“I’m not very good at hating things”: A Conversation with Elamin Abdelmahmoud
The writer and podcaster discusses his new book ‘Son of Elsewhere,’ taking pop culture seriously, and not inviting his Twitter self to the writing party.
Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces
Son of ElsewhereThe O.C.
Tajja Isen: Youe somebody who wears a lot of hats—youre a culture writer, you have a podcast, you’re a political commentator, you’re on the radio. I’d love to hear how, amid all of that, the book came to be.
is’ve always felt like some thoughts are for spending time with and they demand an eight-thousand-word stretch to fully grasp; some thoughts deserve a little bit more; some thoughts are just for conversation. So the book is naturally an extension of that in the sense that it’s about me, and I don’t really have a place on the internet where I write about myself. I write about culture for BuzzFeed, I talk about pop culture on a podcast, I’m a political commentator on some TV panels. But very few of those spaces contain an avenue for me to put myself into the work.
’Can we put these identities under a rock; can we put them under a table; can we make sure that we put the rug over them, just so nobody can see them when they come over?You know what? No’re owed space, exploration, depths, some kind of definition of what I am in relationship to them. I’m Black—what does that mean? How can I incorporate my own idea of Blackness into that notion? This book is an attempt at apologizing to those identities [after] not [talking] about this for a decade. So that’s how it came about.
People gravitate to pop culture as a way of unlocking ourselves.
TI: You mentioned your culture writing for BuzzFeed. Obviously, is very distinct from that. But the book also contains this incredible appetite for art and culture, this hunger to know it and map it—things like and country music and wrestling. How, if at all, has your work as a culture writer influenced writing a memoir?
’’The O.C.’ve carried with me all these years.” Because people gravitate to pop culture as a way of unlocking ourselves.
TI: I love the way the book delights in these cultural objects and how formative they were for you. It’s a book full of big feelings. How do you think about bringing things like joy and sentimentality and enthusiasm to the page?
Communityoh my god, we’re gonna spend time with a single Linkin Park lyric for twelve days, because they put it there
TI: That enthusiasm made me see things differently. It made me see the 401 [highway] differently. Honestly, Ive always had a very contentious relationship with that road. And then I was driving it yesterday and I was [thinking about the book] like, .
’s great to hear. One thing that I would like the book to do is to make people appreciate the 401 a little bit more.am I a good son?
TI: When did you know that you wanted that road to become a structural principle of the book?
TI: It was like a playlist or a concept album—the repetition of a theme that kept building as I went along. It felt deliberate and like a curated experience to me, like a journey.
TI: I want to ask you about another thing that you write about loving, which is America.
TI: I get it. But I was, like, as I read that paragraph where you write, “I’ve had to confront an annoying fact: I love America. I really do … the American open road and the feeling of finding yourself in a Great American city is itself a prayer answered.” Because I feel that pull, too. But its not something I see a lot of Canadian artists articulating.
TI: Yeah, it very much is. And I wanted to ask how that uncomfortable love has shaped your work. Your career has this really interesting proximity to the U.S., and you’ve attained a level of success that not everyone who builds their career [in Canada] can reach.
TI: I wanted to ask you about something you tweeted the other day—sorry, I know thats an alarming way to start a question.
TI: I think you were sharing Hanif Abdurraqib’s blurb for your book, and you tweeted that when you were writing, you rotated between four books, “mining them not so much for material but for permission.” I’m curious to know what the books were, and also what it means to read someone for permission—what you feel like they gave to you.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill UsA Field Guide to Getting LostChanging My MindChanging My Mind ’oof
TI: Is there anything else you want to share about the book that nobody has asked you yet?
let me do my internet writing
Enter your email address to receive notifications for author Tajja Isen
Confirmation link sent to your email to add you to notification list for author Tajja Isen
More by this author
“You don’t have to do social media if you hate it”: A Q&A with Marketing Director Rachel Fershleiser
As part of our Social Media Week series, Rachel Fershleiser debunks the myths of marketing and social media and shares tips for how to build an authentic online presence.
In this interview, Tajja Isen talks with Natalie Eve Garrett about her new anthology ‘The Lonely Stories,’ the longing for solitude, and how books can build community.