Karen McCarthy Woolf was born in London to English and Jamaican parents. She has been awarded residencies at the literary development agency Spread the Word, the City of El Gouna, Egypt and at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in 2015 where she responded to an exhibit on migration. Having read at a wide variety of national and international venues and festivals, including Cheltenham, Aldeburgh, Ledbury, the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican Centre, V&A, Tate Modern and Science Museum in the UK, as well as in the US, Singapore, Sweden and the Caribbean, she is known as a compelling presenter of her work. Karen has an active interest in cross-platform collaboration: her writing has been commissioned as an installation, selected for Poems on the Underground, produced as a poetry/choreography film and dropped from a helicopter over the Houses of Parliament by the Chilean arts collective Casagrande.
Shortlisted for 2015 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection (An Aviary of Small Birds).
Shortlisted, 2015 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize (An Aviary of Small Birds).
The recipient of an Arts Council England Award, the Kate Betts Memorial Prize and an AHRC scholarship at Royal Holloway, The University of London, she is researching hybridity in poetry and how this informs ways in which we might write about nature, the city and the sacred.
Her book An Aviary of Small Birds was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and selected by Kate Kellaway as a Guardian/Observer book of the month who described it as a ‘beautiful, painful, pitch-perfect debut’. Her poems are translated into Spanish and most recently Swedish, as part of the European poetry initiative Versopolis.Her second collection Seasonal Disturbances, released July 2017, was another Poetry Book Society Recommendation and described by Warsan Shire as ‘a stunning and strange collection from a true writer’.
Karen has been in publishing from the age of 17 and in 1997 edited the critically acclaimed anthology Bittersweet which was described in the Independent on Sunday as a ‘publication of tremendous depth’. She is on the board of two literary journals, Poetry London and Wasafiri, was a selector for the Faber New Poets scheme and has worked with a variety of agencies including The Photographers’ Gallery, British Council, The Poetry School, Southbank Centre, English PEN, Museum of Garden History and the Arvon Foundation. Karen is a fellow of The Complete Works — a nationwide professional development programme committed to creating more cultural diversity in mainstream poetry publishing and is the editor of the associated anthology Ten: The New Wave published by Bloodaxe Books.
Her collection An Aviary of Small Birds — a book of elegies that commemorates a stillborn son (Carcanet, 2014) — was nominated for both the Forward and Aldeburgh Best First Collection Prizes.