Image by Caroline Forbes

Jackie Kay

b. 1961

A poem is a little moment of belief. - Jackie Kay

About Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay (b. 1961) is an award-winning writer of fiction, poetry and plays, whose subtle investigation into the complexities of identity have been informed by her own life. Born in Edinburgh to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father, she was adopted as a baby by a white couple. Kay's awareness of her different heritages inspired her first book of poetry, The Adoption Papers, which dramatises her experience through the creation of three contrasting narrators: an adoptive mother, a birth mother and a daughter. The book was a great success, winning the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year and a commendation from the Forward Poetry Prize judges. Subsequent collections and her celebrated first novel, Trumpet, have continued to explore issues of cultural and sexual identity as well as the intimacies and upheavals of love. Kay has also written poetry for children and her first children's novel, Strawgirl, was published in 2002. She currently lives in Manchester.

When Kay began writing "there wasn't anybody else saying the things I wanted to say...I started out of that sense of wanting to create some image of myself." However, though she draws on autobiography, Kay is skilful at fictionalising this material, thereby allowing the reader more space to enter her work. The inherent drama of her poetry is influenced by the Scottish tradition of public verse, of ballad, song and the recitations of countless childhood Burns' nights. Music has also had a significant impact, particularly the rhythms of jazz and blues. This is most obvious in her poems based on the life of the jazz singer, Bessie Smith, but is inherent in all her work, particularly in her use of refrain. Her repetition of lines and phrases is often affiliated with loss, in love poems such as 'Spoons' and 'Her' or in the wistful elegy for an imaginary childhood friend, 'Brendon Gallacher'.

This combination of dramatic intensity and musicality lends itself to performance. In her Archive recording, Kay's Glaswegian lilt is still to the fore, at home in the 'Old Tongue' even as she describes her fear of losing it. It's precisely the rooted quality of her accent that makes the encounters with African culture so powerful, vividly enacting the tensions of her inheritance for the listener.

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 22 August 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Interviews and other readings

Jackie Kay interview

Join Jackie Kay as she reveals the musical influences on her award-winning poetry, and passes on some of her tips for helping you put pen to paper.

Selected bibliography

Wish I Was Here, Picador 2011

Darling: New & Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books 2007


The Lamplighter, Bloodaxe Books 2008


Red Cherry Red (Book & CD) Bloomsbury, 2007


Life Mask, Bloodaxe , 2005


Why Don't You Stop Talking? (fiction), Picador, 2002

The Frog Who Dreamed She was an Opera Singer (poems for...


Trumpet (fiction), Picador, 1998

Off Colour, Bloodaxe, 1998


Penguin Modern Poets 8 (contributor with Merle Collins...

Three Has Gone (poems for children), Blackie Children's...

Other Lovers, Bloodaxe, 1993


Two's Company(poems for children), Puffin, 1992 - out of...

That Distance Apart, Turret, 1991 - out of print

The Adoption Papers, Bloodaxe, 1991


A Dangerous Knowing: Four Black Women Poets, Sheba, 1984...

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Jean Sprackland's tour

There are so many good poems in the Children's Archive, it's hard to know where to start! I'd like to share with you...

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