Longing for a Holiday: Interview with Zohra Saed
Ask Zohra Saed what she’s writing, and she may tell you about her dissertation, but that’s just the beginning. More than an academic, more than a poet, more than a teacher, Saed just wrote the preface for a reprint of Lowell Thomas's Adventures in Afghanistan for Boys. “That was important for me,” she adds. “He visited Jalalabad, where I was born, in the 1920s.” She’s also published personal essays, poetry and historical writings, is edting a chapbook on Langston Hughes's trip to Central Asia, and writing down remembered Afghan fairytales. “They are stories that my father told me while I was growing up.”
She’s also a WriMo, taking on National Novel Writing Month for the third time this year. We caught up to talk about the NaNoWriMo experience, taking a writing holiday, and the writing magic that comes from longing.
Kristy Lin Billuni: I can see a connection between your dissertation and your forthcoming projects. Is your NaNoWriMo project related too?
Zohra Saed: Yes, I feel like all of my work springs from one area or one theme. Langston Hughes is very important to my academic work, so writing about him fuels my dissertation, the chapbook, and the proposal I want to develop for a future full book. Also, there’s this children's lit project I want to start writing. For NaNoWriMo, I want to try out fiction, so I’m dividing up the weeks to maximize the month: two weeks for Hughes, then two weeks for the children’s stories.
KLB: All that crossover makes the November writing really valuable. Did you find that to be true with NaNoWriMo last year too?
ZS: Yes, even though last year it was just the memoir. The memoir work can be recycled for a fiction work I want tackle after the dissertation plus connective tissue for the Hughes since the timeline of my family history crosses over with Hughes's visit to Central Asia.
KLB: And your first year?
ZS: The first time, I lost my files and got bummed out after the first week, but then I kept getting these positive emails from them, and all these awesome friends were doing it, so I came back the next year. The month is so charged and uplifting, with so many people doing it and checking in, it's like a long holiday for writers, a reunion with your work and community of writers. I actually write intensely twice a year, I’d say for a month. One is Ramadan. I do it to stop thinking about fasting. The other is NaNoWriMo. One is lonelier; the other is more festive. One is more about longing, and the other more about getting whatever it is inside out.
KLB: I love that NaNoWriMo is so effective, you can use it in any creative way you like and grow and move forward a lot.
ZS: What I love are the check ins, Facebook status updates, Instagram photos of progress, the Twitter community, the website message boards, the hashtags, and the excitement from writers. It’s like a friendly competitive space. The bells and whistles help. The encouraging words help. It's actually awesome. I got about 75 pages of a rough memoir done last year.
KLB: As you know, I use sexual metaphor when I teach writing. How is writing like sex for you?
ZS: It is a longing for the beloved, an expression of longing and wanting to be with a beloved. But the longing itself is where writing happens.
The Sexy Grammarian meets amazing writers wherever she goes and loves bringing writer interviews to readers on the blog. Follow the last week of Zohra Saed on Twitter and catch all the novel-in-a-month madness on The Sexy G's NaNoWriMo Twitter list.