Nayyirah Waheed represents a new kind of poet-a poet who can break the rules, and succeed in her rebellion because she broke them. Waheed remarked that "I was attacked. publicly. and privately. the style of the work was mimicked and rejected. the work was shunned in the traditional literary world." Waheed abandons traditional punctuation, publishing companies, and even book format in order to shape the writing she thought was needed. Without any mainstream support, her debut book of poems Salt has become a worldwide bestseller read on six continents, and taught in schools around the world alongside peers far older than her. How? Let's take a look at her work.
Immigrant, if you've noticed, is a very brief poem. It is one of dozens in her book. Yet, it communicates volumes-the vivid imagery and emotion here is more visceral and subtle than a hundred pages in a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul. The poem plays on the feeling of marginalization, summing up years of emotions in three short lines.
Travyon Martin unambiguously addressees the murder of Travyon Martin, but Waheed provides no context for her poem. Waheed explores a sentiment of pain, fear, and oppression without even a question mark. She doesn't answer her own question, or even pose it as a question with the proper punctuation mark of a "?".
In Gardner's novel Creating Minds, Howard Gardner explores the past of T.S. Eliot as the seminal poet of his time, remarking on his art as an extension of "a feeling of marginality and the capacity to exploit the marginality in the service of one's life mission." Nearly a hundred years later, Nayyirah Waheed echoes this sentiment in her statement regarding the publication of her seminal work Salt: "I wrote centrally to. and. for people of color." In an interview, Nayyirah replied to the question "What do you think of writers like Maya Angelou; constantly have “black” attached to them. Instead of just referring to them as a poet or writer, they’re called “black writer” or “black poet," with "For me, I think that’s a beautiful thing. It may not be why people say it, but it’s beautiful to me. I want black to be attached to me in everything I do. It may be being used as a weapon, an insult, a stabbing divisive instrument, but I receive it in a way that strengthens, affirms, and nurtures me…that feeds me." Nayyirah, like Eliot, draws strength from her marginalized background, and pours it into her writing.
In Andreasan's work Secrets of the Creative Brain, Andreasan states that a reoccurring theme with talented creatives is
"Creative people tend to be very persistent, even when confronted with skepticism or rejection. Asked what it takes to be a successful scientist, one replied: 'Perseverance … In order to have that freedom to find things out, you have to have perseverance … The grant doesn’t get funded, and the next day you get up, and you put the next foot in front, and you keep putting your foot in front … I still take things personally. I don’t get a grant, and … I’m upset for days. And then I sit down and I write the grant again.'"
Nayyirah Waheed represents the kind of artist who writes as she pleases and refuses to sacrifice the integrity of her work to be accepted by the mainstream literary world. Waheed's success relies on her loyalty to herself as an artist, and to her audience. Waheed celebrated when a high school student informed her on Twitter that Waheed's books Nejma and Salt were being taught in high school English class alongside Tony Morrison, Junot Diaz, and others.
Waheed is only getting started as a creative, but she's already taking the literary world by storm.
Andreasen - Secrets of the Creative Brain - The Atlantic.pdf
Creating Minds-An Anatomy of Creativity Seen through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi by Gardner.