Kei Miller is a Jamaican poet, writer, and scholar. In his career, he 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.
He 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 Caraïbe 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.
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 “Rasta-man” 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.”
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.”
In a 2013 interview with the Jamaica Gleaner he talks about winning the prestigious, Rhodes Trust sponsored Rex Nettleford Fellowship in Cultural Studies. He tells reporter Daviot Kelly: “There’s always something special to me about being recognized by your own country,” revealing that he grew up in a household where “giving to country” was a constant refrain. He goes on to say: “Especially for the kind of work that I want to do for this fellowship. It’s so specific to the Caribbean and Jamaica.”