Jay Bernard

Portrait Jay Bernard
Jay Bernard [© Lemn Sissay]

Jay Bernard was born in the London Borough of Croydon in 1988. They appeared at BFI Flare and the London LGBTQ film festival as a film programmer and also worked at the research library and archive of the Statewatch civil liberties agency.

Jay Bernard’s first collection of poems »Surge« [2019] is based on the so-called New Cross Fire events: On January 18, 1981, thirteen Black teenagers died at a birthday party when a fire engulfed the house at 439 New Cross Road in southeast London. The cause of the fire was never properly investigated. Jay Bernard seizes upon this incident to tell of the long history of racism in Britain that eventually led to protests against police discrimination. To examine the tension between public narrative and private truths, they also explored the archives of the George Padmore Institute for the background on the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, the Windrush scandal, and Brexit. The archival content is bolstered by questions of origin and belonging, and the categorization into national, local, and ethnic identities that, combined with violence, make being at home impossible. In addition, some poems in the collection reference Black Diaspora scholars such as C. L. R. James, Édouard Glissant, and Aimé Césaire and their transatlantic discourse on racism. Later on, the motifs of eroticism and sexuality emerge, and the first-person narrator experiences increasing self-awareness and liberates themself to become a self-aware individual: »I am from here, I am specific to this place, I am haunted by this history but I also haunt it back.«

The poetry collection was nominated for the 2019 T. S. Eliot Prize, the 2019 Costa Poetry Award, the 2020 Dylan Thomas Prize, and the 2020 RSL Ondaatje Prize, and won the 2020 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. In their previous publications, the interdisciplinary discourses »Your Sign is Cuckoo, Girl« [2008] and »English Breakfast« [2013], Jay Bernard addresses LGBT identities. »The Red and Yellow Nothing« [2016], a retelling of the story of Sir Morien, a Black Knight of the Round Table, was nominated for the Ted Hughes Award.

Jay Bernard’s short film »Something Said« was screened internationally and won the Best Experimental and Best Queer Short Film awards respectively at the Leeds International Film Festival. Among other awards, Jay Bernard received the 2017 Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry for the multimedia performance piece »Surge: Side A«. In 2018, they were elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Jay Bernard lives in London and will be a guest of the DAAD Artists’ Programme in 2022.