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 Arabness and Africanness and the tensions generated by a hyphenated identity in those two worlds.
No longer content to accept manmade borders, Elhillo navigates a new and reimagined world. Maintaining a sense of wonder in multiple landscapes and mindscapes of perpetually shifting values, she leads the reader through a postcolonial narrative that is equally terrifying and tender, melancholy and defiant.
About Safia Elhillo
Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), recipient of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and a 2018 Arab American Book Award.
Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, she holds a BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and an MFA in poetry from the New School. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, receiving a special mention for the 2016 Pushcart Prize; co-winner of the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, and listed in Forbes Africa’s 2018 “30 Under 30.” Her fellowships and residencies include Cave Canem, The Conversation, and SPACE on Ryder Farm.
Safia’s work appears in POETRY Magazine, Callaloo, and The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-day series, among others, and in anthologies including The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop and Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism. Her work has been translated into Arabic, Japanese, Estonian, Portuguese, and Greek, and has been commissioned by Under Armour and the Bavarian State Ballet. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019).
Safia has shared her work on platforms such as TEDxNewYork, the BBC World Service, the South African State Theatre, and Red Bull’s Frontiers.