slave Trade Act 1807,[18][19][20] and was published in printed form as a poem in 2008.[21]

In 2010 Kay published Red Dust Road, an account of her search for her biological parents, who had met each other when her father was a student at Aberdeen University and her mother was a nurse. The book was adapted for the stage by Tanika Gupta and premiered in August 2019 at the Edinburgh International Festival in a production by National Theatre of Scotland and HOME, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh.[22] Comparisons have been drawn between this work and Looking for Transwonderland by Noo-Saro-Wiwa.[23]

She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University,[24] and Cultural Fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University. Kay lives in Manchester. She took part in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty-Six Books, her piece being based on the book of Esther from the King James Bible.[25] In October 2014, it was announced that she had been appointed as the Chancellor of the University of Salford, and that she would be the university's "Writer in Residence" from 1 January 2015.[26]

In March 2016, Kay was announced as the next Scots Makar (national poet of Scotland), succeeding Liz Lochhead, whose tenure ended in January 2016.[27][28]

She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2006 Birthday Honours for services to literature, and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours, again for services to literature.[29][30] Kay was on the list of the BBC's 100 Women announced on 23 November 2020.[31]

Personal life[edit]

Kay is a lesbian.[32][33] In her twenties she gave birth to a son, Matthew (whose father is the writer Fred D'Aguiar), and later she had a 15-year relationship with poet Carol Ann Duffy.[34][35] During this relationship, Duffy had a daughter, Ella, whose biological father is fellow poet Peter Benson.[35][36]

Awards and honours[edit]

External videos
video icon Jackie Kay, vimeo format[37]

Selected works[edit]

  • The adoption papers, Bloodaxe Books, 1991, ISBN 9781852241568 (poetry)
  • Other Lovers, Bloodaxe Books, 1993, ISBN 9781852242534 (poetry)
  • Off Colour, Bloodaxe Books, 1998, ISBN 9781852244200 (poetry)
  • Trumpet (fiction – 1998); Random House Digital, Inc., 2011, ISBN 9780307560810
  • The Frog who dreamed she was an Opera Singer, Bloomsbury Children's Books, 1998, ISBN 9780747538660
  • Two's Company, Puffin Books, 1994, ISBN 9780140369526
  • Bessie Smith (biography – 1997), Faber & Faber, 2021, ISBN 978-0571362929
  • Why Don't You Stop Talking (fiction – 2002); Pan Macmillan, 2012, ISBN 9781447206729
  • Strawgirl, Macmillan Children's, 2002, ISBN 9780330480635
  • Life Mask, Bloodaxe Books, 2005, ISBN 9781852246914 (poetry)
  • Wish I Was Here (fiction – 2006); Pan Macmillan, 2012, ISBN 9781447206736
  • Darling: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 2007, ISBN 9781852247775 (poetry)
  • The Lamplighter, Bloodaxe Books, 2008, ISBN 9781852248048 (poetry/radio play)
  • Red Cherry Red, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2007, ISBN 9780747589792
  • Maw Broon Monologues (2009) (shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry)
  • Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey. Atlas and Company. 2011. ISBN 9781935633358. Jackie Kay. (memoir)
  • Fiere, Pan Macmillan, 2011, ISBN 9781447206576 (poetry)
  • Reality, Reality, Pan Macmillan, 2012, ISBN 9781447204404
  • The Empathetic Store, Mariscat Press, 2015, ISBN 9780946588794 (poetry)
  • Bantam, Pan Macmillan, 2017, ISBN 9781509863174

Some other poetry used in GCSE Edexcel Syllabus

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Kirstyn (15 March 2016). "Profile: Jackie Kay". The List. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  2. ^ a b "The House I Grew Up In, featuring Jackie Kay". The House I Grew Up In. 27 August 2007. BBC Radio 4.
  3. ^ "Guardian Fiction Prize". www.fantasticfiction.com. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  4. ^ "Jackie Kay wins Scottish Book of the Year". www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk. 26 August 2011. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  5. ^ "Our National Poet". Scottish Poetry Library. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  6. ^ "Celebrating Scotland's Makar". Scottish Government. 14 March 2021. Retrieved 21 June 2021.
  7. ^ Dobson, Charlotte (9 May 2015). "University of Salford officially appoints renowned poet Professor Jackie Kay as their new chancellor". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  8. ^ a b Jackie Kay, "My old man: a voyage around our fathers", The Observer, 15 June 2008.
  9. ^ "Jackie Kay (1961 – )". Scottish Women Poets. 1 April 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  10. ^ a b Flood, Alison (22 May 2020). "Scottish national poet Jackie Kay talks about racism she endured as a child". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Ponsonby, Bernard (14 November 2019). "Obituary: John Kay, Communist stalwart". Herald Scotland. Herald and Times Group. Newsquest Media Group. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  12. ^ "Jackie Kay". BBC. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
  13. ^ Tranter, Susan. "Jackie Kay - Literature". British Council. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  14. ^ "Jackie Kay". 9 November 2017. Archived from the original on 26 July 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  15. ^ Empire, Kitty (15 February 2021). "Bessie Smith by Jackie Kay review – a potent blues brew". The Guardian.
  16. ^ "Bessie Smith by Jackie Kay". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  17. ^ "Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company", Unfinished Histories – Recording the History of Alternative Theatre.
  18. ^ Kay, Jackie (10 August 2020). "Missing faces: Jackie Kay on Scotland's involvement in the British slave trade". Pan Macmillan. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  19. ^ "BBC Radio 3". Bbc.co.uk. 25 March 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  20. ^ "Drama on 3: The Lamplighter". 7 October 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  21. ^ Bloodaxe Books, 2008; ISBN 978-1-85224-804-8.
  22. ^ Ross, Peter (7 August 2019). "Jackie Kay on putting her adoption on stage – and getting a pay rise for her successor". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  23. ^ Gagiano, Annie (1 September 2019). "Recovering and recovering from an African past: four women's quest narratives". Journal of Transatlantic Studies. 17 (3): 269–289. doi:10.1057/s42738-019-00025-x. ISSN 1754-1018. S2CID 257159808.
  24. ^ "Prof. Jackie Kay: Professor of Creative Writing". Newcastle University. Archived from the original on 27 April 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2008.
  25. ^ "Jackie Kay – Hadassah in response to Esther" Archived 14 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Sixty-Six Books, Bush Theatre.
  26. ^ "Appointment of new Chancellor", University of Salford, Greater Manchester, 17 October 2014.
  27. ^ ScottishGovernment. "ScottishGovernment – News – Scotland's new Makar". news.scotland.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  28. ^ "Jackie Kay announced as new Scots Makar". BBC News. 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  29. ^ "No. 58014". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 2006. p. 19.
  30. ^ "No. 62866". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 December 2019. p. N9.
  31. ^ "BBC 100 Women 2020: Who is on the list this year?". BBC News. 23 November 2020. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
  32. ^ Foundation, LGBT. "Jackie Kay MBE -LGBT Foundation". lgbt.foundation. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  33. ^ Rustin, Susanna (27 April 2012). "A life in writing: Jackie Kay". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  34. ^ Brown, Helen (5 June 2010). "Jackie Kay: Interview". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  35. ^ a b "Interview: Carol-Ann Duffy". Stylist. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  36. ^ Preston, John, "Carol Ann Duffy interview", The Telegraph, 11 May 2010.
  37. ^ 9 April 2013, Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, Georgetown University.
  38. ^ Sir Neville C . Bardoliwalla OBE, C. B. E. (1 January 2006). "2006 New Year Honours (httpwww.mashpedia.net2006 New Year Honour) pdf". 2006 New Years Honours PDF.
  39. ^ "Jackie Kay". British Council Literature. Archived from the original on 2 August 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  40. ^ "The Royal Society of Edinburgh | 2016 Elected Fellows". Royalsoced.org.uk. Archived from the original on 8 October 2016. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  41. ^ Parker, Charlie (28 December 2019). "New year honours list 2020: Makar Jackie Kay and Catriona Matthew among great Scots". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 27 May 2022.

External links[edit]