By Aminah Sheikh
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
I write to try to make sense of the world, and to understand burning questions that I struggle to answer. So my writing is an attempt to think through and grapple with complex questions about life, love, politics and society.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
I most recently published Guapa through Speaking Tiger. Many people initially see the book as a novel about gay life in the Middle East, but I wrote the book with broader questions in mind: how do we tackle our different and sometimes conflicting identities, both personally and politically? How do we fight through legitimate personal and political fears and catastrophes to create positive change in the world? Why are some identities considered “deviant” in society, and how can such so-called “deviants” find a place for themselves in their families and societies? In writing Guapa, I wasn’t trying to make any point, I was simply thinking through these questions through the lives of my characters and the political and personal problems they were grappling with.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
I’m not a fan of flowery prose, and much prefer writing that is stripped down and simple, but conveys complex issues. I enjoy writing characters and dialogue quite a bit, so I find that my writing tends to primarily focus on the inner struggles within characters and the relationships between them. I also love black humour, which is probably why many people tell me that Guapa is, despite its darkness, a very funny book.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have so many; it’s difficult to name them all, and I inevitably forget someone. Writing Guapa, I found Waguih Ghali, Colm Toibin and James Baldwin to be huge influences, as well as the writings and stories of Arab activists during the 2011 revolutions: Lina Sinjab, Omar Robert-Hamilton, and Atiaf Alwazir, among others.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
Every piece presents its own challenges. Some of my stories have been sitting in the drawer for nearly a decade as I haven’t yet “cracked” them, so to speak. My current writing project feels incredibly challenging: I’m trying to write about a family over the span of a number of generations, and trying to keep it true to the historical time period is difficult and requires a lot of research. Trying to find the balance between historical accuracy and authentic writing is a daily struggle.