Shailja Patel. patterned sari border
 About/Press KitWorkMigritudeBlogNews/AwardsCalendar ShopContact Shailja
decorative pattern

Be a part of Migritude's journey.
No contribution is too small - or too large. $2 buys coffee for a volunteer. $15 rents a rehearsal studio for an hour. $100 covers 2 hours of lighting / tech / set design. $500 helps fly Shailja to international festivals!!

You can also make a tax-deductible donation by check. Please email for details.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


to read that Booker Prize winner, Kiran Desai, hadn't read any of the other novels shortlisted. It alleviated my perpetual sense of being behind on all the incredible new books out in the world.

And I still haven't read Inheritance of Loss - it's my plane book for the 13-hour flight to San Francisco that I'll board in 5 hours time.

night at the airport

If you had to pick an airport to spend the night in, Amsterdam Schipol wouldn't be a bad choice.

My flight from Rome landed at 11.30pm. My flight to San Francisco is at 11.10am tomorrow morning. I can't remember now what the options were when I booked travel for this trip, months ago. Some combination of every alternative either costing a lot more than the travel budget, or involving more stopovers in the US.

The airport is pretty much shut down. Just cleaners pushing mops around, skeleton staff at the 2 or 3 food outlets still open. Piano music over the PSA.

The lovely counter person at the panini bar showed me this lounge area where there are big curvy semi-reclining chairs, and workstations. She told me everything opens again at 2am: It's just like daytime.

last day in Rome

I'm munching handfuls of fresh raw peas as I tick things off my departure list. Before I fly, I always have an urge to put as many green living foods into my body as possible.

Friday, April 06, 2007

the sari is next

Kenyan activists are fighting to retain cultural designs that have been developed in East Africa but are being patented by companies in rich countries. After losing the kiondo basket trademark to Japan, the popular kikoi fabric design is currently at risk of being patented by a British company.

Not long before a corporation files a patent for the sari. There's probably one already pending, for all I know.

nuova salaria retreat

It's sunny today, with a pale blue sky. Air rich with birdsong and breath of pine trees outside my window. I'm listening to the soundtrack from Hip-hop Colony, the newly-released documentary on Kenya's hip-hop scene.

I'm at the convent of the Consolata Sisters, in the Quartiere Nuova Salaria, a far-flung outlying suburb North-east of Rome. Nuova Salaria means, literally, "new wages." I haven't had a chance to confirm it yet, but I'll bet this neighbourhood began as housing for new workers flocking to Rome after World War II.

Pina found Suore Della Consolata for me through friends of hers, radical activist nuns. Over Easter weekend, affordable accomodation in the center of Rome is a "dream on" proposition. So at 29 euros a night, my small simple room here is a find. It's perfect for an end-of-tour retreat. There's a 10.30pm curfew, so no temptation to stay out late. Silence, apart from birdsong and distant traffic. Wireless internet access. Long bus ride into the centre of Rome, which kills the temptation to go roaming rather than stay put and work. Just down the road, a cafe/gelateria, a frutteria, a trattoria, 3 hair and beauty salons (!!), a few other small shops.

Of the two nuns I've met so far, one spent 25 years in Kenya. The other, 20 years in Somalia. There are paintings on the walls that could come straight off the shelves of art and curio stalls in Nairobi - huts, beach scenes, intricately plaited head of an African woman.

This is not a 5-star hotel
, said Sorella Lorenzilla (who was in Kenya), when she showed me my room last night.

I did my Standard Seven year at Consolata Primary School in Westlands, Nairobi. It makes me smile, yet feels in no way strange, that decades later, I'm wrapping up a performance tour of Italy in a Consolata convent.


Urban incense of wisteria - soft, drooping, purple clouds in the suburbs of Rome.

Tiny succulent white flowers on orange trees, bursting out of glossy green leaves in the piazzas of Massa. Pure intoxication under a hazy midnight moon.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

full house last night

at Massa's brand-new Mouse Theatre. People sat on the floor, filled the spaces along the walls.

I got to do a much more full-throttle physical performance, since it was a real theatre space. Lovely scarlet floor, red lights.

It's such a gift to learn, again and again, how many ways there are to communicate beyond fluency in a language. Like shared delight in reggae and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Words looked up in dictionaries, strung together with broken French and hand gestures. Food. Movement. Intention.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

touring in Italy pushes me

outside all my comfort zones.

I have to make peace with not controlling my own time, my movements, the communication around and about my performances. I move from one unfamiliar environment to another. I struggle with the most basic communication in languages I do not speak, and with my own discomfort and embarassment at not speaking them.

I negotiate the complex dance between being a good guest and traveller: attentive, appreciative, undemanding, open, adaptable, flexible - and the requirements of my work: enough solitude, sleep, silence, voice rest, logistics of travel and meals that allow me to give the best performances.

I get used to the constant regret of not having time to see more, experience more, engage with more, of wherever I am. To make up, I try to be fully present for every moment, every sight, every meeting, every conversation, so they will be rich and memorable and stay with me.

A Fight Made of Words

Lovely, thoughtful, in-depth review of my performance in Genova on Monday evening.

Monday, April 02, 2007

moonrise over the Arno River

in Florence last night. Richest of riches, goldest of golds.

The struggle is to not edit out whatever jars the renaissance splendour. Like the Roma women on the street corners, heads covered, feet bare in biting cold, hands outstretched. Holding up cardboard signs:
I am poor, destitute, hungry. I have children to feed.

We passed one who was crouched over her knees, forehead pressed to the pavement, palms pressed together in supplication.

A few miles from Firenze is the town of Prado. Where Chinese immigrants slave in sweatshops, churning out the textiles that feed the economy of this city.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

revelation to me

how I underestimate the power of live poetry. I would say without hesitation that music, visual art, dance, transcend barriers of language and culture. But in my little pointy poet's head, I'm still stuck in the mindset that says poetry is language, and only language. Can't reach or touch anyone beyond the language it's in.

There's truth and untruth in that. Each time I perform for a non-english-speaking audience, I'm humbled by their generosity, their willingness to enter the energy of the work beyond the confines of language.

What poetry brings to radical movements

says Pina, my Italian translator-tour organizer, who in her other life is a writer, thinker, activist:

It speaks to, and evokes, peoples' authentic feelings. Not the ones that have been implanted in them by capitalism and marketing. It restores people to themselves.


on the back of the dressing room door, at the Theatre Communale in Crispiano, where I performed on Thursday night:


And inside a scrawled black-marker heart:

Ciao by Me.


Vivid red-brown soil. Olive trees. Pear trees and cherry trees, white with flowers.

Trulli - small round huts with conical roofs, made of layers and layers of local stone. Stone huts, essentially. They are special to this region of the South of Italy, have apparently been found dotted along the historic migration paths from North Africa. Once looked down upon as animal quarters, dwellings of the poor, they have, in recent years, acquired considerable trendiness, are being bought up and renovated by wealthy Germans.

Old cave dwellings alongside the main road. Poppies, crimson, in bloom 8 weeks earlier than usual.

This is goddess country, I am told. Filled with prehistoric goddess shrines.

gift of ubiquity

The patron saint of the region in Puglia, where I performed a couple of days ago, is Padre Pio. Among his many special powers was the gift of ubiquity - he was spotted by his fellow monks in multiple different locations at the same time.

I burst out laughing when I was told that. I was like: Ok - if I make him my patron saint, can I have that gift too?

italian for beginners

or poets on tour..........

cuore - heart
liscia - smooth
dea - goddess
albero - tree
diritti - rights
alba - dawn
tessile - weavers
coltello - knife
sogno d'oro - golden dreams
mi dispiace, non parlo italiano - I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian
aqua caldo, per favore - hot water, please
posso controllare la posta elettronica - may I check email
grazie - thank you
molto grazie - many thanks
mille grazie - a thousand thanks
Shailja Patel. patterned sari border
©Shailja Patel