Skip to main content

Image of Kayo Chingonyi

For this year’s biennial Lumiere light festival we brought together the producers, Artichoke, and regional writing development agency New Writing North, on an exciting collaboration that will see new works from some of the UK’s leading poets light up Durham Castle. Among them is prize winning writer Kayo Chingonyi, an Assistant Professor in our Department of English Studies. Here Kayo tells us about his involvement and how poetry has been a central part of his life.

Q. How did you get involved in Lumiere 2021 and what has it involved?

A. A colleague [Simon John James] asked if I would be interested. I love bringing text and image together, and have worked with light projection before, so I was keen to get involved.

For this installation I've written a short poem that explores the theme of light and dark and have also recorded myself reading the piece. It is a piece intended to be experienced in the evening, in autumn and I'm really looking forward to people seeing it.

Q. When did you start writing?

A. I started writing stories in primary school and then poetry around the age of 13. I got involved in the poetry scene in London and after winning the Respect Poetry Slam at 16, I started performing live at poetry events across the city.

I took part in a series of workshops organised by Spread The Word and Apples & Snakes and by the age of 17 had started to develop a sense of poetic craft. Since then, poetry has been a central part of my life.  I studied English Literature at university, continued this with a post-graduate qualification, and now am part of the English Studies Department here at Durham.

Q. What inspires and influences your writing?

A. I have a fascination with the English language. It is my second language and the way I learned it, through sounds and the shaping of words, was much more conscious than the way we learn our first language. This is reflected in my work which has that same engagement with the shape of words at its heart.

I am enormously inspired by places as I have moved around a lot. I am originally from Zambia, but the North East was the first place I lived in England. I spent a lot of time in County Durham visiting family friends and the region is a very important part of my creative world. 

Q. What was your first published work?

A. My very first published work was when I was 18 or 19, in a student magazine of the University of Sheffield, it still runs and is called Route 57.

My first full-length collection was published in 2017. It is called Kumukanda which means ‘initiation’ in the Zambian tribe I belong to on my father’s side. The work explores rites of passage and my position as someone who left Zambia before this formal coming of age.

Of course, publication has also involved rejection but that is a normal part of the process. I kept going and the publications have grown into spaces and places I did not necessarily imagine initially.

Q. Is there any piece you are particularly proud of?

A. I would not say there is one particular piece of work over any others. That said, my first full length collection, Kumukanda, was a culmination of many years of writing and reflects this in its theme of rites of passage.  

I sometimes think that the enterprise of writing poetry is a brief moment of pride followed by self-doubt!

One of my favourite theorists of poetry says that poetry is necessarily an enterprise based on failure as you are gesturing towards things language cannot do on an everyday basis, and you won't always succeed.  

Find out more

  • Discover more about Kayo Chingonyi and his work
  • Why not visit Lumiere and see Kayo’s work, amongst the 39 spellbinding installations?
  • Read all about Durham University’s involvement in Lumiere 2021
  • Interested in studying with our Department of English Studies? View our undergraduate and postgraduate opportunities
  • We are proud to support the County Durham bid to become UK City of Culture 2025 as principal partner. Find out more and pledge your support here.

 Image credit

Marco Giugliarelli and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation.