Each year, the Writing University conducts interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the various writing programs on campus. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.
Today we are speaking with Waseem Rashid, a writer from Srinagar, Kashmir and an MFA candidate in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
1. Hello Waseem! Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to the University of Iowa?
Well, the University of Iowa has the best creative writing program anywhere in the US. Some of my favorite writers — Jamil Jan Kochai, Aamina Ahmad, Yaa Gyasi, hurmat kazmi — have studied here. So it was really a no-brainer. Also, my mentor Karan Mahajan who teaches creative writing at Brown University spoke highly of it when I was thinking of applying for an MFA.
2. What is the inspiration for your work right now?
My work centers on the political conflict in my homeland Kashmir and how it affects every aspect of our collective and individual life. Upwards of 70,000 Kashmiris have been killed over the past three decades, with more than 8,000 forcibly disappeared and thousands others raped, tortured and crippled for life. Human rights abuse, interminable curfews, internet shutdowns, random search operations, and firefights are a regular feature of life in Kashmir. According to a 2015 report by Médecins Sans Frontières, nearly 1.8 million adults –— 45 percent of Kashmir valley’s adult population –— suffer from some form of mental distress. I write to tell stories that people in seats of power would rather go untold. Writing for me is the ‘struggle of memory against forgetting.’
3. Do you have a daily writing routine?
I have been writing in the afternoon for the past month or so. But frankly there is no real routine. I could be working all day if it is going well, or just a couple of hours right before going to bed if it is not.
4. What are you reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?
I’m reading Taymour Soomro’s excellent debut novel Other Names for Love. It feels like I’m reading fiction less and less for pleasure these days, and more with an eye to sentence construction, music and rhythm of the prose, characterization, and all the other writerly stuff. I wish I could just turn my writer’s brain off while I’m reading and get lost in the story like I used to. Interestingly, though, it is when I’m reading non-fiction — I’m reading Richard Eaton’s India in the Persianate Age at the moment — that I’m able to let go of these concerns.
5. Tell us about where you are from - what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?
I’m from Srinagar, Kashmir. The place is magical — beautiful landscapes, soaring peaks, lush valleys, amazing food, music, culture, and above all warm and generous people. Among many other wonderful things, the place boasts of Asia’s largest tulip garden, Gulmarg ski resort, Dachigam national park, and Lake Dal. It is tourist heaven.
Author Bio: Waseem Rashid is a writer from Srinagar, Kashmir. A former South Asia Speaks fellow, he is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where is an inaugural Sonny Mehta fellow.