The January Children


The January Children

Safia Elhillo
Foreword by Kwame Dawes

African Poetry Book Series

90 pages


March 2017


$15.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

March 2017


$15.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

March 2017


$15.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

In her dedication Safia Elhillo writes, “The January Children are the generation born in Sudan under British occupation, where children were assigned birth years by height, all given the birth date January 1.” What follows is a deeply personal collection of poems that describe the experience of navigating the postcolonial world as a stranger in one’s own land.

The January Children depicts 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.

No longer content to accept manmade borders, Elhillo navigates a new and reimagined world. Maintaining a sense of wonder in multiple landscapes and mindscapes of perpetually shifting values, she leads the reader through a postcolonial narrative that is equally terrifying and tender, melancholy and defiant. 

Author Bio

Safia Elhillo is a Cave Canem fellow and poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly. Her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies including The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. She is the author of The Life and Times of Susie Knuckles.


"A taut debut collection of heartfelt poems."—Publishers Weekly

"Safia Elhillo's triumph is not that she sings about novel love and heartbreak, but that she does so in an unforgettable voice."—Irene Mathieu, Muzzle

"Safia Elhillo’s The January Children offers the reader a galaxy of Sudanese voices engaging individual and collective memory in a manner that not only introduces readers to the nuances that animate that ancient land of layered diversity, which lends this collection a collage-like quality that is as sublime in its coherence as it is revelatory in its execution."—Post No Ills Magazine

“The first sound of what will be a remarkable noise in African poetry. Safia Elhillo has already laid out in this collection a complex foundation for a rich and complex body of work. What is unmistakable is her authority as a poet—she writes with great control and economy, but also with a vulnerability that is deeply engaging. Above all, her poems are filled with delight—a quality of humor that is never trite but always honest and insightful.”—from the foreword by Kwame Dawes

Table of Contents

Foreword by Kwame Dawes    
asmarani makes prayer    
Sudan Today. Nairobi: University of Africa, 1971. Print.    
to make use of water    
[did our mothers invent loneliness or . . . ]     
while being escorted from the abdelhalim hafez concert    
application for the position of abdelhalim hafez’s girl    
abdelhalim hafez asks for references    
talking with an accent about home    
origin stories    
a brief history of silence    
the last time marvin gaye was heard in the sudan    
first interview for the position of abdelhalim hafez’s girl    
the lovers    
talking with an accent about home    
first adornment    
callback interview for the position of abdelhalim hafez’s girl    
bride price    
old wives’ tales    
date night with abdelhalim hafez    
first quarantine with abdelhalim hafez    
self-portrait with dirty hair    
watching arab idol with abdelhalim hafez    
self-portrait with the question of race    
second date    
abdelhalim hafez wants to see other people    
red moon night    
self-portrait with yellow dress    
alternate ending    
[& what is a country but the drawing . . . .]     
late-night phone call with abdelhalim hafez    
republic of the sudan / ministry of interior / passport & immigration general directorate / alien from sudanese origin passcard    
talking with an accent about home    
talking with an accent about home (second take)     
second quarantine with abdelhalim hafez    
portrait with asylum    
talking to boys about abdelhalim hafez at parties    
biopic containing lies about abdelhalim hafez    
asmarani does psychogeography    
why abdelhalim    
self-portrait with lake nasser    
abdelhalim hafez asks who the sudanese are    
the part i keep forgetting    
talking with an accent about home (reprise)     
third quarantine with abdelhalim hafez    
final interview for the position of abdelhalim hafez’s girl    
self-portrait as abdelhalim hafez’s girl    
portrait with abdelhalim hafez with the question of race    
lovers’ quarrel with abdelhalim hafez    
portrait of abdelhalim hafez as orpheus    
everything i know about abdelhalim hafez    


Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets
2018 Arab American Book Award Winner, Poetry

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