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Yrsa Daley-Ward. Photo credit: Laurel Grolio, for Girls At Library.

Behind the rise of Instagram poet-model-actress-queer activist Yrsa Daley-Ward is an inspiring story. Born to a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother, she had an unsettled childhood and difficult life: sent at 7 with her younger brother to live with her grandparents because her mother worked night shifts, discovering that the man she’d been raised to believe was her father wasn’t, the loss of her mother, depression. For some time she worked as a model but struggled to break through in an industry notorious for its glass ceilings for models of colour. Frustrated, she went to South Africa, where, in a bar in Cape Town, she rediscovered her love of poetry.

By 2014, having become a star on Instagram (currently has 145K followers), she had self-published a collection titled Bone, focused on the experiences of her growing up—her religious upbringing in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, her sexuality and queerness, and her struggles with mental health. The collection was republished in 2017 by Particular Books, an imprint of Penguin, and became a bestseller. She had earlier, in 2013, released a collection of short stories called On Snakes and Other Stories.

Yrsa, who was named in OkayAfrica’s 100 Women 2018 list, has acting credits in the UK TV series Shameless and films David is Dying (SAR Productions), Death Race (Universal Pictures), Gun in London’s Tricycle Theatre, and The Cook (C-Films).

In June, Penguin released her second book, a 224-page memoir called The Terrible: A Storyteller’s Memoir, which is part prose, part verse.

Here is a description:

From the celebrated poet behind bone, a lyrical memoir—part prose, part verse—about coming-of-age, uncovering the cruelty and beauty of the wider world, and redemption through self-discovery and the bonds of family

This is the story of Yrsa Daley-Ward, and all the things that happened—“even the terrible things. And God, there were terrible things.” It’s about her childhood in the northwest of England with her beautiful, careworn mother Marcia; the man formerly known as Dad (half fun, half frightening); and her little brother Roo, who sees things written in the stars.

It’s also about the surreal magic of adolescence, about growing up and discovering the power and fear of sexuality, about pitch-gray days of pills and powder and connection. It’s about damage and pain, but also joy. Told with raw intensity and shocking honesty, The Terrible is a memoir of going under, losing yourself, and finding your voice.

The Terrible has been praised by The New York Times (“Devastating and lyrical”), The New Yorker (“Daley-Ward has a specific story to tell, one that is suspenseful and affecting in its details”), The Paris Review (“An impressive take on the memoir that prioritizes emotion over event”), and Kirkus (“A powerful, unconventionally structured memoir recounting harrowing coming-of-age ordeals . . . Daley-Ward resists classification in this profound mix of poetry and prose”). Among her fans is pop music star Florence Welch, of Florence + The Machines, who describes her work as “like holding the truth in your hands. It sweats and breathes before you. A glorious living thing.”

Buy The Terrible HERE

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. The recipient of the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature in 2019, he is a judge for The Gerald Kraak Prize and was a judge for The Morland Writing Scholarship in 2019. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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