Guyanese poet Grace Nichols awarded Queen Elizabeth II’s Gold Medal

Grace Nichols

Buckingham Palace said: “The Poetry Medal Committee unanimously recommended Grace Nichols as this year’s recipient on the basis of her body of work, in particular her first collection of poetry ‘I Is a Long-Memoried Woman’ (1983), prose and several books for younger readers.”

The Poetry Medal Committee was 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, 71, is the second person from her household to receive the prize as her husband John Agard, who is also from Guyana, received the honour in 2012.

This is the fourth time that a Caribbean poet was awarded the Gold Medal for Poetry.

She is also the 1983 Commonwealth Poetry Prize winner.

In a comment to Buckingham Palace, 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 who 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.”