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Safiya Sinclair Books In Order

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Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

How to Say Babylon (2023)Description / Buy at Amazon

Publication Order of Collections

Safiya Sinclair
Safiya Sinclair was born and grew up in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1984. She is the oldest of four kids, with a brother and two sisters. Her dad is a reggae musician, and a militant Rasta man.

It is a result of the alienating experience of the Rastafari culture that she turned to poetry. Her very first poem was published in the Jamaican Observer when she was 16 years old.

Safiya moved to America in 2006 in order to attend college, first earning a BA degree from Bennington College in Vermont. She got her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia (where she studied with Rita Dove), and her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California.

“Cannibal”, a poetry collection, won the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award, a Whiting Writers’ Award, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Safiya’s also been longlisted for a Dylan Thomas Prize, a PEN Open Book Award, and PEN USA Literary Award in 2017.

Safiya’s other honors include fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, a Pushcart Prize, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Yaddo, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her work has appeared in the Oxford American, Poetry, The Nation, Kenyon Review, Granta, The New Yorker, and elsewhere.

Along with writing, she is also a university level educator. Before she joined the English department at Arizona State University, she was a postdoctoral research associate in the Literary Arts Department at Brown University.

“Catacombs” is a poetry book that was released in 2011. This perfect bound chapbook showcases Safiya’s immense talents across a wide variety of genres, which include poetry, literary essay, and memoir.

Her mythopoeic imagination thrives on combinations of images and startling metaphors. Eschewing the consolatory and naturalistic, her poetry is alive in disturbing implosions of consciousness, having been drawn to apocalypse and cataclysm, whether in communal or personal histories.

“Cannibal” is a poetry book that was released in 2016. Confronting and colliding with “The Tempest” and postcolonial identity, the poems in this collection explore Jamaican history and childhood, exile, race relations in America, otherness, and womanhood.

She evokes a home that is no longer accessible and a body that is at time uninhabitable, which is often mirrored by a hybrid Caliban/Eve figure.

Blooming with fertile imagery and intense lyricism, these full-blooded poems are mythic, elegant, and intricately woven. Here the female body makes for a dark landscape; the female body is a cannibal. Safiya delights and shocks her readers with her willingness to provoke and disorient, creating this multi-textured collage of explosive and beautiful poetry.

In the book she charts her own personal experience of exile from her strict upbringing in Jamaica through her immigration to America. Hers is an exile of being in America, an exile back home, exile of the female body, and the exile of the English language.

She picked the title “Cannibal” for the collection after recognizing this thread throughout her poems. Like she explains the very name of Caliban is a Shakespearean anagram of the word cannibal, the English variant on the Spanish word canibal, which originated from caribal, a reference to the native Carib people in the West Indies.

“How to Say Babylon: A Memoir” is a non-fiction book that was released in 2024. This is the author’s stunning struggle to break free from her rigid Rastafarian upbringing, which was ruled by her dad’s strict repressive control and patriarchal views of her childhood, in order to find her own voice as a woman and as a poet.

Safiya Sinclair’s dad (a volatile reggae musician and militant adherent to a strict sect of Rastafari) became obsessed with her purity, especially with the threat of what Rastas call Babylon, which is the immoral and corrupting influences of the Western world outside of their home. He worried that womanhood would make Safiya and all her sisters morally weak and impure, and he believed that a woman’s highest virtue was her obedience.

To try and keep Babylon outside of the gate, he forbade just about everything. In place of pants, the women in her family were made to wear these long dresses and skirts in order to cover their legs and arm, head wraps to cover their hair, no jewelry, no makeup, no friends, and no opinions. Safiya’s mom, while she was still loyal to her dad, still gave Safiya and her siblings the gift of books (including poetry), to which Safiya latched onto for dear life. And while Safiya watched while her mom struggled voicelessly for many years under housework and the rigidity of her dad’s beliefs, she increasingly used her education as a sharp tool with which she found her voice and broke free.

Inevitably, with her rebellion comes these clashes with her dad, whose paranoia and rage explodes in increasing violence. As Safiya’s voice continues to grew, both poetically and lyrically, this collision course is set between the two of them.

“How to Say Babylon” is Safiya’s reckoning with the culture which initially nourished yet ultimately sought to silence her; it’s her reckoning with tradition and patriarchy, and the legacy of colonialism in Jamaica. Rich in the language and lyricism that only a poet could evoke, this book is both a universal story about a woman finding her own power and this unique glimpse into a rarefied world that we might know how to name (Rastafari), but one that we don’t know much about.

The book is a banquet due to the sheer lusciousness of its prose. This is written in a lyrical, luminous, and well edited. It is tyranny before turning into a phoenix rising up from the ashes; digging deep, and finding the courage to soar. Safiya does a fantastic job of pulling you in and holding you in her grip until the very end. She delivers the most incredible and beautifully written some readers have ever read.

It was picked as a Read With Jenna Book Club pick.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Safiya Sinclair

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