Yrsa Daley-Ward

(1988 - Present)

Yrsa Daley-Ward is an English writer, actor, and model. The daughter of a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father, she was born and raised in Chorley in the northwest of England. For part of her childhood, she was cared for by her grandparents, who were zealous Seventh-Day Adventists. The repressive atmosphere and enforced gender roles of this home were countered by the freedom Daley-Ward experienced after moving back in with her mother, who worked night shifts and left the young poet largely to herself. She began working as a model in her late teens, representing brands including Apple, Topshop, Estée Lauder, and Nike. Denied opportunities because of her race, at 24 Daley-Ward moved to Cape Town, South Africa, in search of a more stable living.

While in Cape Town, Daley-Ward heard of a spoken-word poetry event and wrote a poem in response to a themed prompt of family discord. Her performance was a success, and she returned to the open mic repeatedly, growing her audience each time. Although Daley-Ward had always written, this recognition encouraged her to take her writing more seriously. In 2012, she returned to London and was asked to work with the British Council by headlining two poetry festivals in Johannesburg. Around this time, she was listed by Company Magazine as one of the top five female writers to watch. In 2013, she released a book of short stories with 3:am Press, On Snakes and Other Stories.

2014 saw Daley-Ward self-publish her collection Bone, which she wrote in just three months. The book’s accessible, resonant poems on difficult topics such as race, gender, grief, addiction, and mental health brought her widespread attention, as did her efforts in promoting her poetry on social media, especially Instagram. Penguin Books reissued Bone in 2017, with additional poems by Daley-Ward and an introduction by Kiese Laymon. The following year, her autobiographical novel, The Terrible, was published by Penguin, winning her the PEN/Ackerley Prize. According to Harper’s Bazaar, her most recent book, 2021’s The How, is “a compilation of essays, poems, heartfelt musings and earnest advice that provides a ‘nudge toward’ finding your voice.”

Daley-Ward’s work has appeared in publications including Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Dazed, and Notion. She co-wrote Black Is King, Beyoncé’s musical film and visual album created as a companion piece to the 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift. She also contributed to the anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby, and has given a TEDx Talk, Your Stories and You. Daley-Ward lives in London and Brooklyn, New York.


More Yrsa Daley-Ward

Audio: Daley-Ward reads her poem “Making The End” on Talkhouse

Audio: Daley-Ward is interviewed by Cariad Lloyd for Griefcast

Text: Read five poems by Daley-Ward on her website


Photo by Andres De Lara.