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Cover reveal: Safiya Sinclair’s summer memoir How to Say Babylon

Literary Hub

January 3, 2023, 10:30am

Lit Hub is pleased to share the cover for Safiya Sinclair’s forthcoming memoir, How to Say Babylon, which Simon and Schuster will publish this summer. Sinclair is the author of the poetry collection Cannibal, winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award in Literature, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry.

How to Say Babylon is the stunning story of the author’s struggle to break free of her rigid Rastafarian upbringing, ruled by her father’s strict patriarchal views and repressive control of her childhood, to find her own voice as a woman and poet.

How to Say Babylon is Sinclair’s reckoning with the culture that initially nourished but ultimately sought to silence her; it is her reckoning with patriarchy and tradition, and the legacy of colonialism in Jamaica. Rich in lyricism and language only a poet could evoke, How to Say Babylon is both a universal story of a woman finding her own power and a unique glimpse into a rarefied world we may know how to name, Rastafari, but one we know little about.

Here is the striking cover:

The author told Lit Hub:

How can you encapsulate your life in one image? It seemed like an impossible task. I grew up in a very strict Rastafari household, and all my life, the cutting of my hair was a forbidden act. My hair had never been shorn, my voice had never been heard. The scene depicted on the book’s cover captures one of the most crucial moments of my adolescence, representing my very first moment of defiance—when I decided to cut my dreadlocks, shedding one of the most fundamental markers of being Rastafari. The trajectory of my life, and of my family’s life, changed completely after this. Here is a breaking with religious tradition, a turning away. A forging of something else, someone new. The cover, which holds an immediate resonance for me, suggests not only a severing, a moment of power, but also a daughter’s reclaiming of her own narrative.

As a proud Jamaican, I love that this cover is also an homage to my country, which beats resolutely at the heart of my book. The colours are immediately striking, directly evoking the colours of our beloved national flag. The scissors are a rebellious hiss of golden yellow, bright with the hope of what comes next, recalling my island’s old mantra of Bettah must come. The Black hand represents all the women who came before me, helping to lift me into myself. And the verdant green is the fertile landscape that ultimately gave me the strength to shape the woman and poet I am today. I couldn’t ask for more.

The art director at Simon and Schuster, Jackie Seow, said, “The book is so evocative. It’s filled with gorgeous detail and imagery. We did many covers in various directions using the Jamaican landscape, flora, even childhood photos, all trying to capture the poetry of Safiya’s writing. In the long run, this cover, superbly designed by Rex Bonomelli, portrays the pivotal scene of Safiya cutting her Rastafarian dreadlocks, which for better or worse, defined her and her relationship with her family. The color palette relies on the country’s flag, which is a great point of pride to that island.”

How to Say Bablyon will be published in August 2023.

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