Hanan Issa is a Welsh-Iraqi poet, filmmaker, scriptwriter and artist. The daughter of a white Welsh mother and a Muslim Iraqi father with roots in Iraq’s Nasiriyah region, she was raised in Cardiff. Her Welsh grandparents recited poetry to her as a child, and she learned folklore and storytelling from both sides of her family. Issa wrote poems for herself for years until an anti-Muslim comment by then–British Prime Minister David Cameron sparked her anger and prompted her to share a poem on the subject with a friend. The friend encouraged her to share the poem on Facebook, where Hanan Issa found a passionate response, inspiring her to consider poetry as a connector with others as opposed to a personal practice. She draws inspiration from poets including Ada Limón, Zeina Hashem Beck, Terrance Hayes, and Inua Ellams.
Issa published her first pamphlet, My Body Can House Two Hearts, with Burning Eye Books in 2019. Kathy Miles described her work in My Body… as “persuasive, moving poems, where politics intertwines with the intimate and personal.” In the pamphlet, one of three winners of Burning Eye’s first pamphlet competition, Issa includes some poems in cynghanedd, the traditional Welsh rhyming system that utilizes strict patterns of sonic harmony.
In July 2022, Issa was appointed for a three-year term as the National Poet of Wales, succeeding Ifor ap Glyn. She is the fifth poet to hold this role and the first Muslim. With Durre Shahwar, Issa co-founded the monthly Cardiff open-mic night Where I’m Coming From with the goal of platforming writers of color. A winner of the Hay Festival International Fellowship, Issa was a member of the first cohort of writers for Literature Wales’s Representing Wales program in 2021. Her work has been performed and published by publications and organizations including BBC Wales, ITV Wales, Huffington Post, StAnza Festival, Poetry Wales, Wales Arts International, and the British Council.
Issa served as a contributing editor for the essay anthology Welsh (Plural): Essays on the Future of Wales (Repeater Books, 2022) and as co-editor of Just So You Know: Essays of Experience, (Parthian Books, 2020). One of her short stories appears in The Mab (Unbound, 2022), a retelling of the Welsh Mabinogi tales for children. Issa also writes scripts for stage, film, and television. In 2017, her monologue “With Her Back Straight” was performed as part of the Hijabi Monologues project at the Bush Theatre, and in 2020, she was commissioned by Ffilm Cymru/BBC Wales commission to write and direct the short film The Golden Apple (2022). She was also part of the writer’s room for the 2018 Channel 4 comedy series We Are Lady Parts. She lives in Wales.
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Photo courtesy of Hanan Issa.