Sudanese - American Poet Safia Elhillo: Home Is Not A Country!

Sudanese - American Poet Safia Elhillo: Home Is Not A Country!

Photo credit: Africa in Dialogue

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Safia Elhillo is a Sudanese-America poet who won acclaim and several prestigious poetry awards.

Born on 16 December 1990, Elhillo received a BA from the New York University’s Gallatin School and an MFA in poetry from The New School.

She has performed all around the world. Her work has been translated into several languages and commissioned by Under Armour and the Bavarian State Ballet. She has won acclaim for her work and has been the recipient of several prestigious poetry awards, and has shared the stage with notable poets such as Sonia Sanchez and has taught at Split This Rock
Her poems have appeared in many publications and anthologies including Poetry, Callalo, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-day series, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism, and New Daughters of Africa.

Elhillo has shared her work on platforms such as TEDxNewYork, Under Armour’s Unlike Any campaign, the South African State Theatre, the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway, and TV1's Verses & Flow.

Elhillo’s book “The January Children” has won the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and a 2018 Arab American Book Award. She was a co-winner of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, receiving special mention for the 2016 Pushcart Prize.

In 2018, she was listed in Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30” in the category Creatives.
She has received fellowships and residencies from Cave Canem, The Conversation, and SPACE on Ryder Farm, among others.

Elhillo received a 2018 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Currently, she is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Full-length collections

·         The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017).


·         ars poetica (MIEL, 2016)

·         a suite for ol' dirty (MIEL, 2016)

·         Asmarani (Akashic Books, 2016)

·         The Life and Times of Susie Knuckles (Well & Often Press, 2012)


IN THE JANUARY CHILDREN, Elhillo explores themes of belonging and identity, particularly in the context of migration and nationality.
In her dedication Safia Elhillo writes, “The January Children are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.” What follows is a deeply personal collection of poems that describe the experience of navigating the postcolonial world as a stranger in one’s own land.
The January Children depicts displacement and longing while also questioning accepted truths about geography, history, nationhood, and home. The poems mythologize family histories until they break open, using them to explore aspects of Sudan’s history of colonial occupation, dictatorship, and Diaspora. Several of the poems speak to the late Egyptian singer Abdelhalim Hafez, who addressed many of his songs to the asmarani—an Arabic term of endearment for a brown-skinned or dark-skinned person. Elhillo explores Arabmism and Africanism and the tensions generated by a hyphenated identity in those two worlds.

A mesmerizing novel in verse about family, identity, and finding yourself in the most unexpected places–for fans of The Poet X, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, and Jason Reynolds.

Nima doesn’t feel understood. By her mother, who grew up far away in a different land. By her suburban town, which makes her feel too much like an outsider to fit in and not enough like an outsider to feel like that she belongs somewhere else. At least she has her childhood friend Haitham, with whom she can let her guard down and be herself. Until she doesn’t.
As the ground is pulled out from under her, Nima must grapple with the phantom of a life not chosen, the name her parents didn’t give her at birth: Yasmeen. But that other name, that other girl, might just be more real than Nima knows. And more hungry. And the life Nima has, the one she keeps wishing were someone else’s. . .she might have to fight for it with a fierceness she never knew she had.
“Nothing short of magic…One of the best writers of our times.”– Elizabeth Acevedo, New York Times Bestselling author of The Poet X.


Susie knuckles in love

i think i met all the
wrong men before
you and i think they
ruined me but i
think you’re really
handsome the way
a map is handsome,
with skin wide open
soaked in the whole
world’s ink. i
think i’m done pulling
paint off the walls i
think i want to read
you the names of
every city that ever
burned down, i think
we’d like it there.

Sources: Poetry Foundation, Wikipedia


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