Kathryn K. Abdul-Baki
Kathryn K. Abdul-Baki's visit was very interesting and opened my eyes to inspirations behind her book of short stories, "Fields of Fig and Olive", which she titled for its representation of Middle Eastern cuisine and culture. She introduced herself talking about her mixed heritage, in which she grew up in the Middle East but was born in DC. I thought it was interesting that her three kids were spread across the world, one of her daughters recently having moved to Australia. It seemed like her past was very cultured and so was the present for her family. I imagined she encouraged them to travel and explore the world.
When she talked about her inspirations, she began by saying she wrote what she knew best about. This has always been the advice given to me as a writer and it was nice to receive that confirmation from a published author. She said she began writing for a Western audience because she grew up with English as her first language. I thought this was an interesting point because writing for a different culture is something I've never had to consider. She explained that she had to tailor her writing to take out the stiff language of her country.
Another writing technique she discussed is revising. She said there were probably hundreds of revisions of the stories we read and that made her seem much more personable. It was encouraging to know that she struggled with first drafts like I do and finds herself more comfortable when going back to a story. I've learned to be more comfortable with revising and finding my inner writing voice as well. She also repeated the phrase that every story starts from a "kernel of truth", and how fiction writers often take liberties.
The inspirations behind her short stories seem to come mainly from her own experiences, those of her family, or stories she heard from her caretaker. In every background, Abdul-Baki brought up how her curiosity was piqued by a certain action and she wrote the story to understand "why". In Nariman's back story, she said she sympathized with the story of a rapist who asked the woman if she was still a virgin. I liked the honesty she told in stories and could easily relate with why she wrote about it. The story of the literary magazine making her change the ending to one of forgiveness was also surprising because she was so gracious about it.
She talked a lot about feminism in the Middle East and how it is put on the back burner when bigger issues arrive. It was inspiring to see another author passionate about a certain cause and letting that passion be shown through their literature. Also, she told us about the current state in Saudi Arabi where women still are not able to drive. I didn't know anything about that and being up on international current events has become more of a priority for me.
I enjoyed hearing everything that the author had to say about her work and life. The visit introduced me to a few books and authors I hadn't heard of, like Penelope Lively and Joyce Oates, and my interest in international short stories has broadened. Also, I am taking to heart the advice she gave to help my own writing career like when she said while she was writing a book, she would read books with similar topics to help her stay in that state of mind. It was a very enriching experience.