Grace Nichols has been awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2021. The Gold Medal for Poetry was established by King George V in 1933, and is awarded annually for excellence in poetry to a poet from the United Kingdom or a Commonwealth country.
The Poetry Medal Committee unanimously recommended Grace as this year’s recipient for her body of work, particularly her first poetry collection I is a Long-Memoried Woman (1983), and work for younger readers. The committee is chaired by the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.
I Is a Long-Memoried Woman previously won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and most of the poems were later included in Nichols’ retrospective I Have Crossed an Ocean: Selected Poems (2010).
On receiving the award, Grace Nichols said:
“I was overwhelmed when I first got the news. It was both wonderful and humbling to be recognised in this way. 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, headed by Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage and to join the illustrious company of past winners from across the Commonwealth.
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 Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, said:
“Over the past four decades, Grace has been an original, pioneering voice in the British poetry scene. A noted reader and ‘performer’ of her work, she has embraced the tones of her adopted country and yet maintained the cadences of her native tongue. 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. Song-like or prayer-like on occasion, they exhibit an honesty of feeling and a generosity of spirit. 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. She is a moving elegist, and a poet of conciliation and constructive dialogue between cultures, but also a voice of questioning dissent when the occasion demands.”