Nigerian Poet Ijeoma Umebinyuo Leaves Mark on Students


This Nigerian poet shared her works of poetry, as well as her past experiences, with an engaged Colgate crowd.

As part of Africana Women’s Week, Sisters of the Round Table (SORT) invited Nigerian-born poet Ijeoma Umebinyuo to perform at Donovan’s Pub Thursday night. Umebinyuo is the author of “Questions for Ada,” her first published collection of poems. Umebinyuo also uses social media to share her poetry and prose. Students opened the night by sharing their poems, and then Umebinyuo took the stage.

“Perhaps you shared pieces of yourself that you hadn’t before,” Umebinyuo said in thanks to the students who read before her.

Students read their old and new pieces that covered a range of topics from chasing dreams to facing prejudice. The event had a distinctly authentic and supportive atmosphere. Every table was filled, and all eyes were on the stage with each new performer.  

“I guess it’s pretty scary. Everything I write is for myself. I rarely share anything, so it’s pretty weird,” junior Andrew Vallejos said.

Umebinyuo elucidated her motivations and experiences that inspired many of her poems as she read from “Questions for Ada.” She discussed feelings of displacement that she deals with as an immigrant in America who has been called a foreigner in her home country. Her poems also delve into what it means to have an identity that isn’t limited. She is a woman, an African and an immigrant. There isn’t a limit to descriptors when it comes to self identification. The poet commented upon the experiences that led to the messages she shares through her work, but her years of writing are reflected in her eloquent and accessible pieces that make her ideas perfectly clear.

“I started writing at 10,” Umebinyuo said. “I started writing because a friend of mine introduced me to poetry, so I started writing at the age of 10 when I was in primary five, but it has evolved over the years from writing about teenage love and stuff to being very political words.”

Near the end of her performance, Umebinyuo shared a story about her neighbor in Nigeria. She asked him what he wanted in life. The boy replied that all he wanted was to go school. She brought up the desires of the young man not to belittle or ignore any audience members’ tribulations, but to remind everyone of what a privilege it is to be educated and to treasure having a space to be vulnerable.

“I’ve been to a few of these events before, so I was expecting to hear some real vulnerability and some beautiful poetry and that’s exactly what I got. I heard some of my friends read which was incredible because sometimes at readings you hear more from [them] than you even get from the day to day so that was really beautiful and moving,” sophomore Gabrielle Durr said.

The event wrapped up around 11:30 p.m., but Donovan’s pub didn’t clear out quickly. A crowd lined up to have Umebinyuo sign their copies of her book. Her words were enrapturing and will stay with students for a while.