Nadia Owusu on Writing and the Work of Staying Hopeful
“I was grateful for the beauty and for the reminders that there are seasons; that things change gradually and also suddenly.”
It’s hard to talk about Nadia Owusu and her writing without going to a very tender place in our hearts—so imagine, if you will, a vast, quiet space you feel most yourself, alone though surrounded by strangers. You’re in the Sincere Place, where words go to be loved without irony and the WiFi is bountiful and requires no password. Get comfortable—we’re going to talk about race, writing, and the work it takes to stay hopeful.
AftershocksSo Devilish a FireThe New York TimesWashington Post’s The LilyLiterary Review,Electric LiteratureCatapult Magazine
Mallory Soto: I miss asking this simple question and it feels more important than ever right now: How are you—today, in general, at the start of 2021, a few weeks after publishing your book?
MS: There are some really beautiful moments between you and your siblings throughout AFTERSHOCKS—they’re such vivid characters, yet so clearly written with respect to their privacy and as the storytellers of their own lives. How do you keep that balance, when memoir and stories of the self feel so unavoidably about the people we love?
MS: Is there anything that had to be cut or didn’t make it into this book that you struggled to let go of?
MS: “‘She was just too angry. Bad for the culture. Unproductive,’ they will say as they close your personnel file and post a job description to replace you, making sure to note that diverse candidates are welcome to apply.” That line knocks the wind out of me every time I look through my favorite quotes. You talk about how racism manifests in the workplace extensively in your Exit Interviews column, but can you dwell a little here on anger, or even the perception of anger, and how that emotion is distorted and often punished by white institutions when seen in their ‘diverse’ staff?
remind me not to get on your bad side.
MS: People often talk about their ‘love language,’ or the ways they’re most comfortable expressing affection. In AFTERSHOCKS, love is so often in language itself—the tenderness and intimacy of speaking to someone in a way that is most comfortable for them. Are there ways you see that in everyday life that bring you joy?
MS: Imagine the best moments of writing—the moments that keep you coming back to your notebook or computer, that just feel right in the way that makes a person say, “I could do this. This could be my job.” What do those moments feel like for you?
MS: In AFTERSHOCKS, we see the blue chair often as a place of personal reckoning—of self-reflection, personal discovery, and pain. Are there places that evoke a certain kind of thinking for you now—a neighborhood, a writing desk, a restaurant?
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“There were awkward motel and Airbnb moments involving my dog and other people’s pets. But I’m glad I have a record of those, even if I wasn't able to elevate them into art.”
“The book is not straightforward, but it is expansive, and I don’t think the only way to make a story cohere is chronology.”