Each year, the Writing University conducts interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the International Writing Program's fall residency. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home. Today we are talking with Mashiul Alam মশিউল আলম (journalist, fiction writer, translator; Bangladesh).
Mashiul ALAM মশিউল আলম has published 12 novels and novellas, and eight collections of short stories; among the titles are Tanusreer Songey Dwitiyo Raat [Second Night with Tanusree] (2000), Mangsher Karbar [The Meat Market] (2002), Abedalir Mrittur Por [After Abedali's Death] (2004), and Pakistan [Pakistan] (2011). Among his many published stories, “Milk” was awarded the 2019 Himal South Asian Short Story Prize; a collection of his stories, in Shabnam Nadiya's translation, won a 2020 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant. He has translated Russian classics into Bengali. In 2019, he was awarded the debut Sylhet Mirror Prize for Literature. His participation was made possible by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State
1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?
Yes, I do. I have been writing a novel for several years now, and I want very much that I finish it by the time this residency program ends. But in fact I could not start working on it yet, as my mind has yet to settle down in this new atmosphere. I hope I will start very soon.
2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?
I used to write at night in the past, when I was younger and healthier. For about 25 years I had been writing very late at night, sometimes till 3 o' clock in the morning. But now I'm trying to change that: go to bed early and get up early in the morning and sit at the writing table. Despite difficulties in concentrating early in the morning, I'm trying it hard.
3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
Currently I'm reading Humboldt's Gift, a novel by Saul Bellow, for the second time. Second time because it is written in first person narrative, and I'm looking for this kind of narratives to look into the artistic/literary techniques of various novelists, because the novel I'm currently writing is also a first person narrative. Among other novels of this kind I read recently include Tin Drum by Gunther Grass and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
4. What is something the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and/or your work?
This is difficult for me to say. I can only ask you to read my stories, for that's possibly the right way to have some idea about me as a creative writer. As to my works published so far, short stories and novels, are my efforts to give voice to the underprivileged and struggling people of my country, who do not tell their own stories; who are, in fact, voiceless in the national life.
5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
I am from Bangladesh, a nation of 165 million people in South Asia, an evergreen land of thousands of rivers. My country is known for natural disasters, but I love to tell the stories of my people's resilience and struggles. My people fought for political independence from Pakistan, and won it 1971. Then they have been struggling for democracy and rule of law for 50 years now, without much success. But they do not give up; their struggles against undemocratic misrule of the successive rulers and the natural/environmental odds continue. I love to tell the stories of this strength and optimism of my people.