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How the Midwest Helped Yalie Saweda Kamara Write Her First Full-Length Poetry Collection

Yalie Saweda Kamara and her book, Besaydoo

The poet Yalie Saweda Kamara's first full-length collection, Besaydoo, came out in January (Courtesy of Yalie Saweda Kamara)

I’ve always thought that to be a writer you had to be able to go inwards. Cultivate solitude. I don’t think Yalie Saweda Kamara would disagree. But as a working poet, which is to say, as someone who both writes her own work and leads workshops and teaches at a university, Yalie also cultivates community and collaboration.

For example, in 2022, she became the Cincinnati and Mercantile Library Poet Laureate. As part of that, she invited people from across the city and Northern Kentucky to write about what they’ve “discovered” in Cincinnati. Then she assembled their words into a poem, and it was displayed at Blink, the city’s biennial festival of light and art. She’s working on another series of polyvocal poems for the next festival, this spring.

That’s just one example of Yalie’s work in the community. She came up as a poet through 826 Valencia and Youth Speaks, two writing programs in San Francisco for young folks, and her first full-length collection has just come out. It’s called Besaydoo. Besaydoo won the 2023 Jake Adam York Prize, and it’s been featured on a lot of most anticipated books lists in the past few months, including Lit Hub, and a mention in the New York Times Book Review. If you’re curious about the title, don’t worry, we talked about it.


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