One is a breakout poet, the other is a Booker-winning champion of Black talent. They swap notes on class, impostor syndrome and the day pop’s biggest star came knocking

When an email from Beyoncé’s office first landed in Warsan Shire’s inbox, she assumed it was some kind of prank. It wasn’t. Beyoncé – the real Beyoncé – was inviting Shire, a 27-year-old British-Somali poet from Wembley, north-west London, to collaborate. The result was the revolutionary 2016 visual album Lemonade, on which Shire is credited with “film adaptation and poetry”; her verses are read aloud between songs. Shire has also since contributed work to Beyoncé’s 2020 film Black is King and wrote a specially commissioned poem, I Have Three Hearts, to announce the singer’s 2017 pregnancy with twins.

But even before Beyoncé came knocking, Shire was starward bound. After a responsibility-laden adolescence, spent combining writing with co-parenting her three younger siblings, Shire published her debut chapbook of poems, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth in 2011, aged just 23. In 2013, she was appointed the first Young People’s Laureate for London and in 2015, her poem Home became a viral anthem for the refugee crisis. Shire’s first full poetry collection, Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, comes out next month. In between these professional milestones, she also found time to meet and marry a Mexican American charity worker called Andres, move continents, and have two children.

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