Bassey Ikpi

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Bassey Ikpi
Bassey Ikpi with Folu storms in Calabar at on NdaniTV.png
Bassey Ikpi
Born (1976-08-03) 3 August 1976 (age 43)
NationalityNigerian, American
OccupationPoet, writer, mental health advocate.

Bassey Ikpi is a Nigerian-born American spoken-word poet, writer, and mental health advocate.[1] She has appeared on HBO's Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry five times and her poetry has opened shows for Grammy Award-winning artists. She's also the New York Times bestselling author of "I'm Telling the Truth But I'm Lying."

Early life and work[edit]

Ikpi was born in Ikom, Cross River State, Nigeria, on August 3, 1976, to a Nigerian family who were originally from Ugep.[2] When she was four years old, she relocated with her parents to the Stillwater, Oklahoma, United States where she lived until she was 13. Then she moved to Greenbelt, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC.

She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to study English. While in college, she began performing her poetry on the Baltimore and Washington DC open mic circuit.[3] She left the course in her final year to move to New York City.

Bassey Ikpi in Nairobi (October 2015)

When she was around 21, Ikpi moved to New York City for more opportunities. It was there she discovered "the Louder Arts Movement", the Nuyorican Poets Café, and later the Def Poetry Jam.[2] It was also there where she learnt how to take her writing seriously.[4] She became a successful spoken-word artist in the city and was featured on the Def Poetry Jam TV show for 5 seasons, touring with the company for a year starting at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and then for another year doing the National tour with the original Broadway cast. She was on tour with Def Poetry Jam from 2001 to 2004.[4]

Bipolar diagnosis[edit]

In January 2004, in Chicago, during one of her tours around the country for the Def Poetry Jam, she had a breakdown from depression, anxiety and stress-induced insomnia.[2][5] A few days later, in New York City, she was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder,[6] something she claimed had always been there since she was a kid.[7]

She wrote about it publicly in an opinion piece on Huffington Post in January 2011. She has also spoken publicly about it in many public fora, as a way to help others overcome the stigma and understand the struggles. She has also written many freelance pieces "for several media outlets on the topic of mental health and pop culture commentary including Ebony, The Huffington Post,, and" [8]

Return to Nigeria[edit]

She returned to Nigeria first when she was 12, and later when she was 18. In 2012, at age 36, she returned to Lagos, Nigeria to work in spoken word, writing, and television.[9]

While in Lagos, she organised what she called the "Basseyworld Presents Naija Poetry Slam", a National Poetry Slam competition, the first in the country, in September, 2012.[9] The show was described as "an avenue to give a taste of Bassey’s innovative approach to the art of spoken word in an evening of poetry and thought-provoking discussion."[10][11]

In 2014, months after hundreds of school children were kidnapped from Chibok in Nigeria, Ikpi organised 'Do The Write Thing', an event to show support through the spoken word for the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. She also recorded a song with popular Nigerian artiste 2Face Idibia in support of the movement called 'Break The Silence'.

The Siwe Project and the "No Shame Day"[edit]

Ikpi founded "The Siwe Project", named after Siwe Monsanto, the fifteen-year-old daughter of her friend who committed suicide in 2011 after bouts of depression[12][13] as a way to encourage people with mental illnesses to "be inspired to seek help and to manage their illnesses and to not be afraid or ashamed to talk about it."[14] The Siwe Project is registered as "a global non-profit dedicated to promoting mental health awareness throughout the international black community."[14][15]

The project was launched in December 2011.[13]

On July 2, 2013, the first "No Shame Day" was held on social media, where people struggling with depression or mental illnesses are encouraged to post their stories without shame to the world. "An opportunity for people around the world to rally around mental health care... [with] candid discussions about mental illness stigma, diagnoses, and treatment options. The purpose of No Shame Day is to encourage more people to seek treatment without shame.[15]

First Book: I'm Telling the Truth But I'm Lying[edit]

On May 4, 2017, it was announced that her first book, a memoir titled Making Friends With Giants will be published by Harper Perennial in 2018.[16] The book is described as "a deep personal work that chronicles the Nigerian-American author's life living with Bipolar II disorder and anxiety, and a woman of color and combating the stigma surrounding it."[16]

The book, eventually renamed I'm Telling the Truth But I'm Lying was published in August 2019, and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. It has been described as "stunning essay collection" [17] Kola Tubosun calls it "a kind of map for those interested in learning about how mental illness affects people."[18]

Selected works[edit]

  • "Sometimes silence is the loudest kind of noise" - Spoken Word - Def Jam Season 2, Episode 3 (2003)
  • "Homeward" - Spoken Word - Def Jam Season 3, Episode 3 (2004)
  • "Diallo" - Spoken Word - Def Jam Season 4, Episode 3 (2005)
  • "I Want to Kiss You" - Spoken Word - Def Jam Season 5, Episode 2 (2006)
  • "Apology to My Unborn" - Spoken Word - Def Jam Season 6, Episode 5 (2007)
  • "Invisible Barriers" - Spoken Word for "Girl Effect" (2016)


  1. ^ "The Inspire Series with Glory Edozien: Understanding Mental Illness with Bassey Ikpi". BellaNaija. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  2. ^ a b c "'In Conversation with Bassey Ikpi'". NigeriansTalk/Kola Tubosun. 26 April 2014.
  3. ^ "'DEF POETRY JAM Goes Bicoastal'". PRNewsWire. 10 October 2003.
  4. ^ a b "Artists and Mental Illness Interview Series: Bassey Ikpi — Nomadic Press". Nomadic Press. 16 November 2015.
  5. ^ Alfaro, Jaime. "After the Violence and Videos, Therapists Learn to Treat Racial Trauma". YES! Magazine. Retrieved 2017-04-16.
  6. ^ "'A Chance to Change the Way We Look at Mental Illness'". Huffington Post. 19 January 2011.
  7. ^ "Artists and Mental Illness Interview Series: Bassey Ikpi — Nomadic Press". Nomadic Press. 16 November 2015.
  8. ^ "'Kenya: Spoken Word Artist Bassey Ikpi for Nairobi'". The Star/All Africa. 23 August 2015.
  9. ^ a b "'Move Back To Nigeria: Bursting With Creative Juices, Bassey Ikpi Speaks on Amazing Nigeria & the Challenges Experienced'". BellaNaija. 28 March 2014.
  10. ^ "'Bassey Ikpi hosts 'Poetry Slam' at TerraKulture'". 360Nobs. 11 September 2012. Archived from the original on 30 April 2016. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  11. ^ "'Bassey Ikpi's NAIJA POETRY SLAM @ Terrakulture'". 360Nobs. 10 September 2012.
  12. ^ "'Black Teens and Suicide: For the Love of Siwe'". The Root. 13 July 2011. Archived from the original on 2016-04-22.
  13. ^ a b "Bassey Ikpi: Her Story,SIWE, Mental Health Advocate And The Black Community". Pamela Stitch. 17 October 2012. Archived from the original on 3 June 2016.
  14. ^ a b "'Meet Bassey Ikpi, mental health advocate'". MSNBC. 14 July 2012.
  15. ^ a b "'No Shame Day'". 2 July 2012.
  16. ^ a b "Deals: Making Friends With Giants by Bassey Ikpi Acquired by Harper Perennial". Eric Smith. 2017-05-04. Retrieved 2017-05-04.
  17. ^ "How Writer Bassey Ikpi Intricately Weaves The Art Of Storytelling In Her Memoir About Mental Illness". Essence. Retrieved 2019-08-30.
  18. ^ "Bassey's Literature as Truth; Truth as Literature". ktravula - a travelogue!. 2019-07-18. Retrieved 2019-08-30.

External links[edit]