Safia Elhillo

Award-winning Poet & Novelist
Arab American Book Award
National Book Award Longlist

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  • An Evening with Safia Elhillo


“I am rapt, finding here the hurt and the heft of girlhood. All the old silences, all the unuttered shames are ruptured, tended to, and—finally—named. Elhillo is a poet of wisdom, rigor, and vindicating care.” —Tracy K. Smith

“Elhillo’s poems dig deep into how shame is passed down generations of women. With these conversations comes power. Elhillo sings of the autonomy she imagines for her girls.” —NPR

Sudanese by way of Washington, DC, Safia Elhillo is the author of The January Children (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), which received the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and an Arab American Book Award; the national bestseller Girls That Never Die (One World/Random House, 2022); and the novel in verse Home Is Not A Country (Make Me A World/Random House, 2021), which was longlisted for the National Book Award and received a Coretta Scott King Book Award Author Honor. Her second novel in verse, Bright Red Fruit (Random House, 2024) is an unflinching exploration of a teenager’s journey into the poetry scene and the dangerous new relationship that could threaten all her dreams.

Of Elhillo’s most recent poetry collection, Aracelis Girmay notes, “Safia Elhillo traces the ongoing devastations of patriarchy while simultaneously making a refuge out of language, kinship, and sound. Electric, violet, plural with girls, this work pulses with memory and refusal, awakening language with its lucid imagination. Girls That Never Die is a book of resuscitations. Brilliant. And fierce.” In an interview with Hazem Fahmy, Elhillo spoke to the relationship between music and poetics in her work: “My poetics are really interested in memory; its failures and mysteries. For me, a song is like a container of the emotion I felt in the early days of encountering the song. When I talk about, or refer to, music, it’s shorthand for me engaging with some sort of memory or feeling that’s frozen in a moment. Music does so much locating and contextual work. Economy in a poem is very important to me, so I love being able to create a landscape and a time period just by naming a song.”

Elhillo’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 The Penguin Book of Migration Literature. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019), which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in 2020.

Her fellowships include a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, Cave Canem, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. Elhillo received the 2015 Brunel International African Poetry Prize, and was listed in Forbes Africa’s 2018 “30 Under 30.” Her work has been translated into several languages, and commissioned by Under Armour, Cuyana, and the Bavarian State Ballet.

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