Jackie Kay

Makar (National Poet) of Scotland from 2016-2021, Chancellor Professor of Salford University, MBE, award-winning novelist, playwright, memoirist, but above all poet, Jackie Kay has been an inspiration to lesbians, particularly lesbians of colour, ever since the publication of her first poetry collection, The Adoption Papers.

In this remarkable 1991 work she told the story of her own adoption from the triple points of view of the biracial child, her white, Scottish, CND-campaigner adoptive mother, and her white, Scottish, nurse birth mother. It set the scene for the open heart with which she was to continue writing her truth. She went on to trace her own origins via her memoir, Red Dust Road, which introduced us to her Nigerian father, who it transpired initially viewed her as the embodiment of his lust, but also to her newly discovered African family.

Jackie was born in 1961 in Edinburgh and adopted as a baby by Helen and John Kay, stalwart communists in Glasgow, with whom she had a happy childhood alongside her adopted brother Maxwell, although the racist bullying she encountered as the mixed-race child of a white couple gave her much material for her poetic work, which often deals with identity, race and slavery alongside womanhood and lesbian sexuality.

Her biography of Bessie Smith is a triumphant celebration of her childhood icon, as she conveys her utter young delight in the strong Black woman who featured on the cover of the record her dad brought home, and a lesbian too to boot!

Jackie famously had a 15 year relationship with the English Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and still lives in Manchester, her son Matthew still very close to Carol Ann’s daughter, Ella.

As a writer, she relishes the short story form as suiting “people who feel displaced or misplaced or who don’t fit in, people who feel their very bones are lonely”. Her outstanding 1998 novel, Trumpet, tells of the lesbian relationship between Millie and Joss, a trumpeter who lived her life as a man and whose sex is only revealed to the world and their son after her death.

But it is her poetry which embodies the depth of her humanity and her love of language, including championing Scots and Igbo. It garlands our souls with nuance, humour, affection and poignancy, a fascination with all things human, a celebration of love – lesbian, parental, between women friends – and a radical sensibility towards the world.

Jackie Kay’s newest poetry collection, May Day, will be published on 25th April this year.

You want to be open about being gay – why would you not be open about being gay? But you don’t want to be defined by it.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackie_Kay

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/apr/27/life-writing-jackie-kay

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