All posts tagged: interview

Ask a Local with José Pinto de Sá: Maputo, Mozambique

With JOSÉ PINTO DE SÁ, translated by Jethro Soutar

José is a contributor to our Luso portfolio coming out in the fall issue.

maputo ask a local

Your name: José Pinto de Sá

Current city or town: Maputo, Mozambique

How long have you lived here: Seventy years, albeit with periods spent abroad as a political refugee or for family reasons

Three words to describe the climate: Tropical, hot and humid

Best time of year to visit? Between May and July, when the humidity and rainfall drops considerably and the average temperature is about 20 degrees Celsius, with a few daily fluctuations

1) The most striking physical features of this city/town are . . .

The light and the sea breeze. The city is built on a red sandstone headland that sticks out, at an average height of 80 meters, into Delagoa Bay, where five rivers from the savannah reach the sea. Up the coast to the east are beaches as far as the eye can see, while to the south the bay is home to an important port, one that is vital to southern Africa’s hinterland. Opposite the city, across the bay, are the Katembe lowlands, now connected to Maputo by the largest suspension bridge in Africa.

2) Historical context in broad strokes and the moments in which you feel this history . . .

Like hermit crabs, different inhabitants have occupied the conch shell of Maputo since the Portuguese first built the city in the late nineteenth century. Back then, the colonists lived in the Cement neighborhoods on the upper side overlooking the bay, in streets bordered by crimson acacias and jacarandas and with pretty houses surrounded by gardens. The black population, meanwhile, inhabited the Reeds,” living in huts made from reeds and sheet metal, with no roads, or electricity, or drinking water, or sewage, or garbage collection etc… After 45 years of independence, this shocking state of affairs has barely changed. A scandalously rich black elite now occupies the Cement, while ordinary Matupenses live in poverty in periphery neighborhoods that grow exponentially due to a rural exodus caused by war. The Maputo metropolitan area has a population of around three million people and the vast majority live in these periphery neighborhoods.

3) Local political debates frequently seem to center on . . . 

The most recent government corruption scandals. The degree of corruption is ridiculously high at every level of Mozambican society, from cabinet ministers to police patrols. The other hot topic is the worsening political-military situation in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. The region, home to the largest deposits of natural gas in the southern hemisphere, has suffered a number of terrorist attacks from alleged Islamist insurgents since 2017. The conflict, which has already caused over a thousand deaths and the displacement of 250,000 people, is well on its way to degenerating into a large-scale war and the government is clearly incapable of containing the situation.

4) Local/regional vocabulary or food?

The day-to-day lingo of Maputo is a mixture of Portuguese (the country’s official language), English (the language of business and a by-product of having a powerful neighbor in South Africa) and two Bantu languages, XiRonga and XiChangana, which are both spoken in the south of Mozambique. This linguistic variety, allied to the harmonious co-existence, in ethnic and religious terms, of Africans, Asians and Europeans, gives the city a heavy sense of Indian Ocean cosmopolitism.

5) The stereotype of the people who live here and what this stereotype misses . . .

Resilience is perhaps the easiest characteristic to attribute to Maputenses given the manifold difficulties they make do with and overcome simply to survive. Mozambique is 180th out of 189 on the United Nations Human Development Index. From precarious housing in shanty towns that flood whenever it rains to public transport that treats them like cattle, life is not easy for most citizens of Maputo. To keep on smiling after all the years of colonial oppression and the successive wars, droughts, floods and epidemics that have plagued the country since independence, shows that we Maputenses are possessed of immense stoicism and an undefeatable sense of humor.

 

José Pinto de Sá is a Mozambican writer, playwright and journalist. His short stories have been published in Mozambique, Portugal, Brazil, France, Belgium and, now, the United States.

Jethro Soutar is a translator of Spanish and Portuguese. He has a particular focus on works from Africa and has translated novels from Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Cape Verde. He is also editor of Dedalus Africa and a co-founder of Ragpicker Press. Originally from Sheffield in the UK, he now lives in Lisbon, Portugal.

Photo by José Pinto de Sá.

Ask a Local with José Pinto de Sá: Maputo, Mozambique
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Free Expression Under Tyranny: an Interview with Colette Bahna

RAED RAFEI interviews COLETTE BAHNA.
Translated from the Arabic by Raed Rafei.


Pharaohs, Distorted Body Parts, and Eclectic Symbolism 

From her home in Syria, Colette Bahna has been producing short stories, novels, plays, television scripts, and journalism since the 1980s. Despite the raging war in her home country, Bahna remains tenaciously attached to staying there. 

Bahna’s writing is infused with symbolism: ancient Egyptian history, biblical stories, and folk tales all allow her to write about life under despotism. With dark and piercing irony, she manages to go beyond the confines of the Syrian experience to compose timeless stories about injustice, tyranny, freedom, and love. 

Lebanese journalist, translator, and filmmaker Raed Rafei spoke with Bahna about her short story و/Waw, which appears in Issue No.17 of The Common; interconnectedness in her texts; writing during times of oppression; and her decision to remain in Syria.

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Free Expression Under Tyranny: an Interview with Colette Bahna
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Ask a Local with Anika Fajardo: Minneapolis, Minnesota

With ANIKA FAJARDO

MN

Name: Anika Fajardo

Current city or town: Minneapolis, Minnesota

  1. The most striking physical features of this city/town are . . .

Minneapolis is known as the “city of lakes” because of the five large bodies of water nestled in among the city blocks of houses and small businesses. The lakes give the city a vacation feel during the summer. You can go to the beach, bike and walk, and eat ice cream.

Ask a Local with Anika Fajardo: Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Living the Bright Words: A Conversation with Eco-poet Kimberly Burwick

REBECCA GAYLE HOWELL interviews KIMBERLY BURWICK

In times of stress and challenge, I find myself returning to the work of a handful of poets—writers like Wendell Berry, Carolyn Forché, Aracelis Girmay, W.S. Merwin—poets who do not ignore our planet’s struggles, but instead move through them, transforming worry by turning it into lyric, songs that call us toward our higher selves. Poet Kimberly Burwick is also on my shortlist, though you may not yet be familiar with her work, as she is a writer who shies away from the public spotlight. Burwick has spent her time simply getting the work done, quietly publishing brilliant lyric after brilliant lyric, books that for me become my teachers in the work of difficult reconciliation and earned hope. Or, as poet Kaveh Akbar writes, “Burwick’s singular ear is matched only by her singular spirit.”

Kimberly Burwick’s fifth collection of poems, Brightword, is recently out from Carnegie Mellon University Press.

 

RGH: Let’s begin with your title. BRIGHTWORD. For most of your readers, that word is an alluring, if strange or new, concept. But lovers of poetry may recognize it as a reference. Can you tell us a bit about where “brightword” comes from and what it means to you?

KB: The title comes directly from a line by Paul Celan: “Near, in the aorta’s-arch, / in the bright blood: / the brightword.” I had been writing a series of poems dealing with my young son’s aortic condition, paying painfully close attention to the articulation of his breath, his body. Oddly enough, he was paying closer, if not meticulous, attention to the environment. Suddenly, he was leading me through the brightness and newness of language in snow, in crushed beetles, dust, sap…in everything. I loved how it all seemed smashed together, which is why I wanted “bright and word” to also be banded as one. Plus, I liked saying it aloud. As if it also had motion. I mean, when you speak it, it sounds like “bightward“. It calmed me down, actually. As if we had some kind of direction: a plan for his heart. A plan for the environment.

 

RGH: Do you mind sharing with readers the terms of your son’s condition?

KB: Levi—who is now eight years old—has a bicuspid aortic valve (meaning the valve regulating blood flow from the heart has only two leaflets, or cusps, instead of three), which is actually quite common. The problem in his case is that it is causing his ascending aorta to enlarge significantly. It’s sort of like a balloon. Too much pressure upon it and it will burst. But there are no symptoms. There won’t ever be. A doctor once told me, “The first symptom is death.” That’s quite a sentence to metabolize. So we live by numbers, by Z-scores and yearly measurements. There’s a surgical option, but that comes with serious risks as well. There’s medicine that may or may not help. So we let him be a kid, without bubble-wrap. An amazing human being who loves the world more than anyone I’ve known. He keeps us present.

Living the Bright Words: A Conversation with Eco-poet Kimberly Burwick
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Dream Logic: An Interview with Joseph O’Neill

JENNIFER ACKER interviews JOSEPH O’NEILL

Joseph O Neill

Joseph O’Neill is an Irish and Turkish writer who grew up in the Netherlands, practiced law in England, and now lives in New York City while teaching at Bard College. His novel Netherland won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award and was praised by President Obama. O’Neill’s novel The Dog was nominated for the 2014 Booker Prize. He is known for  sentences that are both precise and extravagant, that build on each other to undulating and dazzling effect. His work is founded on a bedrock sense of humor, and a healthy sense of the absurd is never far away. And yet his novels and stories are never merely funny; they are also rich excavations of character and observations of modern life. This keen eye, alongside evident empathy and wit are on display in his first collection of short stories, Good Trouble, which was released in 2019 and has been called “an essential book, full of unexpected bursts of meaning and beauty.” This conversation is adapted from O’Neill’s visit to Amherst College this winter.

Dream Logic: An Interview with Joseph O’Neill
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Poetry-Making as Empathy Play: An Interview with Oliver de la Paz

CAMERON FINCH interviews OLIVER DE LA PAZ

Headshot of Oliver de la PazOliver de la Paz is the author of five collections of poetry, including his latest book, The Boy in the Labyrinth (University of Akron Press, 2019). His work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Tin House, The Common, The Southern Review, and Poetry Northwest. He is a founding member of Kundiman and now serves as co-chair of Kundiman’s advisory board. He teaches at the College of the Holy Cross and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at Pacific Lutheran University.

Cameron Finch spoke with Oliver about mythic metaphors, the problem with story problems, empathy in the digital era, and the role of poetry in the endless exploration of ourselves.

Poetry-Making as Empathy Play: An Interview with Oliver de la Paz
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Ask a Local: Glenn Diaz, Manila, The Philippines

With GLENN DIAZ

Manila streets

Plaza Lacson in Sta Cruz, Manila. Photo by Glenn Diaz

Name: Glenn Diaz

Current city or town: Manila, The Philippines

How long have you lived here: 30 years

Three words to describe the climate: Hot, humid, often-dystopic

Best time of year to visit? Probably beginning October, when the amihan (trade winds) arrives, to March just before the onset of summer.

Ask a Local: Glenn Diaz, Manila, The Philippines
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I Am the Fire Starter: an Interview with Haidar Haidar

HISHAM BUSTANI interviews HAIDAR HAIDAR

Translated by RAED RAFEI

Haidar Haidar Headshot

Nothing parallels the effect left by the nightmarish atmospheres in the writings of Haidar Haidar. His novels and stories drill deep into our illusory serenity: a serenity we often use to trick ourselves into continuing our lives even when surrounded by death, destruction and injustice. Despite changing times, Haidar has not been defeated by censorship—either imposed by others or himself. He has kept a fierce, critical distance from all sides: the dictatorship of the ruling regime in his country of Syria; the dictatorship of public taste and “conventions”; the oppression of dogmatic ideology and the ruling party; the tyranny of power derived from religion. The literary “School of Haidar Haidar” is not dystopian but one that considers our reality to be far more miserable than any dystopia. Art is realized through the transformation of this reality from inside out, and by directly confronting decay with creative and avant-garde writing forms.

Haidar Haidar was born in the village of Hussein al-Baher on the Syrian coast. He taught Arabic in Annaba, Algeria, then settled in Beirut where he worked in publishing. At the start of the Lebanese civil war he joined the Palestinian resistance movement—when the resistance left Beirut in 1982, he moved to Cyprus to work as a Culture Editor of Al Mawqef al-Arabi (The Arab Stance) and Sawt al Bilad (The Voice of the Homeland). In 1985, Haidar Haidar returned to his hometown, and has remained there since. He has written seventeen books of fiction, short fiction, essay, and biography. His short story “The Silence of Fire” appears in Issue 17 of The Common.

Hisham Bustani, Arabic Fiction Editor of The Common, spoke with Haidar this year about nightmare visions, Palestinian resistance, the migrations that have carried Haidar “through deserts, cities and seas” back to childhood, and “boldness… always boldness.” This interview is translated from the Arabic by Raed Rafei.

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I Am the Fire Starter: an Interview with Haidar Haidar
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“I Hope I’m Not a Moth”: Lindsay Wong on Coming of Age Through Memoir

MARNI BERGER interviews LINDSAY WONG

wong headshot

Lindsay Wong’s debut memoir The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, selected for the 2019 edition of Canada Reads (where it was defended by fashion personality Joe Zee), longlisted for the Leacock Medal for humor, and awarded the Hubert Evans Nonfiction Prize. Wong holds a BFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and an MFA in literary nonfiction from Columbia University. Her short stories and nonfiction have appeared in Apogee Journal, No Tokens, Ricepaper, and The Fiddlehead, and she has earned residencies from The Studios of Key West, Caldera Arts, and the Historic Joy Kogawa House, to name a few.

In this interview, long-time friends Marni Berger and Lindsay Wong span Portland, Maine and Vancouver, British Columbia via the beauty of the internet (as they have for the better part of a decade). They cover topics from sleeping on a mattress beside your grandmother during Hurricane Sandy to visiting your mother’s haunted playground in Hong Kong; and from avoiding self-promotion on social media to coming of age while writing a memoir.

 

“I Hope I’m Not a Moth”: Lindsay Wong on Coming of Age Through Memoir
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Theorizing Delight: An Interview with Ross Gay 

JENNIFER ACKER and CURTIS BAUER interview ROSS GAY

headshot of ross gay sitting in a garden

Ross Gay is the author of the poetry collections Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award and a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award, Bringing the Shovel Down, and Against WhichIn February he published his first book of prose, The Book of Delights. At the 2019 AWP Conference in Portland, OR, The Common’s editor in chief, Jennifer Acker, and Translations Editor, Curtis Bauer, sat down with Ross over lunch to talk about his latest book, which has led him to realize his life’s work.   

  

JA: It seems to me that your two recent books, the Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude and The Book of Delights, were written in a similar vein and in a similar spirit, even just from the titles. One of the things they’re both doing is thematically trying to draw attention to joy and delight. I wonder if they were consciously part of the same project, different outlets for similar impulse? 

Theorizing Delight: An Interview with Ross Gay 
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