Safia Elhillo is the poetry winner of the Arab American Book Award 2018 for her poetry collection The January Children.
The Arab American Book Awards honour books written by and about Arab Americans. Winners and honorable mentions are presented annually in the categories of Adult Non-Fiction (The Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award), Adult Fiction Poetry (The George Ellenbogen Poetry Award) Children/Young Adult, Fiction or Non-Fiction. Previous African winners of this awards include Laila Lalami and Matthew Shenoda in 2015 and Khaled Mattawa in 2011.
This year Sudanese US poet Safia Elhillo is set to go home with the George Ellenbogen Poetry Award for her poetry collection The January Children. The collection is said to depict 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.
Safia Elhillo, Sudanese by way of Washington, D.C., holds a BA from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and an MFA in poetry from the New School. She is a recipient of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize 2015 and the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation, and Crescendo Literary and The Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Incubator. Elhillo’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY Magazine, Callaloo, and The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-day series, among others. With Fatimah Asghar, she is co-editor of the anthology Halal If You Hear Me (Haymarket Books, 2019).
The winners will be feted at an award ceremony in Dearborn, Michigan, USA on November 9, 2018