Emerging Author of the Month: Zarmina Rafi


Tell us about yourself.

I could say many things about myself but I think the most significant event of my life so far has been the move from Pakistan to Canada. I was born and raised in Pakistan, and have lived in Canada for about fourteen years now.

While the experience of living in, and having access to two different worlds is and has been rife with possibility, I do not think it is a situation to be romanticized. For me there was a lot of fracture in the experience, and I am dealing with much of the aftermath now. What I have gained is not insignificant, but what one loses in such a move is something I have been thinking about.

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

It’s a piece that was recently published in Filling Station, and I guess it’s a mix of fiction and memoir. Among other things it contains in it a sense of play (from a stylistic point of view).

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

I always loved to read so I think there was a desire to make something similar to the things I enjoyed reading. When I was about eleven or twelve I would read up to three Sweet Valley High series books on a daily basis.

While the books were not literary in nature, perhaps they instilled in me an appreciation for character, drama and plot. I took Writer’s Craft in high school and then too I desired to become a writer. It’s the only thing I had wanted to be. I also liked analyzing texts in school. There was some joy for me in reading what could be between the lines.

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

This is a difficult question because I have been moved by different writers and by different kinds of writing at various stages of my life. I was quite young when I read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, and I thought it was fantastic, because of its characterization, and for its realistic portrayal of a city teeming with so much. I like J. M. Coetzee’s work for its precision and clarity, but also because at the end of any of his works one feels as though she has traveled across highly complex physical and psychological terrains. I also like works that are layered and complicates genre, here I’m thinking of writers such as W. G. Sebald and Roberto Bolano. In the last two years I have been reading a lot of avant-garde poetry (Canadian and otherwise). There are some great poets coming out of Vancouver. Probably all of the poets in Coach House’s Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics, I found have been inspiring to me. I think Gertrude Stein is great. T.S. Eliot was a big favourite earlier on. I’m sure I’ve missed some other names . . . Oh yes, Duras, I like Marguerite Duras very much. I also like Nella Larsen from the Harlem Renaissance.

What kind of writer do you aspire to be?

In writing and in art, I would like to be as close as possible to the truth of what I see in the world, and/or how I see the world. By truth I don’t mean a universal truth. I mean a truth that is truthful to the core of my being in how I receive the natural world and the material world. I think the job of writers/artists is to collect images and experiences and sensations. Sometimes we sift through these to get to the kernel of a story, and at other times we expand upon these to create an accumulation or texture out of seemingly disparate chunks.

As in any other activity that I engage in, in writing too I aspire to be exactly like my own self, which means that at all times I must be able to and open to move, prod, find, question or wonder upon any object, person, place or thing of interest. I do not wish to impart wisdom to my readers, there is no wisdom to be imparted. It’s all in being curious, in the world and on paper.

How and when do you find time to write?

Even though I have been writing for the past ten years, it’s only in the last two years that I have spent much of my spare time writing. On average I work 4–5 days a week, and when I’m not at work, I am writing. I rent a space where I go to write and having that dedicated space has been a big part of getting the work done.