Meet Hana: our first Reader! She'll be reading general submissions alongside the rest of the team, looking out for what she loves best (find out below!). We can't wait for her to bring her sunset golds.
Where are you based right now?
I am currently living in Bakersfield, California.
What do you do and love to do?
I am a college student double majoring in English Literature and Sociology. I love anything that combines the two of these, like reading literature from writers who are representing their own community and culture.
What will you be looking for in submissions to Synaesthesia?
Community and culture. Of course, as a reader I want to imagine the experience through fabrics, colours, sounds, flavours, etc., but in particular I look for writers who can present their work to our audience in a way where we can all feel this experience, and where some of us can relive it.
What do you like writing? And reading?
I enjoy writing a lot of poetry, but lately I have been experimenting with prose fiction and creative nonfiction. I also like to write a lot of what I like to read: works with transliteration and the use of multiple languages.
My reading has been pretty diverse in terms of genre; I am reading a lot of contemporary young adult and new adult fiction, particularly recently published works that have Muslim main characters. I have also been reading poems by Ocean Vuong and Omar Sakr, both of whom have writing that presents vulnerability and clear imagery.
Who are your favourite writers?
Some of my favourite classic writers include Jane Austen, James Joyce, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Plath and Judith Ortiz Cofer. Some more contemporary writers that I'm always on the lookout for are Ocean Vuong, Omar Sakr, Jandy Nelson, and Nina McConigley. While all these writers have very different voices and styles, I find their writing to be very clear: the language is easy to read without taking away from their distinct voices.
If your writing could be colours, what colours would they be?
Any colour that is warm toned. I always associated warm tones with familiarity, and I hope that my writing can represent something familiar. Not in the sense of 'she sounds like Jane Austen' (if only), but in the sense that anyone who reads it wouldn't feel like an outsider by the end of the story.
As an Arab American Muslim, feeling like an outsider comes with the identity, as well as the struggle to assimilate to appease Western society. For me, I want to be able to write about my experience, my culture, and my people, without anyone automatically distancing us as some sort of 'other'.
At the same time, I want to make sure that I don't dilute the experience to make the writing palatable for those who already have preconceived ideas. I want my writing to feel like a home: to be covered in my culture, my religion, my American influences. I want it to accurately represent people like my mom, my dad, my family and my friends. I want others to feel welcomed, to know that they've always been welcomed so long as they've welcomed me and people just like me.
I also want it to be realistic, to portray the good and the bad in the way that my community sees it. I don't know how to describe it other than warm tones: reds, golds, oranges, yellows, browns. All mixed in. Those colours often reflect the objects and places that bring familiarity and memories from my own life.
Last time a piece of writing made you cry?
I rarely cry whenever I read, but a short story I recently read from Nina McConigley's collection: Cowboys and East Indians, had me crying for hours. The story, 'Fenced Out,' is about a young Indian mother, Madhu, who immigrates to the U.S. with her husband and children.
The story starts off with a car accident, which changes her entire life, including her family dynamic. This story does contain a bit of sexual violence, so I do want to warn potential readers about that. Although I'm not Indian, as an Arab I can't help but notice some similarities in the two cultures, particularly when it comes to gender and family dynamics.
The unfortunate reality is that with this story, I was able to picture women within my own culture having a similar outcome.
Last holiday you had?
The last holiday I had was Eid Al Fitr, which is an Islamic holiday that celebrates the end to the month of Ramadan. Although California has yet to make Eid an official holiday, I took a few days off to spend with family, and attend an Eid festival a few towns over.
The festival was amazing, with camel rides, food trucks, zip lining and fireworks. What was really inspiring about this event was that my sister and two other mothers coordinated the event, and raised money to put back into their own Muslim community.
I have never had a large goal or hope crushed directly, they are all still intact and something that I'm working on, but I have had plenty of smaller crushes.
The most recent crush that I can think of is when I got a rejection from a short story that I submitted to a literary magazine. To be honest, it did hurt a bit at first, but I'm glad that I submitted it anyway. I think rejection and critiques are crucial parts of any artistic process, and it gives you time to reflect on your own work. With this particular short story, I had to think about if it is worth salvaging.
I decided that it is; that it needed a lot more edits and planning. Because I wanted to represent something within my own community, I wanted to make sure that I represented it realistically. I tried to tackle a personal heavy topic, by trying to represent the way that Orientalism has shaped Arab Americans, and how much we've internalised those ideals.
And because of that internalization, I have to dig deep to accurately present them. I'm still digging, but I'm glad to do so with an end product in sight.
My biggest achievement is getting the opportunity to work on my university's literary journal Orpheus. The journal started in the early 1970s by one of the faculty members in the English Department, Dr. Iyasere, but stopped when he passed away in 2016. With the advising of another professor in the department, Dr. Charles MacQuarrie, we were able to continue the publication, as well as continue Dr. Iyasere's legacy through Orpheus.
Although I made many mistakes, I learned through trial and error, and we produced the end result of a physical hard copy. This last spring, we were also able to bring a full board, with five other student editors. I was given the freedom to experiment, while I was also given the support and advising from Dr. MacQuarrie.
Through the artistic freedom and the many hours navigating through Adobe InDesign, I realised how much I loved the entire process. Every mistake with margins, fonts, programs, and print tests was fun and exciting. Most importantly, it was reassuring to know through experience that the publishing world was something that I was ready to dive into.
Hana is a Muslim Yemeni American writer. She is currently working on her undergrad degree at CSU Bakersfield, double majoring in Sociology and English Literature. During her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, reading and writing, as well as watching conspiracy theories and 'mockumentary' sitcoms such as The Office. Her favorite literature is own-voice literature on different cultures and communities, particularly those that include transliteration text. Hana is also a proud Hufflepuff.