10 things to know about warsan shire, the poet behind ‘lemonade’

Beyonce’s favorite poet is one of the most exciting young voices in writing today. She’s also one of the more mysterious.

by Wendy Syfret
02 May 2016, 4:09pm

Image via @wu_shire

1. The 27-year-old was born in Kenya to refugee Somali parents, and raised in London. Her work deals with the feeling of displacement around the immigrant experience. In 2012 she told Well And Often Press, "I still feel very homeless."

2. Warsan means "good news" and Shire means "to gather in one place." She has said of it, "My name is indigenous to my country, it is not easy to pronounce, it takes effort to say correctly and I am absolutely in love with the sound of it and its meaning."

3. She has three younger sisters who she's very close to. Speaking to Araweelo Abroad last year, she said being the eldest, "meant that my childhood and adolescence was accelerated, I understood responsibility from a very young age and it made me more maternal, protective, empathetic, but it also made me quite anxious." She added, "I tell my sisters everything I wish I had been told growing up, so they don't find themselves searching for validation in places or people that'll make them feel shit about themselves."

4. In recent years she's been reluctant to be interviewed. She's only commented on Lemonade in a single Tweet: "yosra i hope you're proud of us." Yosra El-Essawy was Beyoncé's tour photographer who passed away in 2014 of cancer, she was only 33.

5. Lemonade is hardly her big break. Her first book of poetry Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth was published in 2011 when she was 23, it has been translated into several languages. She won the Brunel African Poetry Prize in 2013 and in 2014 was named London's first-ever Young Poet Laureate.

6. She developed a large following online across Tumblr, Instagram, her blog, and Twitter before she moved in traditional literary circles. She has also released an album of her poetry.

7. She doesn't subscribe to writing schedules, rather she experiments with free writes, "where I refuse to edit what is leaving me, where I write within a specific time frame. I refuse to obsess over it, and if it doesn't come out easily, then I leave it. I don't write for an audience. I don't write under pressure." She also writes to music, which she shares here.

8. Speaking of music, she digs Drake. She listens to Drake when she is feeling down, saying "I don't know what the general consensus was but Drake's latest mixtape had healing properties in it." A couple of years earlier she told Anupa Mistry of Hazlitt, "He's, like, the Dawson's Creek of rap."

9. She uses her work as a way to tell the stories of her friends and family. In 2013 she told Africa Writes, "They'll tell me, 'I have a new story for you,' and I'll get my Dictaphone and record it, so I can stay as true as possible to the story before I make it into a poem."

10. Her literary agency, Rocking Chair Books, has reported she's working on her next poetry collection. It will be out this year and is called Extreme Girlhood.


Text Wendy Syfret
Image via @wu_shire

10 things
warsan shire