ASU professor’s memoir on her childhood and women of Rastafari

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ASU professor Safiya Sinclair wrote a memoir titled “How to Say Babylon,” which was released on Oct. 3, 2023.

The book is about Sinclair’s struggle to break free of her rigid Rastafarian upbringing in Jamaica while being ruled by her father’s strict patriarchal views and repressive control of her childhood. The memoir also details her journey to find her own voice as a woman and poet.

“A lot of Rastafari, they don’t say it’s a religion, they say it’s a way of life,” Sinclair said. “The Rastafari faith is born out of anticolonial theory, it was born when Jamaica was still under British colonial rule.”

Jamaicans found their freedom with the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. During that time, Ethiopia was the only Black nation to not be colonized.

“My father believes deeply in one of the stricter sects of Rastafari called Nyahbinghi,” Sinclair said.

This governed the way they dressed, what they could eat and who they could talk to.

“My mother changed the course of my life and I say that so sincerely, she gave us the love of literature,” Sinclair said.

Her mother gifted her a book of poems. From that day forward, her love of writing bloomed.

As a woman, she felt diminished under the rules of Rastafari. Sinclair wanted to celebrate her womanhood instead of feeling less from it.

“I wanted the book to broaden the idea that people have about Jamaica, sort of redefine what they think about it,” Sinclair said.

The author’s other books include “Cannibal “(2016) and “Catacombs” (2011).

Sinclair appeared on The Today Show when “How to Say Babylon” was selected as the show’s October 2023 selection. Watch the interview here.

Safiya Sinclair, Author, Associate English Professor, ASU

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