Born in London to English and Jamaican parents, Karen McCarthy Woolf is the author of two poetry collections and the editor of seven literary anthologies. Shortlisted for the Forward Felix Dennis and Jerwood Prizes, her debut An Aviary of Small Birds (Carcanet, 2014) tells the story of losing a son in childbirth and was an Observer Book of the Year. Her second, Seasonal Disturbances (Carcanet, 2017), explores gentrification, the city and the sacred, and was a winner in the inaugural Laurel Prize for ecological poetry.
In 2019 she moved to Los Angeles as a Fulbright postdoctoral scholar and Writer in Residence at the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA exploring the relationship between poetry, law and the impacts of capitalism on black, brown and indigenous bodies.
Published everywhere from Granta to the Financial Times and Guardian her poetry has been translated into Turkish, Swedish, Italian, Dutch and Spanish, produced as a choreographed short film, exhibited by Poems on the Underground and dropped from a helicopter over the Houses of Parliament. She is the editor of seven literary anthologies spotlighting many new talents who are now critically acclaimed in their own right. Karen is a fellow of The Complete Works, a nationwide professional development programme committed to creating more cultural diversity in mainstream poetry publishing, was included in its associated anthology, Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word (2010), and went on to edit the subsequent Bloodaxe anthologies, Ten: The New Wave (2014) and Ten: Poets of the New Generation (2017), also co-editing Mapping the Future: The Complete Works (2023) with Nathalie Teitler.
Karen also writes for radio and recent highlights include a multi-authored version of Virginia Woolf's Orlando which was nominated for a BBC Audio Award in 2020 and a re-versioning of Homer's Book of the Dead for BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week in which Odysseus is reimagined as a London cab driver.
She has served as Chair of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize several times and as a judge of the National Poetry Competition in 2021 when the panel made literary history in awarding the prize to a black writer for the first time in 40 years.
After returning to the UK, 2021 took her to Brazil as an artist in residence at the Sacatar Institute in Bahia where she was researching new work that explores sugar and its cultural and material legacies. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2022.
Author photo: Yasmine Akim, Eva-Grace Bor
Books by Karen McCarthy Woolf