Known for her incredibly powerful poetry and social activism, Liyou Libsekal has made a profound impact on people through her inclusive writing. Libsekal is a contemporary African poet who spent her early years traveling around East Africa with her family, before moving to the states to attend George Washington University. This period in her life is when she discovered her love for writing, and channeled much of her observations and frustrations about the sharp contrasts between Africans and Americans into her poetry. She couldn’t help but notice not only the changes in lifestyle, but also the values that differed drastically from hers. After she earned her BA in anthropology and a minor in international affairs, she decided to return to her hometown, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Here, she was thrown into a world that was very different from the one she had left just a few years prior. Everything was growing and changing in Addis Ababa, economically, socially and politically. Like always, Libsekal decided to write it all out and channel her feelings of displacement in her own home into poetry. She was experiencing the cusp of that change, and she wanted to document it. Addis Ababa is the largest city in Ethiopia and the capital, which is home to almost three million people. It is known in Africa as the commercial and cultural hub; so naturally, noticing all of these booming changes to her beloved hometown was a little frustrating for her. Living outside of the continent for a few years in addition to traveling around to different states and countries had given her a more critical lens of the world and how she believed things and people should be. She was known to use her personal life, especially her young adult years as inspiration for several of her poems. By observing the context of her childhood and her life experiences, it gives us, the readers, small glimpses of the way she writes and why she writes. The rhetoric that is embedded into her poetry gives us an inside perspective on her life and the people of Addis Ababa, because it embodies the current values circulating during that time in history. Not only is her work well known and widely respected, but her words are inclusive and simple in language, giving off a universal message. People who experienced similar changes in Ethiopia found many similarities between their experiences and hers, because much of her poetry focused on culture and the changing environment of the developing country. Not only does her work introduce the complexity and diversity and beauty of Africa, but also it’s her own personal stories, which is what attracts people the most. It almost seems as though her writing is helping reconcile the division and identity issues that occurred from the changing city. This is one of the reasons why I was so attracted to Libsekal’s writing, and I thought her poetry was a worthwhile read. While her writing is offering one perspective of somebody who lived in Addis Ababa, it is raw and personal and honest. This is why I love poetry, and one of the several reasons why I was interested in researching and presenting on Liyou. Several people in Ethiopia may have similar experiences, but they are all unique in their own way. And the fact that Liyou decided to document the physical changes she saw but also the changes she felt as a result of that change is admirable because her words could provide support and encouragement for people who did feel displaced, and still do. It’s not just reflection and processing and introspection; it’s meaningful poetry.
Featured image courtesy of Africa in Dialogue
“Liyou Libsekal | Badilisha Poetry – Pan-African Poets.” Badilisha Poetry PanAfrican Poets, badilishapoetry.com/liyou-libsekal/.
“Liyou Libsekal Wins the 2014 Brunel University African Poetry Prize.” African Poetry Book Fund, africanpoetrybf.unl.edu/?p=1900.
“Things We Inherited: Voices from Africa Curated by Liyou Libsekal.” Cordite Poetry Review, 31 May 2016, cordite.org.au/chapbooks-features/a-new-african-poetry/.
“The Poetry of the Observable World: A Dialogue With Liyou Libsekal.” Africa in Dialogue, 14 Aug. 2017, africaindialogue.com/dialogues/the-poetry-of-the-observable-world-a-dialogue-with-liyou-libsekal/.