Don’t tell me who I am

Don’t tell me who I am

The Guardian

Libby Brooks, Deputy Comment Editor

Jackie Kay has become used to all kinds of assumptions being made about her identity—literary, national, sexual and familial. The more annoying, because the joy of being a writer is that you can create any persona you like. On the other hand, she does want to stand and be counted. She explains to Libby Brooks

Jackie Kay tells a tale of mistaken identity. “I went to sit down in this chair in a London pub and this woman says, ‘You cannae sit doon in that chair – that’s ma chair.’ I said, ‘Oh, you’re from Glasgow, aren’t you?’ and she said, ‘Aye, how did you know that?’ I said, ‘I’m from Glasgow myself.’ She said, ‘You’re not, are you, you foreign-looking bugger!'” Kay roars delightedly. “I still have Scottish people asking me where I’m from. They won’t actually hear my voice, because they’re too busy seeing my face.” Meanwhile, in Glasgow, her black female friends are stopped in the street and asked if they’re Jackie Kay…

…Born in Edinburgh to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father, Kay herself was adopted by a white couple and brought up in Glasgow. A lesbian – she lives in Manchester with poet Carol Ann Duffy, her own 13-year-old son, Matthew, and Duffy’s daughter, Ella, six – Kay has found her own identities too easily commodified for comfort. “Your characters are fiction, but when you’re a public writer people often try to make them you. Often, they have this real need, which seems to come out of our culture, to relate things back to this big thing called the personality. There’s something discomforting about that gaze being on you because, by writing, you’ve deliberately chosen to put yourself behind the scenes…

…Kay has always read and always written. As a young girl growing up in predominantly white Glasgow, books such as Anne Of Green Gables and the Famous Five series offered her other lives, while writing gave her the chance to create her own. When she was 12, she wrote the 80-page One Person, Two Names in a school jotter, illustrated by a pal, about a girl living in the States who was black but pretended to be white. “It interests me that I still write about the same things,” she notes dryly…

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