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The January Children

4.58  ·  Rating details ·  462 ratings  ·  71 reviews
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 C
Paperback, 64 pages
Published March 1st 2017 by University of Nebraska Press
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Average rating 4.58  · 
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Whitney Atkinson
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

WOW. I'm at the point of reading poetry where most of it is forgettable, but I anticipate this will be one that lingers with me. So many powerful moments about being black, about feeling stranded between different cultures, and navigating memories vs. reality. Touching, but made me tearful. Definitely a stand-out collection I've read all year.
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
EDIT (April 2019): Safia is in Berlin this weekend for African Book Festival and I am going to see her tomorrow and so I thought I would start rereading her amazing poetry collection. Just thought I'd let ya know. K? Byeeee.

Original Review (July 2018):
I read The January Children over the course of three days. It’s a collection of 52 poems, mind you, usually I would have read it in thirty minutes—but Safia didn’t allow that. I needed to take my time, I even scribbled one drawing per poem into my
Alaa Bit Hashim
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“It is not presumptuous of me to declare that what we have here in The January Children is 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 ambitious 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 ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"& what is a country but the drawing of a line"
I first encountered the poet Safia Elhillo when I read New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set, where my favorite was What I Learned in the Fire, which must be listened to. So I jumped at this collection of her poetry, her first!

Another reason is that Safia is Sudanese-American, so her background and themes fit nicely with my Africa 2016 reading project. She says herself that she is from nowhere, or at least that must be how it feels.

Dec 14, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc

Reading the Forward by Kwame Dawes is imperative if you want to understand and appreciate this collection lol.
Thank you to Netgalley via University of Nebraska Press for the e-ARC.

Apr 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Not what I look for in a poetry collection in terms of form, but I love the themes of colonization, diaspora, and the issues of identity these states create in the author.
Jherane Patmore
After listening to her perform excerpts at Calabash I had to get this book and I read it all in one sitting. It's beautiful, powerful and magnetic.
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this book is incredible in everything it handles and invites the reader into as it arcs and explores. my relationship to language and to the double-edged sword of culture and history will not be the same since reading the january children. very grateful for safia elhillo's writing.


Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this collection makes me want to remove all the 5-stars from every other book i’ve ever read just so this alone stands out and shines, as it deserves, and every child of any diaspora feels compelled to read it: a review
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I occasionally go to a local poetry slam/open mic type of thing at a lounge nearby on Wednesdays, and on one of the random nights I decided to attend, Safia Elhillo was the featured poet. I hadn't heard of her before, hadn't researched her prior to attending, and hadn't even checked who would be performing. After the open mic portion, she came up and read a collection of selected works.
As soon as she said a word in Arabic I teared up because I. am. so. here. for WoC especially MUSLIM WoC honing
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
“Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” June Jordan.

The January Children is full of personal truths about identity, about rifts, about sense of place and about language. I loved learning about Elhillo's history, the appeal and racial politics Abdelhalim and his music, and engaging with her unwavering questions about who she is and how she is perceived in the world.

The poet disregards punctuations and structures her poems in unique ways so it might be tempting to dism
Lady H
Jun 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
I am neither a poet nor a particularly frequent reader of poetry, so I can't say that this review will be too incisive.

What can I say about The January Children? First, it is beautiful, and it feels like home. Unlike Safia, I am neither black nor Sudanese, but I am Egyptian, the daughter of immigrants, and the themes of colonialism and diaspora resonated with me. Safia talks about the similarities that bind Egyptians and Sudanese and Nubians and the frequent racism and colorism that pulls us ap
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Reading Sofia Elhillo’s “The January Children” I thought about the ways poetry captures both personal and collective memory. These poems mythologize the experience of being from Sudan under colonial rule and immigrating to a country where memory remains real. Elhilo captures this in code-switching, fragmented thoughts, and ethereal language. “& in my mouth what exactly / i am nor named in the very first language....i mime....& hear only what i cannot speak...” These haunting poems are a searchin ...more
Amy Smith
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
A powerful book of poems by a Sudanese poet living in the US, exploring themes of place, home, identity, and the repercussions of injustice and displacement brought about by colonialism. Elhillo’s use of Arabic throughout the book reinforces the themes she explores by reminding readers that translation is a constant and deliberate action. Highly recommend also reading the foreword by Kwame Dawes.
Apr 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-women, poetry
" i get my languages mixed up i look for answers in what is only music
i heard the lyric about a lost girl i thought you meant me

So many beautiful poems. You can't help but fall in love with the Sudan that Safia writes about.
Maggie Gordon
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Haunting and lyrical, Elhillo writes for Sudanese people of the diaspora. As such, not all of her words were easy to understand, but that's because these poems were not for me. I still enjoyed their beauty and the glimpse at lives unlike my own.
Preston Stell
This was an interesting read. At times, it reminded me a bit of stream of consciousness writing. The words were beautiful and each phrase was great, but the bouncing around got a bit confusing and I’m sure it was meant to be like this.
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poc-poets, poetry, race
This is a really fantastic collection centering on the British occupation of Sudan, about the navigation of borders and postcolonial space upon returning to a home one no longer recognizes or feels at home in.
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was so glorious and now I desperately need a copy of my own that I can underline and and scribble notes and odes in.
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Some of the best contemporary poetry I’ve read, she’s amazing, I’ve cried so many times!!!!! go check out her spoken word on YouTube as well it’s even better with her voice
Aude Odeh
Feb 14, 2017 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book more. It intrigued me by being a mix of cultures.

However for me, it fell flat. It didn't speak to me like I hoped. Maybe my expectations were too high. I'll have to go back to this book later and reevaluate.
Salam Almahi
* First Reading:

Wow this hit home. (pun intended?)

I was going to add here all the quotes that shook me. But then I realized I'd be copying the whole book if I attempted so.
Instead I'll link a spoken poetry performance of Elhillo, and if you connect with that- you'll love the book:

* Second Reading:

This book is phenomenal. It was an experience to read. It's definitely one of my all time favorites!

I have so much to say, about the importance of representati
When it's beautiful it's almost ethereal.
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
absolutely enthralling & engaging, elhillo never fails to amaze me. this is a spectacular collection, & something i suggest to anyone whenever friends ask me for recommendations.

i love elhillo's work primarily because i love the lyricism & whimsical nature of her words...i don't know, something just stirs up inside me when i read her poetry! it's very poignant. i'd argue that - although definitely beneficial & important to know of - you don't necessarily have to know about or understand the his
Jess  M
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
To anyone who feels estranged from their homeland, their identity, and feels the pressure and consequences of sacrificing culture for a seemingly “better life,” you should read this book. We watch the author balance her Sudanese culture with her American one and navigate a world that claims her foreigner in every corner. I learned so much about Sudan from this book. One critique I have is that it does get repetitive but maybe I just don’t understand the significance of certain repeating figures ...more
Jul 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
“The January Children” is part of the African Poetry Book Series. Elhillo writes about her life. She was born in America, but still identifies as belonging to both Sudan and Egypt. “The January Children” depicts her struggles with identity and questioning belonging and the meaning of home. The poems are very moving and show the reality of Elhillo’s life and the history of the countries. The title is a direct reference to a part of the history of Sudan when it was under British occupation. “The J ...more
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Oooo this collection! I knew that I would like Elhillo's work since other poets are constantly shouting her out but there's nothing like having no idea what you are getting yourself into and diving in! In The January Children, Safia Elhillo writes about growing up a 3rd culture kid, experiencing colorism in Sudan and America, and her family. Elhillo gets into this through repeated forms--the life of Egyptian crooner Abdelhalim Hafez and explorations of Arabic to English translations. I'm left re ...more
Anatoly Molotkov
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"...those swaying eighties nights in the garden/ before it turned to dust before the old country crumbled/ & mama came here to give me the blue passport/ & last time i was home a soldier stopped the car/ asked where i was from laughed when i said here" - Safia Elhillo's penetrating investigation of cultural and corporeal identity sheds light on the immigrant experience and exposes the reader to the particular injustices of Sudan, and the universal horrors and challenges of being an individual in ...more
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, black-writers
Begins highly personal and grows into the story of the people and soul of Sudan, and the challenge of your identity being tied to an invented country. Especially worth reading if you've studied Egyptian history/Arabic, as it presents a perspective on Nubian culture / Sudanese culture that the more currently powerful Egyptian culture does not present when you learn about Abu Simbel, Aswan Dam, etc - the perspective of people whose land was flooded to create Lake Nasser and who live off of the ver ...more
Alex Echevarria
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
By noted slam poet Safia Elhillo, The January Children is an exploration of home, of belonging, of the past you never lived save through others. The language is incantatory, full of the dolor of being between two worlds, or of the dolor of survivor's guilt. It's of a child of immigrants, who yearns to straddle two worlds, and belong to them both, but will ever only do so imperfectly. It is, finally, a collection of poems about that most imperfect thing: freedom.
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