Rashidah Ismaili-AbuBakr


Rashidah Ismaili-AbuBakr is a poet, playwright, essayist, and short story writer born in Benin and based in New York City. “New York is like my country. It is a place that I first came, 60 years ago to go to school,” she says. “This is a kind of home for me, in a way that West Africa is not. West Africa is a foundational memory, if that makes sense. My active life, for me, is here. My sense of being an African, my sense of being a woman, my sense of being a Muslim really comes from here. Because it was those three elements that allowed me to survive.” Ismaili-AbuBakr has been in the creative arts for the past 60 years and lived among the artist communities in the Lower East Side, Battery Park, and Harlem. She was part of the Black Arts Movement and has been awarded the Sojourner Truth Meritorious Award and the Puffin Trade Award and has been recognized by PEN America. Her published books include Autobiography of the Lower East Side: A Novel in Stories and poetry collections Missing in Action and Presumed Dead, Rice Keepers, and Cantata for Jimmy. Ismaili-AbuBakr has taught at Wilkes University and University of Ghana; worked at Rutgers University and Pratt College; and served as an executive board member of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa, Inc. Ismaili-AbuBakr continues to host a Salon d’Afrique, an informal space for the exchange of ideas uniting Africans and African Americans, in her Harlem home. “People think that whatever religion they were back home, that was back home,” she says. “And when you come to NYC, you forget all that. [But] that is what held me together. I think if I wasn’t a Muslim, let me tell you, I don’t know where I would be.”