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UNC student Nora Elsayed self publishes debut poetry collection

UNC junior Nora Elsayed poses for a portrait outside her college house in Chapel Hill on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. Nora's house is where she spent hours writing poetry for her book, "What's Left of Me".

Five years and more than 500 poems.

UNC student and newly-published author Nora Elsayed is not the type of person who is very vocal about her feelings. Still, poetry has proven to be an outlet for unburdening herself, expressing her emotions and preserving her love for others.

Elsayed said she began writing poetry in her sophomore year of high school, once things started happening to her.

Now a junior at UNC, Elsayed compiled years of her personal work into a poetry collection. She published her debut book, "What’s Left of Me: An English and Arabic Poetry Collection," on her 21st birthday on Oct. 2.

The collection is centered around Elsayed’s life. The poems explore everything from her upbringing to her experiences of life’s joys and sorrows. 

She said the title, "What’s Left of Me," comes from her realization that emotions are the only things we truly own. 

"Everything else is material, and it will be gone and disintegrate," Elsayed explained. "But the way that we loved in this world and the way that we lost and experienced are truly the things that we own in life that we can really put our name on. So, what's left of me is my love and my loss and my experiences."

Elsayed is originally from Sudan and grew up in Maryland, which she said created a duality that inspired her to always highlight her cultural heritage. 

The inclusion of Arabic, which is her first language, is what she sees as the most valuable asset of the book. 

"It adds a different layer and I feel like it allows people to understand me even more," Elsayed said. 

Elsayed said that translating from English to Arabic is a complex process and her father’s good friend, Yasin Mohammed, helped her translate the book’s poems.

"He really helped me delve deep into the wording things, because Arabic has a million words for every single thing and isn't a direct translation from English, so, it's almost like I was rewriting the poems when I was writing them in Arabic," she said. 

There is a poem toward the end of the book called "Nora and Noura," which is Elsayed’s first name in both English and Arabic. The poem consists of two paragraphs that chronicle her existence within her American and Arab identities.

When Elsayed was younger, she said her family always tried to surround her with Sudanese culture. Her father, Yasier Elsayed, said they always spoke Arabic at home, and if there was something Sudanese that his daughter didn’t understand, he would explain it to her. 

"Sometimes, when she was at home, I read for her some stuff from my language to know, like a couple of people from my country, like al-Ṭayyib Ṣāliḥ— he is a famous writer," Yasier Elsayed said. 

Elsayed’s upbringing was fundamental to the integration of cultural elements and the emotional impacts of her literary creations. 

Her father shared that his favorite work of his daughter is "Nora Yasier Elsayed" – a poem about him that he said brings him to tears. 

Elsayed said that the process of writing "What’s Left of Me" in both English and Arabic has allowed her to not only be more comfortable with herself but also to appreciate the little joys and people around her, especially during her college years when she is away from her family. 

Valery Orellana, one of Elsayed’s closest friends and her roommate, shared that her favorite poem from the book is "Our College Home." It encapsulates the memories made within their shared space and the impending separation as life goes on.

Allison Schlobohm, a clinical associate professor of management and corporate communication at Kenan-Flagler Business School, said that Elsayed is always community oriented and has a vision for making positive impacts and turns that vision to fruition. 

Elsayed, a double major in business administration and advertising and public relations, is the co-president of the Minority Business Student Alliance. She also teamed up with Orellana and co-founded Evenin’ Out The Playing Field, an organization that aims to increase the representation of young women of color in field hockey.

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"Every time she's lifting as she climbs and she's building space for other people and she's opening doors and opening windows," Schlobohm said.

Elsayed said she will keep writing and basing her poetry on her experiences beyond this first book. 

"I think that's what keeps my work very authentic, is being organic with it and just allowing myself to live," she said. 

Elsayed said that everyone who reads her work assumes a sort of ownership over it, and hopes that readers will be able to relate to her poems. 

"What’s Left of Me: An English and Arabic Poetry Collection" is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online vendors.


@dthlifestyle |