Safiya Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, and a 2016 Whiting Writers’ Award. Sinclair is also the recipient of a 2015 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, fellowships from Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Amy Clampitt Residency Award. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, Boston Review, The Gettysburg Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in poetry at the University of Virginia, and is currently a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California.
Here, she talks writing in a trance, acts of patience and kindness in food preparation, and poisonous fruit.
On her all-time favorite meal:
My favourite meal is the national dish of Jamaica, ackee and saltfish. I’ve been eating it before I can even remember—it’s a breakfast staple in Jamaica. Saltfish is what we call salted cod. Ackee is a fruit that grows in the Caribbean and develops in a bright orange pod. The yellow ackee fruit inside is poisonous until the pod opens. I think Jamaicans are the only ones in the Caribbean that actually eat ackee—all the other islands think we’re crazy!
My mom is an amazing cook and prepares the best meals, including ackee and saltfish. She was recently here visiting me in Lenox and she came prepared; she packed her bags with ackee and saltfish because she knows I can’t get it over here. That’s probably why I love this meal so much—cleaning and preparing ackee involves such an act of patience and kindness, an act of faith, and my mother does that best. I could probably eat this meal every day for the rest of my life and never grow tired of it.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
Bright and summery, there’s a sea breeze in my hair, with sunlight reflecting off the flute of champagne I’m having for brunch.
On snacking while writing:
I feel possessed when I write so hunger doesn’t even register. Snacking would be impossible. At the end of a good writing session it’s like coming out of a deep trance, and it’s often at the end of writing that I feel utterly famished.
On her go-to late-night snack:
It varies. Right now I’ve been really craving a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for my late night snack; this just started in the last month and a half (some latent advertising, surely). Sometimes I go for blue chips and hummus. But most often my definite go-to snack is mixed nuts—I love cashews, almonds, dried fruit.
On her food quirks:
Hmm. I suppose I have a serious cheese obsession. I put cheese on everything—donuts, chips, rice, pretzels, etc.
On her final meal request:
To be at Sunday dinner with my family on a cool verandah in Montego Bay—in the distance the green hills roll down into the crystal-blue sea below. We’re surrounded by a greenery of fruit trees: avocado, mango, banana, and June-plum, and something red is in bloom—a Poinciana tree or my grandma’s Christmas poinsettias. A green lizard is hopping from leaf to leaf in the shade. On our dinner table there are some fresh-picked marigolds sitting golden in a vase. Sunday dinner is a Jamaican tradition where certain dishes are prepared for a proper sit-down meal: rice and peas made with coconut milk, baked or brown-stew chicken, curry goat; though in my Rastafarian family it was always vegan—fried tofu instead of meat when we were growing up. I think I’d like that. I’m eating rice and peas and the fried tofu of my youth with my sisters and brother, my niece, my parents, and grandmother, and we’re drinking soursop juice or sorrel with a splash of rum and laughing at something my young niece has just said. We’re all full and alright. This is home.