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HOMEMEDIANEWS / FEATURE NEWS / GRACE

Grace Nichols’ ‘pioneering voice’ wins her Queen’s gold medal for poetry

Poet laureate Simon Armitage, who chaired this year’s award committee, said the Guyanese writer’s works ‘echo with the rhymes and rhythms of her family and ancestors’
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‘So honoured and delighted’ … Grace Nichols.

The Guyanese poet Grace Nichols will be awarded the Queen’s gold medal for poetry for her body of work, in particular her first collection of poetry I Is a Long-Memoried Woman, her prose, and several books for younger readers.

Buckingham Palace announced on Friday that the Queen has approved the choice recommended by the Poetry Medal Committee, chaired by the poet laureate, Simon Armitage.

“Over the past four decades, Grace has been an original, pioneering voice in the British poetry scene,” said Armitage. “Her poems are alive with characters from the folklore and fables of her Caribbean homeland, and echo with the rhymes and rhythms of her family and ancestors … They are also passionate and sensuous at times, being daring in their choice of subject and openhearted in their outlook.”

“Above all, Grace Nichols has been a beacon for black women poets in this country, staying true to her linguistic coordinates and poetic sensibilities, and offering a means of expression that has offered inspiration and encouragement to many.”

Nichols, who moved to Britain aged 27, will become the 52nd recipient of the award, and the second in her own household – her husband John Agard won it in 2012. She is due to be presented with the medal in 2022.

Nichols’ poetry, much of which is influenced by her Caribbean heritage, is on several GCSE syllabuses. I Is a Long-Memoried Woman won the Commonwealth poetry prize in 1983.

“I was overwhelmed when I first got the news. It was both wonderful and humbling to be recognised in this way,” said Nichols. “As a poet you write your poems in solitude, never knowing whom they’ll reach. I feel so honoured and delighted to be given this award by her majesty and the committee.”

She added: “In my own work I’ve celebrated my Guyanese/Caribbean/South American heritage in relation to the English traditions we inherited as a former British colony. To poetry and the English language that I love, I’ve brought the registers of my own Caribbean tongue. I wish my parents who use to chide me for straining my eyes, as a small girl reading by torchlight in bed, were around to share in this journey that poetry has blessed me with.”

The Gold medal for poetry was founded in 1933 by King George V. Previous recipients include Philip Larkin, Siegfried Sassoon and WH Auden, as well as last year’s winner David Constantine, who was presented with the award by the Queen via videolink.