OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrates African women who are making waves, shattering ceilings, and uplifting their communities.
Warsan Shire may not be easy to trace, but her effect on popular culture is palpable. The Kenyan-born Somali poet, editor and writer moved to England as a refugee, and her powerful writing about the immigrant experience and about love resonates with many.
Her latest work is in Penguin’s Modern Poets 3, also featuring Malika Booker and Sharon Olds, where each woman expresses their thoughts on the female body, the family, sexual politics and conflict from the lens of their respective cultures. In 2014, Shire was appointed as London’s first Young Poetry Laureate and made headlines last year for having her poetry featured on Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade.
Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth was her 2011 book that sold out in hard copy after it appeared on Beyonce’s hit album. Some of her words have been floating on social media long before the Beyhive fell in love with her work.
Read some excerpts below:
It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful. I’m not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.
To my daughter I will say, when the men come, set yourself on fire.
Perhaps the problem is not the intensity of your love but the quality of the people you are loving.
The connection between women is explored in Shire’s work, and her unapologetic and sometimes jarring depiction of war, love and heartbreak remind us to be strong and aware of the realities around us. The fiercely private poet knows how to say those things we feel but can’t quite articulate.