This month’s writing advice is a little different. Ava Homa’s brilliant, insightful and disturbing novel “Daughters of Smoke and Fire” is a must-read. I found it unbearably moving and thought-provoking. I read it in small snatches, breathing and pacing in between my readings, drawn back, compulsively to the next chapter and the next and the next. It was gripping, elemental, absorbing and just would not let me go! Below she writes about why she writes and this is of huge importance to all of us as writers. We need to be engaged, passionate, motivated and know the why of it!
The Why of Writing – Ava Homa
Before I discovered why I write, I couldn’t stomach all the rejection and racism I faced as a minority woman writing in my third language. Nowadays, however, gatekeepers don’t dishearten me too much. My lifework stands at the empowering intersection of literature and activism, my goal to evoke compassion and convert it into action. I believe in the power of storytelling to expand our understanding of each other. With some guidance from activists, the extension of our horizon can transform into action, into standing up for justice and inclusion, into casting ballots while keeping more than one’s limited interests in mind.
For a decade, I put blood and sweat into crafting my debut novel Daughters of Smoke and Fire (HarperCollins, 2020) to tell a powerful story that instead of reproducing best-selling tales, sheds light on the stakes faced by 40 million stateless Kurds, and to offer my readers a chance at expanding their hearts. My book is my attempt at giving back to the literary world that has offered a stateless, exiled migrant like me both shelter and purpose.
While writing an underrepresented nation into literature in English, I constantly thought about the complexities of the human condition. We are one race and we share universal experiences. That’s why fiction is enriching; it allows us to excavate ourselves by understanding others, seeing our pain and strength reflected in them, catching glimpses of the oneness. But the other side of this truth is that the accident of birth can easily and cruelly rob one of the taken-for-granted reality. Are you fully human when your country treats you as a subhuman? Think about Blacks in America, women in Iran, Kurds in Turkey, Indigenous people in Australia and North America, and more.
Oppressors dehumanize the disenfranchised and those who fight back are severely punished. Countless thousands of dissidents and intellectuals have been hanged or are languishing on death rows in Iran and around the world, subject to physical and psychological tortures, going through each horrible day in brutal conditions that have only worsened during the pandemic. The Kurdish Obama Selahattin Demirtaş has been behind the bars in Turkey for four years despite international demands for his release. Zahra Mohammadi was sentenced to a decade in prison in Iran simply for teaching her suppressed mother tongue. I narrowly escaped incarceration while working as a journalist in Iran. Difficult realities of my life have given me innumerable barriers to writing but also strong reasons to persevere.
I came of age in Kurdistan Province of Iran with the knowledge that, on one hand, I belong to the “unpeople,” and on the other hand, I am being subversive for merely breathing despite all the attempts at our annihilation. Ever since the end of World War I, when the allies promised Kurds a country and later denied it for their colonial interests, we have been under attack by four atrocious states that have perceived us as threats to be annihilated, never humans. From the 1937–1938 Dersim Massacre at the hands of the Turkish government, Saddam Hussein’s 1986–1988 Anfal Genocide in Iraq, the ethnic massacre in Syria, and the ongoing executions in Iran.
Kurdish women have survived national chauvinism of the ruling states, male chauvinism, misogyny of Islamic groups, ongoing war, and poverty. That’s why Kurdish women are at once among the most oppressed and the strongest women on earth. We fight ethnic subjugation alongside our men and patriarchy alone. We are the liberated women who defeated ISIS and the kidnapped women sold in ISIS markets as sex slaves. I have worked with exceptionally brave feminists and with devastated survivors of attempted suicide. I write about both groups of women and my protagonist in Daughters of Smoke and Fire is a survivor who blossoms into an artist, traversing the entire spectrum of womanhood and minority.
Therefore, writing is existential for me; it’s playing my part at eradicating voicelessness. My writing is my rebirth and resistance, it’s reversing the ongoing dehumanization. Knowing why I write has kept me going despite all the hardships, including the release of my debut into a pandemic. So, next time you face rejection, writing block, economic challenges of being a writer, ignorant comment of a neighbor or colleague, just remind yourself why you write. Let your reasoning to grow with you.
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Ava Homa is the critically-acclaimed author of DAUGHTERS OF SMOKE AND FIRE, an activist and a journalist. She holds an MA in English and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor. Her collection of short stories, Echoes from the Other Land, was nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Prize, and she is the inaugural recipient of the PEN Canada-Humber College Writers-In-Exile Scholarship. You can connect with her at www.AvaHoma.com