Name: Tanya Shirley

Instagram Handle: I keep my IG private but twitter is @TanyaShirley1 and FB is

Profession: Educator & Poet

Hometown: Kingston, Jamaica

Now Lives: Kingston, Jamaica


Through her vivid and startlingly colorful poetry, UWI lecturer and Poet, Tanya Shirley speaks about love, childhood memories, and the Jamaican culture. In a sense, she boldly goes where others fear to tread with prose that tackles Jamaica’s perception of beauty and masterfully rebrands it. Some refer to her as the Shonda Rhymes of the Caribbean because she speaks powerfully and honestly about the Caribbean woman’s experience. In her last book, The Merchant of Feathers, her writing was described as “…passionate, perceptive, moving, beautifully written”. She speaks to the reader’s heart, conscience, and intellect. Here's PATOO’s peek inside the world of Tanya Shirley…


Three words to describe your writing style?

Lucid, Poetic, Lush

Your personality type is?

A closeted introvert

Your greatest skill is?

Improving the lives of others through my teaching and my poetry

How do you work?

In spurts; definitely not consistently

What’s your background?

I was once an alien. Seriously though, I'm not sure how to answer that question.

What’s integral to the work of a writer?

Support, especially financial support and a community of friends and family that values your work.

What role does the creative have in society?

We are all creative people.Those of us who package our creativity for general consumption can inspire others to activate their creative side. We encourage people to view situations from multiple perspectives. We create spaces of dissent and rebellion. We create beauty in a world that is sometimes ugly but we also wallow in the ugliness at times so that people are made to feel uncomfortable and hopefully that discomfort inspires change.

What's your hidden talent?

It's clearly so hidden that I don't even know it.  

Who is the last person you texted? 

My sister in Virginia. We communicate daily. If we don't get to call or FaceTime then we send texts just to say "hi" and "I love you."

The person you admire most? 

My mom. I could say so much about her but I think what I admire most about her is her ability to rise from the ashes.

Your favorite piece of art?

It depends on my mood but right now I'm feeling the art I chose as the book cover for The Merchant of Feathers. I bought the painting at an estate sale and it doesn't have a signature on it so I have no clue who the artist is but it's a striking work of art.

What’s your favorite app – facebook, instagram, pinterest, twitter, snapchat or periscope? 

I use four of those but my favourite is still Facebook.

What do you dislike about your work?

I put it out into the universe because I like it. It's for the critics to discuss what they dislike.

Should the arts be funded?

Yes! Yes! However, funding should not dictate what artists are allowed to produce. The last thing we need is a bunch of artists kowtowing to sponsors in their creative output.

What role does arts funding have?

Contrary to popular belief, it takes money to produce art. Let's just think of writers as an example: funding can provide them with the physical (a room) and metaphorical space (peace of mind) needed to create work. Literature has global currency. People all over the world want to read and hear the narratives of Caribbean experience and as a country we need to do more to capitalize on that demand.

Favorite hotel in the world? 

Anywhere I am with my fiancé is the best hotel in the world. We have stayed at five star hotels and we have stayed at travel lodges and once we are together we are happy. (mushy and cliché but true)

Coffee or tea? 


Favorite Jamaican landmark? 

Not a single landmark but I love our old church buildings.

What’s your favorite curse word?

I use all of them. Why discriminate?

The thing you most value? 

I value it all because in a heartbeat it can all be taken away.

The most valuable lesson you’ve learned?

Sometimes you have to give yourself credit for simply surviving. Some people break under the pressure and we are so driven to succeed that sometimes we forget to clap ourselves on the back for simply holding up and holding it together.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

This is hard: I'm torn between eradicating world hunger and throwing bad mind people into a dungeon. Can I do both?