Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay, MBE, FRSE (born 9 November 1961) is a Scottish poet and novelist.[1] Since 2016 she has been the national poet laureate of Scotland, The Scots Makar. She is the chancellor of the University of Salford.

Jackie Kay
Jackie Kay, 2015
Born9 November 1961
Edinburgh, Scotland
Alma materUniversity of Stirling
OccupationProfessor of creative writing at Newcastle University;
Scottish Makar
Known forPoet and novelist


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. 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.

Her adoptive father worked for the Communist Party full-time and stood for Member of Parliament,[2] and her adoptive mother was the Scottish secretary of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In August 2007, Jackie Kay was the subject of the fourth episode of the BBC Radio 4 series The House I Grew Up In, in which she talked about her childhood.[1]

Initially harbouring ambitions to be an actress, 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. 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. This 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 awards 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, born Dorothy Tipton, who lived as a man for the last fifty years of his life.

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),[3] 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[4] and published in poem form in 2008.[5]

In 2010 she 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 has been adapted for the stage by Tanika Gupta and will receive its world premiere in August 2019 at the Edinburgh International Festival in a production by National Theatre of Scotland and HOME.

Jackie Kay was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) on 17 June 2006. She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University,[6] and Cultural Fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University. Kay lives in Manchester. She took part in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty-Six Books, with a piece based on a book of the King James Bible.[7] 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.[8]

In March 2016, it was announced that Kay would be taking up the position of Scots Makar (national poet of Scotland), succeeding Liz Lochhead, whose tenure ended in January 2016.[9][10]

Personal life

Kay is openly lesbian.[11][12] 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.[13][14][13] During this relationship, Duffy gave birth to a daughter, Ella, whose biological father is fellow poet Peter Benson.[14][15]

Awards and honours

External video
Jackie Kay, vimeo format[16]

Selected works

  • 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
  • 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. (memoir)
  • Fiere, Pan Macmillan, 2011, ISBN 9781447206576 (poetry)
  • Reality, Reality, Pan Macmillan, 2012, ISBN 9781447204404
  • The Empathetic Store, Mariscat Press, 2015, ISBN 9780946588794 (poetry)

Some other poetry used in GCSE Edexcel Syllabus

  • Brendon Gallacher
  • Lucozade
  • Yellow

See also


  1. "The House I Grew Up In, featuring Jackie Kay". The House I Grew Up In. 27 August 2007. BBC Radio 4.
  2. Jackie Kay, "My old man: a voyage around our fathers", The Observer, 15 June 2008.
  3. "Gay Sweatshop Theatre Company", Unfinished Histories – Recording the History of Alternative Theatre.
  4. "BBC Radio 3". Bbc.co.uk. 25 March 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  5. Bloodaxe Books, 2008; ISBN 978-1-85224-804-8
  6. "Prof. Jackie Kay: Professor of Creative Writing". Newcastle University.
  7. "Jackie Kay – Hadassah in response to Esther" Archived 14 August 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Sixty-Six Books, Bush Theatre.
  8. "Appointment of new Chancellor", University of Salford, Greater Manchester, 17 October 2014.
  9. ScottishGovernment. "ScottishGovernment – News – Scotland's new Makar". news.scotland.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  10. "Jackie Kay announced as new Scots Makar". BBC News. 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  11. Foundation, LGBT. "Jackie Kay MBE | LGBT Foundation". lgbt.foundation. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  12. Rustin, Susanna (27 April 2012). "A life in writing: Jackie Kay". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  13. Brown, Helen (5 June 2010). "Jackie Kay: Interview". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  14. "Interview: Carol-Ann Duffy". Stylist. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  15. Preston, John, "Carol Ann Duffy interview", The Telegraph, 11 May 2010.
  16. 9 April 2013, Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, Georgetown University.
  17. "The Royal Society of Edinburgh | 2016 Elected Fellows". Royalsoced.org.uk. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  18. "Jackie Kay". British Council Literature. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
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