Shailja Patel

Contact Info


Nairobi / Berkeley

Playwright accepts commissions.


Kenyan poet, playwright and theatre artist, Shailja Patel, performs at venues ranging from New York’s Lincoln Center to Sweden’s prestigious invitation-only Tallberg Forum. She has been described as an artist “who exemplifies globalization as a people-centered phenomenon of migration and exchange” (CNN), and “the poetic equivalent of Arundhati Roy” (The Gulf Today, UAE).

In 2006, Patel premiered her one-woman show Migritude I: When Saris Speak, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The show was chosen for the season premiere of KQED TV’s Spark! Arts and Culture programme. It received a prolonged standing ovation at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, and Ford Foundation funding for a critically-acclaimed Kenya tour. Patel was 2009 Guest Writer at the Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden, where she premiered the second part of her Migritude opus – Bwagamoyo (The Father).

Migritude I: When Saris Speak was published in 2008, in a bilingual Italian-English edition, by Lietocolle, and launched at the Genoa International Poetry Festival. Patel opened and closed the first World Authors and Literary Translators Conference (WALTIC) in Stockholm, and featured at the Internazionale Festival and the AWID Global Forum in Capetown, in 2008.

Patel has spoken at over thirty colleges, universities, and conferences, including keynote student conference addresses at Yale and Brown. Her poems are included in the online exhibits of the International Museum of Women, the Museum of the African Diaspora, and the Asian Poets Collection of New York University. They have been translated into eight languages, and used in high schools, colleges, and workshops across the world. Patel is the 2009 African Guest Writer at the Nordic Africa Institute.

Awards include a Creation Fund Award from the National Performance Network, the inaugural Fanny-Ann Eddy Poetry Award from IRN-Africa, the Voices of Our Nations Poetry Award, an Innovative Talent Award from Indian American Women Empowered, and the Outwrite Poetry Prize of the New York Lesbian and Gay Centre.


Full Length Plays

When Saris Speak (The Mother) – Part I or Migritude, an Epic Journey in Four Movements

This 90-minute spoken-word theatre show uses the artist’s trousseau of saris, passed down by her mother, to unfold hidden histories of women’s lives in the bootprint of Empire, from India to East Africa.

Directed by Kim Cook (who also acted as dramaturg and creative development partner), Migritude I was recipient of a Creation Fund Award from the National Performance Network. It premiered to packed houses and standing ovations in the San Francisco Bay Area, before embarking on a tour of Kenya, funded by the Ford Foundation.

Migritude I was the subject of the 2007 season premiere of SPARK, award-winning Arts and Culture series on California’s KQED TV, alongside the work of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Ron Guidi.

Bwagamoyo (The Father) – Part II of Migritude, an Epic Journey in Four Movements

A spoken-word journey, from colonial Zanzibar to Kenya’s post-election violence, by way of the male body.

A powerful, heartbreaking, hilarious exploration of how patriots become patriarchs; muscles queered break down masculinities; the architecture of empire is codified on the bodies of men – black, brown, and white; and daughters confront fathers.

Awards Fellowships and Residencies

  • Migritude I Shortlisted for Premio Lettarario Camaiore (Italy)
  • African Guest Writer Fellowship, Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden
  • Indian American Women Empowered – ¬†National Award for Arts and Creativity
  • Ford Foundation Award
  • East Bay Community Foundation Grant
  • National Performance Network Creation Fund Award
  • City of Oakland Individual Artist Grant
  • Zellerbach Foundation Grant
  • Lambda Literary Festival National Slam Champion
  • Serpent Source Foundation For Women Artists Grant
  • Voices Of Our Nations Arts Foundation Poetry Award
  • Outwrite Poetry Award, New York Lesbian and Gay Center
  • Residencies at University of California, Santa Barbara; University of California, Merced; Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden

Browse¬†Shailja Patel’s plays