Her Majesty’s Gold Medal for Poetry has been awarded for 2021 to Grace Nichols, a Guyanese poet who moved to Britain in 1977.
Nichols’ first poetry collection, I Is a Long-Memoried Woman, was published in 1983 and won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. Her work celebrates her Guyanese and South American heritage while touching on issues of racism and immigration in Britain.
The Poetry Medal Committee unanimously nominated her for the medal to honour her “pioneering voice.”
Her work is studied by secondary students across Britain; in addition to her poetry, she has published prose works and several books for younger readers. In 2011, she served on the inaugural judging panel for “Anthologise,” an annual poetry competition in schools.
Nichols said of winning the award:
“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.”
King George V established The Gold Medal for Poetry in 1933 to celebrate excellence in poetry from a British or Commonwealth poet. Simon Armitage, the current Poet Laureate, is the chair of the Poetry Medal Committee, and he has praised her Nichols’ work:
“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.”