Photograph by Mike Knowles

Tessa Ransford

8 July 1938 -


Born in India in 1938, Tessa Ransford is one of the leading poets of her generation in Scotland, and has published some fifteen volumes of poetry. Educated at St Leonards School in Fife, she is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. After working in women’s and children’s education and welfare in Pakistan during the 1960s, she returned to Scotland and started to have her poetry published. This was at a time when the literary scene in this country was almost exclusively male, and the inroads that she made into the poetry world helped open the way for a younger generation of Scottish women poets.

Ransford’s passionate belief in the importance of the role of poetry in a nation’s consciousness inspired her to create the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh in 1984. She was the Library’s first director until her retirement in 1999. In founding the Scottish Poetry Library, she literally created a home for Scottish poetry, so putting it firmly on the world map. One of the guiding principles of the Library was to provide open access to poetry resources free of charge.

Attaching equal importance to the living tradition, Ransford has amply demonstrated her commitment to contemporary poetry. She founded in 1981 the School of Poets, an informal workshop for writers; and from 1988-98, she was editor of Lines Review, where she published new and emerging poets alongside the more established. In 2001, in conjunction with the National Library of Scotland, Ransford initiated the annual Callum Macdonald Memorial Award to encourage the publishing of poetry in pamphlets. This particular format allows emerging poets, independent publishers and private presses to promulgate their work, and adds considerably to the nation’s literary heritage.

Recognition of Ransford’s poetic achievements has come from many quarters: she is life fellow of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies; honorary member, the Saltire Society; and honorary life member, the Scottish Library Association. For her ‘achievements and her contributions to the cultural life of Scotland’, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Paisley, 2003; and in the New Year Honours 2000 she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire ‘for services to the Scottish Poetry Library’. She has also served as President, Scottish International PEN, 2003-06; and between 2001 and 2008 she was Writing Fellow/Project Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, first at the Centre for Human Ecology at the University of Edinburgh, then at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. Her other awards include: the Heritage Society of Scotland Award, (1996); the Howard Sergeant Memorial Award for services to poetry, (1989); a Scottish Arts Council Book Award, (1980); and a Scottish Arts Council Writer’s Bursary, (1979).

Tessa has made, and continues to make an exceptional contribution to literature and to cultural life in her capacity as poet, translator, editor, and cultural activist in and for Scotland.

To make your own nomination download the nomination form here