Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sarwa Azeez

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

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Sarwa Azeez

completed an MA in English Literature at Leicester University in 2012. Growing up in wartime Iraq, the flickering light of kerosene lantern did not reduce her passion for reading. She lives in Soran, a city located in Iraqi Kurdistan. She taught creative writing and translation at Soran University. Her main interests are reading and writing, especially poetry writing. Sarwa has worked with an activist community doing humanitarian work with women. Her writing looks for the beauty in a war torn world. It also seeks to define identity and confront issues of equal gender representation and violence in male dominant communities.

To follow her interests, she is now working on two projects; both of them are aimed at finding women voices through their narratives and works of literature. She is also a Fulbrighter, doing her second masters in Creative Writing at Nebraska-Lincoln University in the US. She dreams that one day women can speak for themselves and pass that understanding across nations.

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The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Two of my aunts are poets. They read and write in Kurdish. They used to read their poems to their friends and relatives out loud. I was around 8, I did not exactly know what these poems were about, but I knew they included themes of freedom, war and gender discrimination. I remember how excited I became each time I went to their homes and picked poetry books from their library shelves. They had two half-walls of bookshelves.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Apart from the influence of my aunts there were other factors that forced me to write poems. When I was doing my first masters in English Studies at Leicester University in 2012, I took a poetry workshop class and wrote some poems. It was a new experience for me. I was introduced to he work many great poets such as Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughs, Sylvia Plath, T.S Elliot and many more. It was also my first time sharing my poems with others and hearing from their feedback.
After that I became a lecturer in Soran University in Iraqi Kurdistan. I met poet and fiction writer Dr.Muli Amaye who was the Head of English Department in 2014. When I showed her some of my poems she encouraged me to write more. We decided to write a poem every week and share it with each other.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Because I was raised in Kurdistan, then spent two years in the UK and now I live in the US, to answer this question I have to think about these different environments. There are many amazing Kurdish poets who write in Kurdish or English such as Sherko Bekas, Abdulla Pashew, Choman Hardi, Nazand Bagikhani, to name a few. I think that many Kurdish young poets read their collections and get influenced by them, which is a positive phenomenon. However, as far as my writing experience is concerned, these poets have distanced themselves from other aspiring young writers who are interested in this genre of writing. Whereas in most European and American societies this is a different experience. It is much easier for someone who is in America or Europe to meet these writers in reading events or simply join their courses. Further, there are hundreds of encouraging opportunities such as competitive projects, creative writing courses and reading performances for these young writers.

I was teaching a Creative Writing course in Soran University in Kurdistan region, I was surprised to see that we have so many young students who are really passionate about writing, but they did not get any support or encouragement whatsoever from educational institutions, NGOs, and other writing centres.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I think I don’t have daily routine. But different things inspire me or push me to write. For example, I read an article, may be it is about contemporary issues such as migration, war or violence, I want to cry, when I know no one cares or listens, I grab my notebook and write a poem about it.

5. What motivates you to write?

It depends. Reading others work really inspires me. Sometimes a film or a piece of art motivates me. Also when I listen to others stories on social media or face to face I nod and think OMG this is my next poem.

6. What is your work ethic?
Having my own space for a while and listening to my own voice.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I started with reading fiction at a very young age. The first novel I read was Les Miserable in Kurdish, when I was only 9. I did not know that it was political, but parts about poverty and punishment tore my heart. Re-reading works of Hugo, Camus, Hemingway and Woolf gave me new perspectives on life from childhood up to adulthood.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I started late with contemporary writers. Works of Alice Walker, Raymond Carver, Margaret Atwood,  Elif Shafaq, Warsan Shire, Mai Der Vang speak a lot to me. Throughout all their stories and poems one finds a remarkable spirit of universality.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Like any type of art writing poetry has a therapeutic power. You feel this power better when you live in a society where freedom of expression is restricted due to cultural, religious and political reasons.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

After Gulf War we did not have electricity for many years. Because of sanctions we have endured severe financial difficulties. Books gave me strength, hope and light. I hope I can have similar impact on my readers.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am working on my thesis which will focus on freedom of expression: the impacts of self-censorship on writing.

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