Jackie Kay was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1961 to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father. She was adopted by a white couple at birth and was brought up in Glasgow, studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and Stirling University where she read English.
The experience of being adopted by and growing up within a white family inspired her first collection of poetry, The Adoption Papers (1991), which won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award, the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award and a commendation by the Forward Poetry Prize judges in 1992. Her other collections include Other Lovers (1993) and Off Colour (1998). Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, and she has written widely for stage and television.
Her first novel, Trumpet, published in 1998, was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her books Why Don't You Stop Talking (2002) and Wish I Was Here (2006), are collections of short stories, and she has also published a novel for children, Strawgirl (2002). Her collection of poetry for children, Red, Cherry Red (2007) won the 2008 CLPE Poetry Award. Her dramatised poem, The Lamplighter, was shortlisted for the 2009 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award.
Jackie Kay lives in Manchester. In 2006, she was awarded an MBE for services to literature.