So Devilish a Fire by Nadia Owusu

So Devilish a Fire by Nadia Owusu

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“You are lucky. We saved you.” In Nadia Owusu’s So Devilish a Fire, we experience Nadia’s coming-of-age story, in which she absorbs the split narrative that has defined her life: Born in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater to a White mother and Black father, motherhood curved into a complete question. She tells us of the two people pressed just under her flesh, the pressures to be lighter and whiter. We learn alongside her how whiteness represents a safety she can never fully attain. This chapbook offers the complexity of learning self-love while showing us exactly what her survival looks like.

The title is plucked from W. E. B. Du Bois, who said of Black women, “I sincerely doubt if any other race of women could have brought its fineness up through so devilish a fire.” Owusu, simultaneous to her brilliant courage to speak, invests in the duplicitous power of storytelling as yet one more way she brought herself up through these fires. Stories, as we know all too painfully, have many sides, as glimmering as they are putrid. She reminds us of this doubleness, a metaphor for her entwined bloodlines: “The most destructive weapon in the world is a story, purified and poisoned. It attacks from the inside out, and from the outside in. We soak in it. We drink it. We are it.”

Julian Randall, award-winning author of the debut poetry collection, Refuse, has this to say of Nadia Owusu’s So Devilish a Fire.

Nadia Owusu’s So Devilish a Fire is a chorus “possible only through fire and mother.” In this chapbook, Owusu’s rigorous inquiry of multiracial identity, nation, ancestry and what traditions ask us to “burn to be beautiful” is the manuscript, song and voice I have waited all my life to sing and singe alongside of. It’s an honor to live in the time of such lyric. In the tradition of June Jordan, who told the truth to become beautiful, Owusu is as unerasable as her forbears. Here, truly, is an author who writes a beauty that is a form of justice; gives me permission for some small, retroactive hope for the boy I was; and is for all of us who have had our bodies labeled a half-truth. To take this book in your hands is more than a gift—it is to receive permission to gleam.