Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1978, Kei Miller FRSL is an essayist, poet, and fiction author best known for his collections of poems and essays. He has been part based in the UK since 2007. After reading for an English degree at the University of West Indies (Mona campus) that he chose not to complete, Miller began to publish widely in the Caribbean and in 2004 undertook an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, followed by a PhD in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. Upon the publication of his debut collection Kingdom of Empty Bellies (2006), Miller was hailed by fellow Caribbean poet Lorna Goodison as a ‘strong new presence in poetry’. His to-date best-known collection The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (2014) was praised for its dynamic contrasts and imaginative verve, expressed through a mingling of “grammatically correct English with patois to emphasise the different ways in which a place can be known” [citation]. He has published three more collections of poetry as well as three novels, and two collections of short stories and essays. Miller is currently the Professor of Poetry at the University of Exeter and his fifth collection of poems, In Nearby Bushes, the title playing on a well-known Jamaican euphemism, is due in late 2019. He is also a co-researcher on the Caribbean Literary Heritage archive project in collaboration with scholars at the University of East Anglia.
Miller’s work is a striking addition to the literary conversation emanating from the West Indies and from other areas that once bore the Union Jack. His work moves without barbs, rooting itself in one of many languages alive in the United Kingdom.
Miller’s first book Fear of Stones and other stories (2006) was shortlisted for a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and he has subsequently won the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe et du Tout-Monde, the Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Award for Excellence, the Prix Les Afriques, and the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature twice, for both fiction and his most recent novel Augustown (2016). James Procter describes Miller’s first novel The Same Earth as a book that ‘more than demonstrates the author’s ability as a captivating storyteller full of wit, and lively satirical intelligence’. His poetry collection The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion received particular critical acclaim, culminating in his being the first writer of colour to be awarded the Forward Prize. The chair of the judges Jeremy Paxman noted: ‘Many poets refer to multiple realities, different ways of observing the world. Kei doesn’t just refer, he articulates them’.
Yet, even alongside the acclaim for his poetic work, Kei Miller tends to see the essay as his primary literary form. Certainly, it is the means through which he thinks through his fascinations with language, meaning and the body. Miller’s recent essay In Praise of the Fat Black Woman & Volume is representative of the lyricism of his essay style, dramatizing many of the early poetic influences upon his work and intellectual life. The Jamaican performance poet Staceyann Chin is one such influence – a voluble, dynamic and driven figure. Though he is a soft-spoken and always reflective writer, Miller’s poetry is at the same time loud in its critique of British imperialism and cultural hubris, and equally of the Jamaican middle class. As in the linked interview, recorded at the 2019 ACLALS conference in Auckland, New Zealand, he observes that he doesn’t mind if his work is overheard by outsiders, but that he writes primarily for and about Jamaica. Miller juxtaposes characters and images in such a way that his poems flow like an ongoing conversation. We listen now to a single speaker musing to himself, now to a dialogue see-sawing between impassioned interlocutors. Miller is one of the most exciting voices on the British literary scene today whose work appeals and resonates across a wide range of audiences.
—Chelsea Haith, 2019
Cite this: Haith, Chelsea. “Kei Miller.” Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds, 2019, https://writersmakeworlds.com/kei-miller/. Accessed 22 February 2020.