a concrete bridge stretches across the Nile in Khartoum, Sudan

Inquiry in Verse (or) the Magic of Writing



introduction: on the academy and it’s desires


How do I write all that I want to write while reading all that I must read while simultaneously attempting to make sense of it all?

How do I adequately give weight and honor to this process of reconnection in a manner that still adheres to the timely and punctuated nature of academic production?

How do I communicate with my ancestors in a language that my professors, classmates, and colleagues can understand, digest, and respond to within the span of a single seminar?

How can I relay, in neat and scholarly language that fits in a particular citation style, the knowledge that has been spoken for, to, and by my people over generations, through time and space and spirit?

How can I translate the language of magic and ritual so that it may fit within the one-inch margins of this paper?

How do we counteract attempts to tease apart inquiry and verse? Intellect and poetry? Research and imagination? Writing and creativity?

How do we dismantle the barriers erected where they do not belong, when they have not been called for?





we take one of the many roads in town that lead you to al kubri, connecting the desert across the vast expanse of al nil. there are many bridges, many places where we cross the river. most are simple & uniformly built. unassuming, un-extravagant, and lovely just the same.

the bridge crossing from umdurman to khartoum is the most common one we take – from the suburbs to the downtown area and back again. we travel this road daily, back and forth to the movies, the weddings, and just about every good restaurant. each time I feel the wind shift as we approach, the air is a little different over the water.

I draw in a deep breath and once we begin to cross the river, then slowly start to exhale. I release carefully and with control, extending my exhale for as long as I can, drawing it out until we reach the other side.

a small ritual.

from my cousins’ university we can see another one of the many kubris – this one connecting the neighborhood of bahir to umdurman. I never realized how wide the Nile was, until I tried to frame it in a photo.





1. a conduit between two landlocked places
2. not my back
3. ascension




they stand on the shores
dusty at sunset
& sit in grassy fields
& underneath the over pass
they march down city streets
occupying kitchens
& classrooms
& grandmothers hosh

“just fall”
this is the call
ringing from al kubri
le al masjid
le al suk
le al bait
le al noor

they stand
in the dust
of a windstorm
at the shore
at sunset & sunrise
making the bridge
to freedom

a concrete bridge stretches across the Nile in Khartoum, Sudan

AL KUBRI // THE BRIDGE / 35 mm film / 2017 / 20 x 30 in

foundations: one


Somewhere between five and seven years old

I don’t remember

When I learned to write but

I was given a journal

For my so many buzzing thoughts

And baba said I ‘should have somewhere to put them’

“but what should i write about, baba?”


foundations: two


My first in-class poetry assignment
Must have been second or third grade

We make little books of poems
And I write one about mama

Mama and i
Our love in this book

Reading it out loud to her
In our living room after receiving an A plus

And so nervous
That I didn’t look up until the end

To see her crying
And smiling

So scared she wouldn’t understand my poetic
language that was not in her native tongue

And maybe slightly ashamed
That it wasn’t

And so nervous
That I didn’t look up

Until the end
To meet her eyes

And discover them wet
And alive

And luminous.

three Sudanese women and a baby lounge on a pink blanket on a lawn

Mama & Friends & I in Chicago, IL, 1993

foundations: three


A dream

about warrior me

caring for mama

missing baba

writing a book

and kissing my ancestors

living in their home

living in their names

and approval.

a dark-skinned Sudanese man smiles into the camera after coming out from a swim

Baba coming out from a swim on the island of Dominica, 1995

conclusion: on memory and absence


I wish you could remember

when you

alive through others

the                                         life of someone




watching                                                        father                                                   over the loss


in the ocean                                                                       swept

and mama smiled

at this new land

brother                        in the water

baba on the shores                                                 and

you                                            on your birthday



powerless                                      stuck                      and                                                    baba

some giant                                             and

magician                          and

mountain –


lifts away your worries                                                                  and

how magically                                                  he                                                               would.

A group of Sudanese women walk through purple doors in the evening

AL BAIT // HOME / 35 mm film / 2017 / 20 x 30 in







Photo Credit: Sydney Cain (2019)

shah noor hussein


shah noor hussein is a writer, visual artist, and scholar focusing on black feminism, diaspora, and queer studies. shah is a doctoral student and Cota-Robles Fellow at UC Santa Cruz in the fields of Anthropology, Critical Race Theory, and Ethnic Studies. They have served as a Publishing Fellow with the LA Review of Books (2020), Writing Fellow at the California Institute of Integral Studies (2016 – 2017), and Teaching Fellow for the Peralta Community College System (2018 – 2019). shah currently works as an adjunct professor, a freelance writer, an editor for The Arrow Journal, and a multimedia artist in Oakland. Their recent creative and academic work utilizes multimedia ethnographic research, creative writing, educational engagement, and editorial outreach to activate the radical imaginations of marginalized communities. Their research aims to (re)center marginalized voices in dialogues on alternative epistemologies and cultural reproduction through a multimedia study of Aghani Al Banat, “Girls Music,” in their home country of Sudan. In their free time, shah walks in nature, talks to their ancestors, meditates, eats good food, and sleeps.

For more of shah noor hussein’s visual art visit this portfolio.