Profile: Jackie Kay

Profile: Jackie Kay

What you need to know about Scotland’s new Makar

Who is Jackie Kay?
Born in Edinburgh to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father, Kay was adopted by Scottish couple and grew up in Glasgow. She graduated from Stirling University in 1983 with a degree in English and published two novels during the 1980s. Her first poetry collection The Adoption Papers was published in 1991 and won the Saltire Society Award for Best First Book and a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. Kay’s work often focuses on identity, gender and race, and is often shot through with dark humour.

What is a Makar anyway?
National Laureate, or Makar, was established in 2004 by the Scottish Parliament. The Makar’s job is to celebrate Scotland’s rich poetic heritage, while promoting the works of today, and creating new pieces in response to important events in Scotland. Previous Makars include Edwin Morgan (2004—2011) and Liz Lochhead (2011—2016).

Where have I heard of Kay before?
Jackie Kay’s notable works include The Other Lovers, a poetry collection revolving around colonial history and slavery; Trumpet, the Guardian Fiction Prize-winning novel inspired by the life of Billy Tipton, about a jazz trumpeter who is revealed to be a woman after ‘his’ death; The Maw Broon Monologues, poetry collection told from the perspective of the Scottish children’s character dealing with health and illness, turned into a theatre show and shortlisted for the inaugural Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry; and Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey, a tale of her search for her biological parents looking at the question: ‘what is family?’.

What was Kay’s reaction?
"I was born in Edinburgh, adopted, and my mum said to me the other day 'who would have thought that that wee baby they brought home in a basket would end up being the makar'." [BBC]
"It is the pure language that tells us who we are. I hope to open up the conversations, the blethers, the arguments and celebrations that Scotland has with itself and with the rest of the world, using the voice of Poetry in its fine Scottish delivery." [Herald]

Our favourite quotes
‘My mum is on a high bed next to sad chrysanthemums. / “Don’t bring flowers, they only wilt and die.” / I am scared my mum is going to die / on the bed next to the sad chrysanthemums.’ – Lucozade

‘Loss isn't an absence after all. It is a presence. A strong presence right next to me. I look at it. It doesn't look like anything, that's what is so strange. It just fits in.’ Trumpet

‘Time is whit A’ hauld between / the soft bits o’ ma thumbs, / the skeleton underneath ma night goon; / aw the while the glaring selfish moon / lights up this drab wee prison.’ – Bed

Jackie Kay

Celebrated poet and makar Jackie Kay reads from Bantam, her first collection since becoming Scottish Makar. Scottish poet Jackie Kay has released numerous poetry collections, including The Adoption Papers, Maw Broon Monologues and The Empathetic Store. Her 1998 novel Trumpet, based on the life of American jazz musician…