Hanna Ali is a writer, poet, teaching fellow and so much more. She is the first contemporary author to publish her collection of short stories in Somali.
Through her book “Sheekadii noloshayada”(The Story of us), she never shies away from controversial topics, while she proves that where there is pain, there is beauty.
She explores the themes of home and (un)belonging in her creative works, and captures the unspoken tensions and hopes of displaced people, therefore, it’s only apt that her work is accessible to the entirety of the Somali diaspora and beyond.
Having shared her insights on how to stay relevant as a creative writer during an SLA Facebook Live, Hanna talks extensively about her writing and her decision to publish in Somali instead of English language.
Why is it important for you to publish in Somali?
I think it’s powerful to say that I am a Somali author who has been translated to Somali. Buying my short stories is much bigger than myself and it’s about supporting this incredibly amazing movement of bringing modern stories in indigenous African languages.
Market FiftyFour has given me an incredible platform to publish in Somali and I was attracted to the notion that African stories in African languages matter. They matter because we exist, and we not only deserve but demand brand new, contemporary stories in the indigenous languages.
Your work covers themes of displacement, fracture, uprootedness. Why are these important themes for you?
These are important themes for me because I was a child refugee, and the experiences that I have had of course affect my work.
I also think that a great deal of Africans and of course others in the West do feel a sense of displacement as part of the diaspora experience and the notion that you don’t quite fit in anywhere.
Through my short stories, I hope that people (Somalis in particular), will connect to feelings of uprootedness and to know that they’re not alone in their life experiences.
There is a poetic ring to your prose, and you consider yourself first and foremost a poet. What is it that draws you to poetry?
Poetry, for me, is very raw and it’s a genre that always sticks with me; poems have a way of hitting you hard in that pit in the bottom of your stomach and unearthing all the tense feelings that we carry.
My short stories were created out of my poetry and the intent is for my stories to read like poetry in the sense that I want it to be raw and vulnerable and full of meanings that hopefully anyone can relate to and draw from.
Do you have a routine to get into writing? What space do you get into for you to be creative?
I find that I write at the most random time, whether it’s convenient or not! Sometimes it’s waking up from a dream at 3 am and making notes on my phone, other times it’s whilst working on something else.
I wish that I could say that sitting down with a big cup of tea and soft music at home is the magic trick that wills my mind into writing but mostly you just take what you can get.
Having said that, most of my best writing has come from sitting outside on a warm day or night so maybe that’s my secret after all; fresh air and warmth.
Since storytelling is very important in Somali culture, how do you draw inspiration from your Somali roots in your stories?
I draw inspiration from my Somali roots simply because I am a Somali who was born in Somalia and who speaks Somali.
I grew up in Europe and therefore my culture is all around me, I’d say it’s hard to not draw inspiration from it!
A lot of the topics you tackle are contentious, how important was it for you to veer away from conventional and safe topics?
Nothing about me has ever been “safe” or “conventional” and so, of course, my writings have no place being in that sort of category.
I wouldn’t necessarily claim that I went out of my way to write contentious topics, but I do think it’s important for any writer to speak their truth and to let their creative imagination take them to where it needs to go to organically by not having an agenda per se but an idea.
Also, safe and conventional just oozes out boredom and I hope that my writing is anything but boring.
How do you make sure that your writing skills improve?
I think that it’s very important for writers to be well-read and to take themselves outside of the bubble of writing by reading different genres and writing styles.
Sometimes when you’re in a writing phase, you tend to lose yourself inside of an imaginary world so reading lots and taking time out to focus solely on my doctoral studies helps me to then come back to my creative work with a new perspective.
I also find that there are always going to be bad first drafts and accepting that is an important way to improve.
What is your advice to young African female writers on getting published?
My advice is put yourself forward and apply to as many writing competitions as possible alongside online magazines and other creative platforms that are continually looking for submissions.
It’s important to know that rejection is an essential part of any creative work and that you should never let that steer you from your goal.
Ultimately, you must be the greatest believer in yourself and your work and eventually, the world will catch up as well. Just do it!
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