Available now!

“I love this book. I mean, goddamn, I love this book […] I love, maybe most of all, that Besaydoo is a prayer, a prayer for all of us, which Yalie Saweda Kamara reminds us a book sometimes can be.” —ROSS GAY
Select Format

Selected by Amaud Jamaul Johnson for the Jake Adam York Prize, Yalie Saweda Kamara’s Besaydoo is an elegantly wrought love song to home—as place, as people, as body, and as language.

A griot is a historian, a living repository of communal legacies with “a story pulsing in every blood cell.” In Besaydoo, Kamara serves as griot for the Freeborn in Oakland, the Sierra Leonean in California, the girl straddling womanhood, the woman re-discovering herself. “I am made from the obsession of detail,” she writes, setting scenes from her own multifaceted legacy in sharp relief: the memory of her mother’s singing, savory stacks of lumpia, a church where “everyone is broken, but trying.” A multitudinous witness.

Kamara psalms from the nexus of many languages—Krio, English, French, poetry’s many dialects—to highlight mechanisms not just for survival, but for abundance. “I make myth for peace,” she writes, as well as for loss, for delight, for kinship, and most of all for a country where Black means “steadfast and opulent,” and “dangerous and infinite.” She writes for a new America, where praise is plentiful and Black lives flourish.

But in Besaydoo, there is no partition between the living and the dead. There is no past nor present. There is, instead, a joyful simultaneity—a liberating togetherness sustained by song.

The Besaydoo audiobook read by Yalie Saweda Kamara is available everywhere you listen to audiobooks. Listen to samples here.

Publish Date
10 × 8 × 0.25 in
8 oz

Yalie Saweda Kamara

Yalie Saweda Kamara is the author of Besaydoo, winner of the 2023 Jake Adam York Prize. She is a Sierra Leonean American writer, educator, and researcher from Oakland, California and the 2022–2023 Cincinnati and Mercantile Library Poet Laureate.

Praise and Prizes

  • “I love this book. I mean, goddamn, I love this book. I love how hard it tries, how much it loves, how it reaches and wonders and how it bears its bewilderment. I love how it sings, and how it talks. I love what it does with its hurt and its sorrow and its loss and its longing. And I love, maybe most of all, that Besaydoo is a prayer, a prayer for all of us, which Yalie Saweda Kamara reminds us a book sometimes can be.”

    Ross Gay
    author of The Book of Delights
  • “Sometimes, neighborhood is nation. And for the diasporic Black body, the City of Oakland is like a Station of the Cross. In Besaydoo, Yalie Saweda Kamara offers a love song dedicated to her hometown, a place shaped by humor, heartbreak, and humiliation. This debut poetry collection stands alone for its scope and aesthetic dexterity. Here, Kamara is radiant, tender, and true.”

    Amaud Jamaul Johnson
    author of Red Summer
  • “Yalie Saweda Kamara’s Besaydoo is a thrilling book of poems that begins and ends in Oakland, her hometown, ‘the bucktoothed city that made you wish you never wore braces,’ but is steeped in her family’s roots in Sierra Leone. Her perspective is international, multilingual (Krio and French), and her poems multi-layered, probing, joyous in their humor, serious about matters of the soul, and brilliantly inventive. They celebrate members of her family, especially her mother, but also various aunties. She extends that relationship to others, such as Aunty Nina, the singer Nina Simone, whose transformation of Bob Dylan’s ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ inspires Kamara to her own verbal music: ‘a twirl of / cocoa nib & bergamot; an acre / of semisweet tenor notes.’ Her moving poems embrace others and tell their stories, from Nia Wilson to Marshawn Lynch, passionately taking their sides, standing up for justice. The book ends with an astonishingly powerful sequence about Aunty X and the son who commits suicide outside her front door, a haunting story told through the lens of magical realism, echoing Kamara’s earlier insight that ‘The dead only die when the living refuse to sing for them.’ The title poem, though, sets the tone for the whole book, with its newly coined word that’s a benediction given to those she loves. Besaydoo embraces us all.”

    John Philip Drury
    author of The Teller’s Cage
  • Besaydoo as poem, Besaydoo as book, Besaydoo as worldview melts me in delicious and curative ways. Yalie Saweda Kamara’s Besaydoo traverses acrobatics of liberatory reclamations, language as home, riotous celebrations, gospels of magic and chorus, odes, body as dirge, haikus where a bus becomes an altar for Truth, soliloquy of addiction, polyvocality, family faith dynamics, and fierce love poems to Oakland, beloveds, Blackness, Agatha Kamara, Nina Simone, Gabby Douglas, places, memories, and more. The voices fight against the detrimental culling of white supremacy and Empire with the knowing, ‘I will be misread / and misheard’ and what that means for descendants of migration, where voices sift through what ‘grief means in the hyphen of my African and American throat’ and ‘the constant expectation of wounds.’ Kamara writes, ‘the long-lost me found the small, brown I’ and asks, ‘What hand guided me through an evening of one thousand/ almost deaths?’ These voices understand that one is not alone—when one is a conduit of those who came before, to pave the way—in an ancestral lineage where past is pulsatingly present. Kamara’s poetry crushes the heart—then makes you hold the fractals in your trembling hand, while gently guiding your fingers to stitch each node, each valve, each vessel, each chamber back into the chest cavity until you realize, this heart—this plurality of hearts—can never be destroyed. Kamara writes ‘something about praise being messy’ and I bring this praise with me, as I incant Kamara’s Besaydoo for each of us into the inevitable mess.”

    Felicia Zamora
    author of I Always Carry My Bones
  • “Yalie Saweda Kamara makes it clear that Besaydoo is made with a sound that can only be made with others—witnessing, living, trying to read. With exquisite attention and suppleness of mind, she writes a poetics of relation shimmering with simultaneity and wonder. This is a gorgeously fierce and tender work—deep, alongside, and ever with.”

    aracelis girmay
    author of the black maria
  • “Refreshing and innovative, Yalie Saweda Kamara’s Besaydoo, fearlessly meets and challenges two contradictory ideals. With insistent rhythms and reasonings, her writing is rooted in her first-generation American experience. In some poems, we hear Krio words that resonate and evoke memory of Sierra Leone, in which I too long to taste Sierra Leone’s ‘krain-krain stew.’ In others, she captures both the joy and pain of the USA, particularly Oakland—‘a killing field they say’—while acknowledging the complexity of place: ‘and yes we mourn but let us celebrate too.’ Whether one knows Sierra Leone, Oakland, or this collection’s other locales, these poems are a pleasure to read, as they reveal Kamara’s life, her thoughts, and yes, her very identity.”

    Anni Domingo
    author of Breaking the Maafa Chain
  • “This is a thunderclap of a collection — so vast in scope, so powerful of voice, so nuanced, so gorgeously evocative that it leaves you wrung out, astounded, and certain that Yalie Saweda Kamara is inimitable and indispensable.”

    Dave Eggers
  • “Yalie Saweda Kamara’s lucent poetry collection Besaydoo encircles matters of race, heritage, boundaries, and exchanging ‘worry for hope.’ […] Eloquent, proud, and discerning, the poems of Besaydoo preserve the wary splendor of lived experience.”

    Foreword Reviews
  • “The meaning of the word Besaydoo is, at the same time, secret and public. It is a shared code—a blessing for those who know. And so is this book with the same name. Yalie Saweda Kamara has built a bridge between Sierra Leone and Oakland, or, even more truly, she has become the bridge between cultures, languages, family, and history. This is a fascinating collection of poetry that explores the joy, sadness, and confusion of being a first-generation American. It is a book with shocking moments expressed with luminous intelligence, variant music, and changing poetic structures—a masterfully crafted debut. Thanks to Besaydoo Yalie Saweda Kamara is now part of the literary tradition of both the United States and Sierra Leone. Her word belongs everywhere, and everything belongs to her poems.”

    Manuel Iris
    author of The parting present/Lo que se irá
  • “In her first full length collection, Kamara writes about the life of a daughter of Sierra Leonean immigrants to America and evokes her world of Oakland, California with ecstatic attention and generosity.”

    New York Times Book Review
  • Besaydoo is a tapestry of history, longing, and discovery. In this poetry collection, Yalie Saweda Kamara draws on her identity as a daughter and Sierra Leonian living in the United States to weave past, present, and future together into an inspiring ode to the journey of life.”

  • “Kamara performs the audio of her Jake Adam York Prize–winning first full-length poetry collection (after the chapbook A Brief Biography of My Name) with elegance and restraint. Born in Oakland, CA, to a Sierra Leonean family, Kamara pens a love letter to her hometown, “the bucktoothed city that made you wish you never wore braces.” She celebrates Oakland not as the media often portrays it, as a place of danger, but as a nexus of family and friends, good food, sunny warmth, and joy. The poet explores the nuances of language and words, illuminating the impact of casually misspelling a name and the hurt that comes from consistently being misheard and misread. With playful fluency, Kamara creates a seamless tapestry, reveling in the rhythms of different languages as she threads her poems with Sierra Leonean Krio, English, and French. The collection’s title is a newly coined word synthesized from “be safe, dude,” spoken quickly. This gentle benediction, which Kamara musically repeats and layers, embodies the care that people extend to their families and their communities. VERDICT This brief, quietly gorgeous audiobook reveals new meaning with every listen. A radiant addition to any poetry collection.”

    Sarah Hashimoto, Library Journal, starred audiobook review