Before any of the multiple directors, producers, or collaborators were credited at the end of Lemonade, Beyoncé paid tribute to Warsan Shire, the Kenya-born, Somali-British poet whose prose is read throughout the film. By now we know what this means: Queen Bey would like you to take note of this name.
Beyoncé made a similar sensation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when she sampled Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” in her 2013 song “Flawless.” The Nigerian author quickly became a household name, and her speech was later published as a pretty little book. The volume became a coffee-table staple for many young women—not to mention required reading in Swedish high schools.
As it happens, Shire, who is 27, is not exactly a newcomer. She was named London’s first-ever Young Poet Laureate in 2014, having published her first book of poems, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, in 2011. Her work has also been translated into several languages, including Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The child of Somali parents who relocated to London when she was a young girl, Shire often writes about the immigrant experience. “I still feel very homeless,” she told a literary blog in 2012. “I live in London and have been here nearly my whole life, but it is a difficult city to connect to. I have traveled around and found my body making more sense elsewhere.” She also writes about motherhood, beauty, bulimia, abortion, sex, and, of course, infidelity, the key theme of Lemonade. Her prose can be dark and violent, as with “The House,” which begins: “Mother says there are locked rooms inside all women/ Kitchen of lust, bedroom of grief, bathroom of apathy/ Sometimes, the men—they come with keys, and sometimes, the men—they come with hammers.” But she can also display a wicked sense of humor. In the same poem, she writes: “At parties I point to my body and say, This is where love comes to die. Welcome, come in, make yourself at home/Everyone laughs, they think I’m joking.”