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Blackipedia is a weekly CASSIUS feature that takes a fun approach to exploring Black history, slang, and culture. For the month of April (#NationalPoetryMonth), we’re honoring legendary Black wordsmiths. Get ready to learn something—and tell a friend!  

Nayyirah Waheed

noun

  • Nayyirah Waheed is a self-described “quiet poet” known for her poetry books salt. (2013) and nejma (2014). Though her style of poetry has been criticized (she deviates from more traditional forms of poetry in favor of full stops and minimally-lined poems), it is her fearlessness to wander away from the norm that has brought her much acclaim, as well as her approach to topics like love, feminism, and racial identity.
  • Waheed’s work has been compared to that of Warsan Shire, which was adapted for Beyoncé’s 2016 audio-visual opus Lemonade. She has also inspired the work of Rupi Kaur, who—though critically acclaimed—has been accused of plagiarizing Waheed’s style. “Like her peers Nayyirah Waheed, Lang Leav, and, to a lesser extent, Warsan Shire (whose work is more complex and has received more critical acclaim), Kaur produces bite-size, accessible poems,” Buzzfeed wrote in 2017. “Kaur’s stylistic similarities to writers such as Nayyirah Waheed and Warsan Shire, however, have also had negative consequences, with Waheed in particular recently leveling accusations of plagiarism (now deleted) at Kaur on Tumblr. Kaur has stated in interviews that she takes inspiration from Waheed and Shire, but Kaur works within a subgenre predicated on minimalist style — like short lines and a lack of punctuation — which makes it impossible to tell where inspiration ends and plagiarism begins.”
  • In 2016, her poem titled “afeni” was shared by VIBE Magazine in homage to Afeni Shakur on Mother’s Day. “I was inspired to find a poem that would encompass [Afeni’s] motherly love for the son she birthed who so impacted the world with his spirit… starting from poetry,” Editor-in-Chief Datwon Thomas wrote. “I sought out a huge inspiration on the poet stage, nayyirah waheed. Her recent collection of poems in the books salt. and nejma. are works of courage, light and bare bones truth.”

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