The Somali British poet on being shaped by Malcolm X and the comfort she finds in Miranda July
Poet Warsan Shire My earliest reading memory As soon as I learned to read, I carried Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Absent-Minded Magician by Jean Bethell everywhere. The first book my father ever bought me. I memorised it, I slept with it, I tried to bathe with it. My favourite book growing up Any and every single Goosebumps book by RL Stine. I’m thankful for how those books kept me company and provided muchneeded escape. The Goosebumps series was the beginning of my long-time admiration of all things horror. The book that changed me as a teenager The Autobiography of Malcolm X . “The ability to read awoke inside of me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive” was one sentence that shaped me. Sula by Toni Morrison had a tremendous impact on how I would grow to view myself as a woman. The writer who changed my mind Jacob Sam-La Rose changed my world and my life. I met him when I was 15 and he introduced me to the world of poetry and to the beautiful community of Black British poets and writers. The book that made me want to be a writer My father’s first book, Xeebtii Geerida (1990). The complete devotion to his craft inspired me. This book was about the looming Somali civil war, and it kept him sane and gave him a way to process the collapse of everything. His focus on writing and how it helped him survive left an impression on me. The book or author I came back to Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer is one of my favourite collections of short stories. I carry this book with me in my bag always. I think of this line often: “Freedom is attained only when the ant of the self – that small, blind, crumbseeking part of ourselves – casts off slavery and its legacy, becoming a huge brave ox.” The book I could never read again A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. As a kid it altered my brain chemistry. It made life at home feel like heaven on earth. Whatever happened, I would just think of poor Dave and feel utterly grateful. The book I discovered later in life Bluets by Maggie Nelson, recommended by a friend because I love the colour blue. The book I am currently reading I have been reading poems from Sin by Ai out loud to my husband in the evenings. “I look out the window / at the deep rose welts of dawn, / streaking the sky’s broad back, / then hand you the canister. / You lift out my brain. / When you bite down, I burn.” My comfort read No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July, another collection of short stories. This line not only comforts me but also describes me: “This person realises that staying home means blowing off everyone this person has ever known. But the desire to stay in is very strong. This person wants to run a bath and then read in bed.” Bless the Daughter Raised By a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is longlisted for the Swansea University Dylan Thomas prize.