The Writing University conducts is a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the International Writing Program's fall residency. We sit down with the writers to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.
Today we are speaking with Eman AlYousuf م. إيمان اليوسف , a fiction writer and journalist from the United Arab Emirates.
1. Hello Eman! Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?
I intend for my residency experience to have a different impact on me. Since my last novel (Third) as well as all six books are somehow close in ideas and writing technique.
I have just sent my final draft of my third novel / seventh book to my publisher. It’s a novel discussing the philosophy of one Vs. group experiencing crucial life / phenomenological questions like, what if doomsday was experienced individually?
This is experienced by Me’ad, an Emirati wife and a mother of two boys who starts seeing all people with the same face, a face of a Greek God. She loses contact and identity by time.
I want to write an intimate memoir, where I get to open up personally and share deep parts of me and what I have been through. It is a thing I have never done before, but desired to do since I first started writing.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
I am a night writer. I mean I tried writing during different hours of the day, and it's not the same.
I get very scared when I start writing, so I switch on the TV on a familiar old show and mute it. I read or listen to some music first to get into the mood.
I find documentaries about writers and poetry most inspiring. I sometimes cook or go on long walks too. However, writing has always been and will always be extremely painful. As Hemingway said, “it is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.” In my case, it’s a laptop instead.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
I am reading “The Wall” by Jean-Paul Sartre, for pleasure.
4. What is something the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and/or your work?
I write for people, humans living in difficult economical and political conditions. Like Hussain Mansour in “Guardian of the sun” who dreams of owning a small piece of land and growing sunflowers. A simple but impossible dream in AL Mosul city in Iraq especially after ISIS destruction to Jonah’s Shrine (Mosque) where he works and lives.
In my two other novels I had a similar approach. I usually discuss the human suffer and pain and loss, living in hard circumstances which they can’t do anything about.
Also, none of my characters in all my short stories’ books (three so far) have names. I never describe looks, color or religion as I believe that regardless of our backgrounds, ethnicities and ideology at the end of the day we all share the same pain and feelings and dreams and needs. We look like each other more than we will ever know.
5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
I come from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. A young country that was born in 1971. A very ambitious country that grew to be the happiest among middle east countries and 20th happiest nation in the world according to the world happiness report 2015 - 2017. I lived all my life in Jumeirah, Dubai.
My home is only four minutes far from the sea. White soft sand and sunny beaches are part of who I am. It almost never rains here, and the weather is stable, I only experience spring and summer around the year.
We live with more than 200 different nationalities, since Dubai and especially Jumeirah is a tourist’s city / area. Therefore, I live among various languages, beliefs and backgrounds. I learned to accept others no matter how different they are. In fact, I found out that we are all very similar.
Dubai has both a very developed modern side, and another traditional cultural historical side. It's astonishing how they can live side by side and merge in a harmonious way. They complement each other.
To me, Jumeirah is a magical place. Something similar to the magical realism Marquez talks about in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Thank you Eman!
Eman ALYOUSUF م. إيمان اليوسف (fiction writer, journalist; United Arab Emirates), a chemical engineer by training, is the author of three short story anthologies and three novels; Haris al-Shams [The Sun’s Guardian] won the 2016 Emirates Novel Awards. Her short film Ghafa was screened at the 2017 Dubai International Film Festival. A columnist and editor at AlRoeya newspaper, she has published a collection of interviews with female Emirati writers, and promotes literary culture at home and abroad. She participates courtesy of the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. State Department.