Tsitsi Jaji was born at Nyadire Mission and raised in Harare. After completing her A-levels on a scholarship at Arundel, she moved to the U.S. to study piano and literature at Oberlin College. She earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Cornell University.
Many of her poems are inspired by music and the experience of living in the diaspora. Jaji’s collection, Beating the Graves, was published in 2017 after receiving an honorable mention for the 2015 Sillerman Prize. In ‘Our Embrace’, published here, she writes, “Our tongue in common remains unknown to/ the greater world”, a remark that may be about lovers and also, perhaps, smaller nations.
Jaji's chapbook, Carnaval, appeared in the first New Generation African Poets box set, (African Poetry Book Fund/Slapering Hol, 2014), and her poems have appeared in Bitter Oleander, Prairie Schooner, Black Renaissance Noire, Madison Review, ElevenEleven, and elsewhere. She has given readings at the UNESCO, the Library of Congress, the United Nations, and the Poetry Foundation, and has taught writing workshops in her home country, Zimbabwe.
Jaji earns her living as an associate professor of English and African & African American Studies at Duke University. Her scholarly book, Africa in Stereo: Music, Modernism and Pan-African Solidarity, received the African Literature Association's First Book Award. She is currently a fellow at the National Humanities Center, and has previously held fellowships at the Schomburg Center (NEH), the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, and at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell (Mellon). Her life is at its best, she says, when she finds time to practice the piano once a day. She lives in Durham, North Carolina, with her husband, cat, and sweet baby boy.
Read the author's introduction to Beating the Graves here. She may be seen reading two poems from the book in the videos that accompany them on PIW:
Carnaval. Chapbook. Seven New Generation African Poets / Slapering Hol Press, Sleepy Hollow, 2014
Africa in Stereo: Music, Modernism and Pan-African Solidarity. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014
Poem 'Pierrot' in The Boston Review
Three poems in InTensions
'The Seat in Front of Me' broadside printed by The Center for Book Arts