Kayo Chingonyi was born in Mufulira, Zambia in 1987 and moved to Newcastle in the UK at the age of six. After going to school in London and reading English Literature at the University of Sheffield, Chingonyi is now based in Essex. His presence on the London poetry scene was first felt in 2003 when he won the Poetry Society’s Rise Youth Slam Championship (now SLAMbassadors UK). Chingonyi has gone on to work as a workshop leader for the project, helping aspiring young poets to achieve success similar to his own.
Poetry became a major interest when, taken “by the pattern on the cover”, he “found a copy of Douglas Dunn’s Selected Poems in the Romford branch of Oxfam (using the flawed but oddly effective method of choosing books that looked interesting)”. (This quotation is from a forthcoming article by Chingonyi for the Young Poets Network website).
His work reflects contemporary culture, with subtle political references. He predominantly makes use of urban settings, for example this from his poem ‘Andrew’s Corner’: “Where alleys wake to condom wrappers,/ kebab meat, a ballet pump, last week/ a van pulled up and it was blood”. His work is full of contrast, deftly managed with a buoyant and musical hand: darkness and light, penance and retribution, guilt and owing – all of these are recurring themes.
Asked by Karen McCarthy Woolf in an interview published in Wasifiri (December 2010) “how the ‘black writer’ moniker sits with him”, Chingonyi answered:
The label troubles me since it hints at a uniform black experience (and presupposes a consensus on the meaning of the word black). That the label has a currency in some quarters is to do with the way we use categories to understand the world we live in. While there will always be people trying to categorise you from without, the onus is on you to carry on regardless. I am interested in the ways in which oral and written traditions intersect but this interest is not limited to writing from any one perspective. As a writer I try to plug into multiple frames of reference.
As well as being a writer and performer, Chingonyi also works as a creative facilitator and has run workshops for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the YMCA, the Poetry Society and a large number of schools. In 2010 he participated in the Verbalized Tour with the British Council in South Africa. His work has been broadcast on Radio Five Live, Sheffield Live and Colourful Radio.
A powerful performer with a calm and authoritative presence, he has taken his poems to high-profile stages such as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was invited to mark the theatre’s reopening in 2010. He has also performed at Tate Britain, London Literature Festival, The Big Chill, Buckingham Palace, the State Theatre of South Africa, Pretoria, the New Space Theatre, Cape Town, and the Museum Africa, Johannesburg. His poems are anthologised in City Lighthouse (tall-lighthouse, 2009) and The Shuffle Anthology (The Shuffle Press, 2009) and have appeared in print and online magazines including Tate Etc, Pomegranate and Wasafiri.
Critics and fellow poets have described his work as “combining lyrical prowess and rhythm” (Sheffield Steel Press), “Rolls Royce writing” (Kwame Dawes) and “spoken word in its purest form” (Ethnic Now).
Chingonyi is currently studying towards an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Work by Kayo Chingonyi has appeared in:
The Shuffle Anthology, The Shuffle Press, London, 2009
City Lighthouse, tall-lighthouse, London, 2009
Paradise by Night, Booth-Clibborn Editions, London, 2010
Verbalized, British Council, London, 2010
Coin Opera 2, Sidekick Books, London, 2011
Salt Book of Younger Poets, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2011
Kayo Chingonyi’s blog
Chingonyi’s commission for Tate Etc
Watch Chingonyi perform some of his work here and here