Please enjoy this overview of Safia Elhillo's work. Here you will find biographical information, links to poems and interviews, and writing prompts to explore.
Safia Elhillo is a Sudanese-American poet who currently serves as a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University. Elhillo received her MFA from the New School in New York City and is the author of one book of poetry, The January Children (2017), and one chapbook, The Life and times of Susie Knuckles (2012). Elhillo also co-edited the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (2019) alongside poet Fatimah Asghar. In 2016 Elhillo won the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and in 2018 her book The January Children (2017) was awarded the George Ellenbogen Poetry Award from the Arab American Book Awards. Safia Elhillo has received fellowships and residencies from Cave Canem, the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, The Conversation, and many more. Much of Elhillo’s work deals with themes of displacement, home, womanhood, cultural identity, and generational trauma.
POEMS & PROMPTS
verily everything that is lost will be
given a name & will not come back
but will live forever
& verily a border-shaped wound will
be licked clean by songs naming
the browngirl in particular verily she
will not heal but verily the ghosts will
not leave her alone verily when asked how
she got her name if telling the truth she
will say [a woman died & everything
want a home]
Write a prayer poem. Pay special attention to Elhillo’s use of page space.
how did you learn fear?
i crossed a body of water
how did you learn fear?
i grew a new American body it was the summer [ ] died
i don’t like to be touched
what do you do?
I keep having the dream where my brother is dead i wake up & can’t remember where he lives
where did you live?
broken dishes in the water
Follow this poem’s question and answer format to write a poem about a transformational moment in your own life.
my roommate one year in college
would say of my smallness
that any man who found me attractive
had a trace of the pedophilic
& i would shrink newly girled
twenty-one with my eyebrows
plucked to grownup arches sprouting
back every three weeks
in sharp little shoots already men
have tried to steal me
Who came before you? What kinds of gifts and burdens did they pass along to you?
it’s ramadan i’m nine years old drinking juice
of crushed & stained hibiscus it darkens
my lips a bitten red & i think i look
i look like my biglegged aunts their heavy hair burnt
straight & draped with bright & beaded scarves
their men lost or upstairs sleeping or gone
to america to look for work gone to England
to Saudi arabia to the emirates to look for work
Turn your own coming-of-age story into a poem; don’t forget the small details!