My Shelfie – Hanan Issa

The National Poet of Wales and Howell’s School, Llandaff alumna Hanan Issa on the books that inspire, educate and delight her.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan but Neverwhere has a special place in my heart for conjuring up such a fantastical, layered depiction of London and its multifaceted past. I’ll never forget the way he imagined characters and scenarios based on place names – an Earl at Earl’s Court, the black friars at Blackfriars – I still wonder whether there are any ghostly grey friars on Greyfriars Road here in Cardiff!

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

This was the first time I encountered prose writing that felt truly poetic. Achebe unfolds his story so delicately only to bludgeon us with the stark realities of colonial history towards the end. Eye-opening and unforgettable work that introduced me to the themes of identity, colonialism and works that speak of the darker elements of world history. Orientalism Edward Said Said’s work gifted me with so much understanding about my own mixed heritage and more broadly the concept of Otherness and how we humans see difference. I return to it every so often to re-educate myself and I think it’s definitely that time again!

Crown Of Stars – Kate Elliott

I’ve always been an epic fantasy lover and have got lost in the worlds of Tolkien, CS Lewis etc over and over again but Kate Elliott’s work was the first world-building fantasy series I read where women were the main characters – and not just women but mixed-race women – so you can see the attraction for me! Based on the historical happenings of the Hapsburg Empire this series is brimming with magical creatures and landscapes to lose yourself in. The shift to include much more woman-centred storytelling was refreshingly welcome.

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison has been a guiding light since I first studied a module of her work back as an undergraduate. She famously said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I have taken that advice very much to heart! The Bluest Eye has an unreliable narrator you can’t help feeling an immense amount of empathy for as she struggles to feel beautiful and accepted in a world not built for women who look like her.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale was the book that articulated so much of my own anxieties on womanhood and the world. I remember hearing Margaret Atwood speak on the plot, explaining that nothing in the novel had not already happened at some point in time, somewhere in the world. Her book is still hauntingly resonant today as we, unfortunately, see the precarious position women’s bodily autonomy still has in 2024. It was such a privilege to meet her a few years ago and say how much her work had meant to me. I asked her about transitioning from writing poetry into prose and after giving me some very helpful advice, she shook my hand and wished me luck – I didn’t want to wash that hand for a while after!

Hana Issa

Hanan Issa is a Welsh-Iraqi poet, filmmaker, scriptwriter, and artist. 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. In July 2022, Issa was appointed for a three-year term as the National Poet of Wales. Her work has been performed and published by publications and organisations including BBC Wales, ITV ales, Huffington Post, StAnza Festival, Wales Arts International, and the British Council.

GDST Life Alumnae Magazine 2024/25

Hanan is featured in our 2024/25 edition of GDST Life alumnae magazine, where you will find a whole host of features and articles including stories, tips and viewpoints from a range of alumnae contributors, GDST and school news, our latest alumnae book listings, and how you can keep in touch.

Read the full GDST Life Magazine