Jackie Kay

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Jackie Kay

Installation of Chancellor Professor Jackie Kay MBE - University of Salford, Peel Hall (17320850932) (cropped).jpg
Jackie Kay, 2015
In office
15 March 2016 14 March 2021
Preceded by Liz Lochhead
Succeeded by Kathleen Jamie
Personal details
Jacqueline Margaret Kay

(1961-11-09) 9 November 1961 (age 59)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Alma mater University of Stirling
OccupationProfessor of creative writing at Newcastle University;
Known forPoet and novelist

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 a number of awards, including 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 Kay was the Makar, the poet laureate of Scotland. [5] [6] She was appointed as chancellor of the University of Salford in 2015. [7]


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 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. [2]

Initially harbouring ambitions to be 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 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. [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]

She is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University, [23] 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. [24] 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. [25]

In March 2016, Kay was announced as the next Scots Makar (national poet of Scotland), succeeding Liz Lochhead, whose tenure ended in January 2016. [26] [27]

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. [28] [29] Kay was on the list of the BBC's 100 Women announced on 23 November 2020. [30]

Personal life

Kay is a lesbian. [31] [32] 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. [33] [34] During this relationship, Duffy gave birth to a daughter, Ella, whose biological father is fellow poet Peter Benson. [34] [35]

Awards and honours

External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Jackie Kay, vimeo format [36]

Selected works

Some other poetry used in GCSE Edexcel Syllabus

See also

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  19. "BBC Radio 3". Bbc.co.uk. 25 March 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
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  36. 9 April 2013, Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, Georgetown University.
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