Emerging Author of the Month: Hawa Yusuf

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Tell us about yourself.

Not much to tell really. I am a 20-year-old journalism student at Centennial College and my hobbies include a lot of reading, writing and photography. Uh . . . and that’s me. (Sorry if this is so short, I am not really good with questions like this as you may already know.)

Tell us about the piece you’ve decided to share.

Well this piece is an excerpt from the novel I am working on called Strangers. The story takes a look at 17-year-old Mariam Ali, who was born and raised in Canada. At times though, Mariam feels like an alien in her own birthplace, not quite fitting in anywhere. Even though she is surrounded by such a culturally diverse society, Mariam believes that the idea of multiculturalism is a facade. A thing that first world countries boast about but truly never care for. She’d attended an Islamic private school all her life and is in for a major shock when her father tells her he can no longer afford to send her to private school. Suddenly she is thrust into the world of the Canadian, public high school system, where everything is different and she faces temptation, and adversaries around every corner. To make matters worse, she meets Grant Hughes, a notorious Islamophobe, who decides to make her life at her new school beyond unbearable.

The excerpt I decided to show is just of the prelude, where Mariam is attacked in an alleyway by a masked man.

When and why did you realize you had a passion for writing?

Growing up I had always liked writing. I mean English was by far my favorite class because it allowed us to be creative and asked our opinion on things and what not. It wasn’t however until the seventh grade that I realized how much I loved writing because we got this assignment one day that allowed us to write a short story and my reaction to it was pretty strange. I am pretty sure I squealed at the news. Never before was I ever that excited to do homework. That’s actually really geeky now that I think about. After some time now, I realized the primarily reason why I love to write is because it gives me (and this may sound cheesy) freedom. I have always felt limited because of someone else’s expectations of me, but not once did I ever feel limited when it came to writing. It was really liberating. Only when I picked up a pencil did I ever feel really content with myself. I could make the rules. I could make the story. It was all mine.

What pieces of writing/authors have had the greatest impact on you?

I’d have to be a fool not to say J.K. Rowling. Her books made me fall in love with reading at a young age. She made me realize just how powerful imagination is. I was enthralled by the words she uses, to the point where even now, I look back and think, wow was this really a children’s book? J.K. Rowling has this insane ability to literally make the story leap off the page, and it’s absolutely epic. It’s has made me really appreciate imagery as a tool. Lucy Maud Montgomery and Jane Austen are classic authors that I love because somehow they’ve made their stories timeless and I think a good story should be able to do that. Khaled Hosseini and Susan Abulhawa I admire because although their stories are fiction they open your eyes to an issue that someone is facing half-way across the world and I hope someday I can do that.

What kind of writer do you aspire to be?

I aspire to be the kind of writer that creates a home for someone. Naturally home is where you run to, because it’s safe and it gives you a bit of break. It’s the place where you can relax and be yourself. I think stories are temporary homes for us. It’s the place where people can relax and find relief from the hectic-ness that is their life. Growing up, books/stories were my catharsis and I hope someday my stories can be cathartic for someone else. Even if it’s just one person.

How and when do you find time to write?

I usually write in the evenings or late at night, because I have school before then. Weekends are the best time for me, because I wake up early and since I have nowhere to be, I immediately start writing. Sometimes I scribble some sentences into my notebook while I am on the subway to and from school and although not all of it is useful, I just like to know that I am still generating ideas and thoughts.