The stage was set for Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud ’16 at the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship (iWPS). Entering the final round of the competition, she had drawn the last slot for the last bout. Despite the high-pressure situation, she performed a piece she had finished only hours before. And she won.
“I was dazed,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Wait, what? That just happened?’”
The Yale senior was crowned the iWPS champion on Oct. 10. The event boasted an initial field of 96 poets, the largest yet in competition history. The annual four-day competition is organized by Beltway Poetry Slam and Poetry Slam Inc. (PSi), and attracts some of the world’s best poets. In addition to the main competition, the championship includes workshops, open mics, and events for all ages.
YaleNews spoke with Mahmoud about her journey to the top.
Becoming a poet: Despite being born into a family of writers, Mahmoud says she didn’t know what spoken word (performance-based poetry) was until coming to Yale for Bulldog Days. She had written rhyming couplets as a child but never knew this was something she wanted to pursue.
Originally from Darfur, Sudan, her parents worked to raise awareness of the genocide that has afflicted the country. While they initially tried to shield Mahmoud and her siblings from their work, she eventually learned about the conflict.
“They wanted to protect us from what was actually happening,” she said. “When I insisted they tell me, they did. I just picked up a pen and started writing and going on speaking tours with them.”
Her family escaped Sudan to Yemen when she was a toddler before coming to the United States in 1998. During Bulldog Days, she saw a spoken word performance by Sean Beckett ’13 and immediately wanted to learn more about the genre.