Zubaida Bello On Her Debut Chapbook

Zubaida Bello is a member of the 2019 NYC Slam Team, Mellon Mays Fellow, and James Baldwin Scholar. She has performed original poetry at The Apollo, The Met, New York Live Arts, and The United Nations. Zubaida has published an article in The African-American Point of View, YB Heard, Asterism, and Chalkbeat. Zubaida uses her poetry as an outlet for trauma, a form of activism, and to reimagine the world that she has inherited. How to Stop the Burning, her debut chapbook, focuses on femininity, family, intergenerational trauma, and blackness.

We interviewed Zubaida on her freshly released chapbook published by Perennial Press.

Dirt: What is your most valued resource?

Zubaida: I think community is one of the most important parts of writing, or any art for that matter. It's essential to surround yourself with other artists that you admire, respect, and can learn from. It’s like having a little fan club.

Dirt: Who inspires you to write?

Zubaida: For my debut book, my family, specifically the women of my family, were my biggest inspiration. Growing up, the people who showed me the most love and warmth were my aunts and other female relatives. They really guided me and were the unsung heroes of my family, so I wanted to give back to them.

Dirt: What was the process like for you collecting and reviewing your work for your chapbook with Perennial Press?

Zubaida: I’ve always wanted to release a chapbook before I graduated college so I had a pretty thorough manuscript already prepped. But, Madi was really the one who brought my crazy shit together. She spent so much time editing and really gave me grace on deadlines. She’s so understanding and observant. Love her!!!!

Dirt: What themes do you find stand out in How to Stop the Burning?

Zubaida: I think femininity is an important theme in my chapbook. I spent a lot of time brainstorming or reimagining ways I could convey non-traditional forms of femininity or different types of femininity. This is especially true in my pepper soup poems. The same way there isn’t one way to cook pepper soup, there isn’t one way to express femininity, or even, masculinity.

Dirt: Is there an overall message you hope your readers take away from engaging with your chapbook?

Zubaida: I hope my readers can witness the poignancy of my emotions in this chapbook. As the topic is very personal, writing these poems felt very difficult and introspective, while also being healing and self-indulgent. It’s impossible to control the way we grow up or the childhood memories we internalize, but writing this book made me feel in control.

Dirt: Does writing feel like ritual to you? If so, how do you craft the space, time, and opportunity for that ritual? If not, what’s your writing process like in general?

Zubaida: For me writing feels more like a revelation than a ritual. I feel like the term ritual implies sanctity and procedure. I really just write whenever I have something to say and hope what I say sounds nice. Maybe editing would be a ritual. But every piece requires a unique and special ritual. Structured pieces like my pepper soup poems required detailed and mechanical care, while poems like Dysmorphia required more liberal and artistic gaze.

Dirt: Do you have any tips for other writers who’d like to get work published?

Zubaida: I think it’s important to find your voice. As I was writing, I consulted many published authors and poets and I was always in awe of their style and expertise. But, every voice is different. Focus on the things you know and try to write about them in a way only you know how.

Dirt: What do you believe is the role of the artist in society today?

Zubaida: I think artists can be very effective culture keepers if they try. Writers can control narratives and paint histories, allowing them to portray cultures and communities in their own way. It’s very easy for this power to be abused. But, every culture needs witnesses, people who carry stories from one generation to another. Hopefully, I can do that for the unsung women in my family.

Pick up a copy of How to Stop the Burning now on Perennial Press!