Kenneth Steven is the son of writing parents. He grew up in Highland Perthshire in the heart of Scotland, and now lives in Argyll on the country’s west coast; it’s these landscapes that have inspired the lion’s share of both his poetry and prose.
At the age of 17 Kenneth won a place to one of Norway’s Folk High Schools: over the year he studied there he not only became fluent in the language but also passionate about the country. After studying for his degree at the University of Glasgow he went back to Norway, this time to the high Arctic to learn more in particular about the Sami people, study that after many years would result in his book on the cultural history of the Sami, Beneath the Ice.
Kenneth is best-known as a poet. 14 of his collections have been published over the years, and individual poems have appeared in top literary journals across the globe. Much of his poetry is inspired by the wildscape of his native Highland Scotland; much has resulted from his love of the Celtic Christian story whose deepest roots are for him found in the island of Iona off Scotland’s west coast. He has written and presented numerous poetry programmes for BBC Radio; his feature on St Kilda – made 75 years after the evacuation of the island – was awarded a Sony in 2006. Other programmes tell the stories of how some of the greatest poems we know came to be written. His collection Letting in the Light is dedicated to his beloved little girl Willow, and many of the poems in its pages were written for her.
As a novelist, Kenneth’s most recent works are Glen Lyon and The Well of the North Wind. Their style is almost a melding of poetry and prose; they are like stones rolling down a hillside, fast and furious, refusing to let the reader’s attention relax. His newest novel 2020 is unlike anything he has written before; a political thriller told from the perspective of a plethora of narrators – disturbing and rather eerily prescient.
Kenneth has written for children too. His picture books are translated into 16 languages and have won a number of literary awards; his most recent story Why Dogs have Wet Noses is published in English by Enchanted Lion in New York.
And as a translator he had the privilege of working with one of Norway’s greatest contemporary writers to bring his Nordic Prize-winning novel The Half Brother to English.
Kenneth travels widely to give readings and talks, he lectures both at home and abroad, and he is ever working on new writing from his home in Argyll. Contact him regarding events, to order books, or to commission new pieces of writing. He answers every email he receives.
Kenneth has a new CD out: The Sound of Iona. It’s essentially composed of sounds from the island intermingled with perhaps 14 poems. You listen to a sample below and can buy it here from Iona books.
Kenneth was recently commissioned to write and present a second series of programmes on Scottish islands for BBC Radio 3’s The Essay. These will be broadcast each week day evening from Monday June 1st and will be available thereafter via Listen Again.
Photographs © Kristina Hayward