Thu | Apr 25, 2019

Jamaican poet among awardees for Caribbean excellence

Published:Saturday | January 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Kei Miller

Jamaican poet, writer, and scholar Kei Miller is among four laureates who have been announced for the Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Awards for Excellence. The other laureates are William Andrew Boyle from Guyana, in the field of entrepreneurship; Chevaughn and Noel Joseph from Trinidad and Tobago for public and civic contributions; and Dr Adesh Ramsubhag, a microbiologist, from Trinidad and Tobago, in the field of science and technology. Miller has been awarded in the category of Arts and Letters.

Miller and the other awardees were proposed by country nominating committees and selected by a regional panel chaired by Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth secretary general.

The Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Awards is the only programme in the Caribbean that seeks out and rewards outstanding nominees in arts, and letters, public and civic contributions, science and technology, and entrepreneurship. It has been in existence since 2005. The prizes are worth TT $500,000 each, and each laureate receives a medal and citation at the awards ceremony, which will be held on May 5, 2018.


Won many awards


Kei Miller has produced three novels, a short-story collection, four poetry collections, and a book of "essays and prophecies". He is also a prolific blogger and tweeter, maintaining a running commentary on regional and international current affairs.

Miller has won many awards for his writing, most significantly the Forward Prize for Poetry (2014), the premier accolade in the UK and Ireland for established and emerging poets, now in its 23rd year. He is the first writer from the Caribbean and person of colour to win the prize. Also an acclaimed short-story writer and novelist, his first collection of short fiction, The Fear of Stones, was short-listed in 2007 for the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize. His novel, Augustown, won the Bocas Literary prize in 2017, and its French translation won the Prix Carbet de la CaraÔbe et du Tout-Monde.

Miller was born in Jamaica in 1978 and read English at the University of the West Indies but did not complete his bachelor's degree. Instead, he wrote and published Kingdom of Empty Bellies and The Fear of Stones, a short-story collection. In 2005, he pursued an MA at Manchester Metropolitan University. He graduated at the top of his class and later did his PhD at the University of Glasgow. He is now professor of English and creative writing at the University of Exeter.

... Engaging Caribbean themes of race, identity and immigration

Kei Miller's work is closely tied to the Caribbean region, and his continued links to institutions like the University of the West Indies and the Bocas Literary Festival support this. He is the editor of Carcanet's New Caribbean Poetry collection (2007). The Cartographer, his most recent collection, features a mapmaker who speaks "the Queen's English" but sucks his teeth like a Jamaican, and a "Rastaman" with a PhD. His writing makes use of Jamaican dialect (Patois) and he draws inspiration from sources as varied as Earl Lovelace and Lorna Goodison, Australian writer David Malouf, and street preachers.

Miller's work also engages Caribbean themes, of race, identity, and immigration. His second collection, There is an Anger that Moves, begins with 'In This Country', which explores the experience of an immigrant to the UK. At first, the protagonist experiences alienation: "In this country you have an accent; /in the pub, a woman mocks it." Acclaimed Jamaican writer Olive Senior described the collection as a "radiant utterance that speaks of island experiences and gender politics from a deep well of understanding, with empathy, humour, and insight".


Conscious of politics


With all his success, Miller remains conscious of the politics of his position and field. When asked about comments he made expressing shame for his days as a poetry slam winner, he referred to a perception that "white poets read or give recitals, but black poets are performance poets ... and, yes, I'm glad you think I read well. I'm glad you think my voice is melodic, but if that becomes a reason to dismiss it as not worthy, or as something that is just light entertainment, that is beautiful to listen to, but not something that's being carefully written ... I'm very particular about how I claim my place on the page."