Safia Elhillo is one of our favourite poets. A first generation Sudanese-American poet, she was born in Maryland, Washington D.C. but has lived in Egypt, England, and Switzerland (her father worked for the U.N). Safia now lives in Brooklyn and performs across New York City. She recently won the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize for her stunning poetry about which discusses her heritage and the world she grew up in.
In an interview with Project Inkblot in 2013, Safia said,
“My family is from Sudan and that’s my go to – is that I say I’m from Sudan – but I haven’t actually been there for more than 6 months at a time. I have this immigrant girl complex where I don’t know where I belong, I’m in limbo. When I’m in America, I’m Sudanese. When I’m in Sudan, I’m American. I am trying to exist in that hyphen, Sudanese-American.”
While Safia recognises her culture growing up was very much Sudanese, she also admits that sometimes she feels like a ‘language traitor’ because she doesn’t write poetry in her mother tongue.
She has shared the stage with music and poetry stars such as Black Thought of The Roots, the late, great Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets, and Sonia Sanchez. In 2012, she founded Slam NYU, the 2012 national collegiate championship team and was a finalist in the 2011 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She teaches poetry now and is part of the Breakbeat poets collective in New York. She has also released a book of poetry, “The Life and Times of Suzie Knuckles“ which she describes in part, as ‘a girl-meets-boy story with a colorful supporting cast of deceased rappers and complete strangers.’ She is still only 25 years old.
Check out her thoughtful poem, ‘Alien Suite’, performed for TED New York in 2015. It discusses ‘being trapped in the hyphen’ as Safia describes straddling two very different worlds and cultures.