Jackie Kay - Red Dust Road


0120100719 (BBC7)
20150526 (BBC7)
20150525 (BBC7)

Poet Jackie Kay traces her biological parents, in a journey from Scotland to Nigeria.

It was the imminent birth of her son that prompted the poet and novelist Jackie Kay to try and trace the parents who had given her up for adoption in the 1960s.

Her own childhood had been a profoundly happy one with open and loving parents. They had always made it clear to her that she and her elder brother, both mixed race, were 'special' because they had been 'chosen'. But Scotland and indeed Britain was not always an easy place to be, particularly in those early years, if your skin colour happened to be several shades darker than everybody else's.

The casual offensiveness of the oft-phrased question "where are you from?" - which looked beyond her obviously Scottish accent and saw only her non-white skin - provoked a defiant assertion: "Here." School lessons about Africa were always an uncomfortable experience as classmates trotted out the dancing, drumming, mud-hut cliches.

Eventually, with the solid support of her family and her partner and friends, Kay decided that she needed to know the story of where she was from, and embarked on the complex emotional and physical journey.

Her Mum was a great storyteller and had often shared imaginings of a tragic romance broken off by an arranged betrothal, a princely heritage and a Sidney Poitier-like figure for a father. The truth, as Kay discovers, never quite matches the fantasies - sometimes it outdoes them. As for the jigsaw puzzle of heritage, family and identity, assembling the pieces doesn't always provide answers.

Read by the author.

Producer/Abridger: Jill Waters

A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.