Rewa Zeinati is a Lebanese woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. In her creative non-fiction book, Nietzsche’s Camel Must Die: An invitation to Say ‘No’, she expresses views, which some, in typical Arab society, might deem “nontraditional,” about a range of topics: the social, personal, and, sometimes, even the political. Zeinati has over fifteen years of writing experience and publications in various forms (poetry, narrative journalism, creative nonfiction, commercial writing), an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri, Saint Louis, USA, and a BA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut.
Her passion for poetry has led to the publication of a poetry chapbook entitled Bullets & Orchids, by Corrupt Press in 2013, and her love of literature, and the arts in general, has prompted the foundation of Sukoon magazine; an Arab-themed, English language online literary journal that publishes poetry, prose and art. Contributors to Sukoon include established women poets, writers and artists such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Nathalie Handal, Shurooq Amin, Hedy Habra, Elmaz Abi Nader, Lisa Suheir Mjaj, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Claire Zoghb, Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, Zeina Hashem Beck, Hind Shoufani , among many others.
Arab Woman Mag is pleased to interview Rewa to find out more about her books and her magazine, but most of all, the woman that she is.
When people ask me about the title of my book, I prefer to tell them to read the book and find out. This is irritating, of course, because it requires the investment of time and the risk of disappointment. Others find the title too ‘high brow’ or ‘intellectual’ because Nietzsche’s name is thrown in there. It is far from either. The book is simply a humorous look at the world around me, in all its absurd details, behaviors, traditions, its wondrous homo sapiens and, sometimes, its cheerless memories. Yes, there is a link to the ‘Camel’ that is found Nietzsche’s philosophy. I will reveal no more!
What is the message that you are trying to convey in your book?
I’m not sure what my message is. Maybe to invite others, and myself, to look a little closer, to avoid the surface of things and people and memories, to shout a positive ‘No’ in the face of the status quo and narrow belief systems, imposed limitations and societal boundaries; to any type of boundaries in general. Also, to stand at a far enough distance, to see the whole picture. But then again, forget all that. I had no prior intention or message to begin with, I had only my words and stories and the internet age which allowed me to share them online; this is what turned the book into what it is today. I don’t think I’m in a position to preach a message; I am only in the position to share my writings in the hopes that maybe something will resonate with a reader, somewhere, and that maybe she or he might identify with, or learn from, or build on, it, as I do when I read others.
Would you ever consider writing fiction? Any preferred genre?
My focus is poetry. I love writing prose, but usually it’s nonfiction. I’ve never yet tried my hand at fiction, although sometimes I imagine myself writing short stories in the future, maybe. Maybe not. The thought is less daunting that way.
In your opinion, why is it important for the Arab woman to be unafraid to speak her mind?
I think it’s important for anyone to be unafraid to speak their mind, not just women, and not just Arab women. And if they can’t speak it, then write it down, show it to someone, record it as a voice message, send it in a bottle, whatever it is, tell your story, who knows, you might save a life, you might change a life, or really move someone to do something, without even realizing it. Everyone has a unique and important story. I think it’s important for us, Arab women specifically, to break the silence on so many topics. Where do I begin? We are wrapped up in our taboos from the moment we are born, or even before then. Our mothers are, and our grandmothers before them. Many Arab women, regardless of their religion, age, or economic status, are misrepresented or marginalized or “oppressed” (for lack of a better term) in their own homes, the work place, the streets, the media, and sometimes even in their own minds! Thank you ancient patriarchy. Of course, some Arab women are more ‘subdued’ than others, depending on where you’re from; the Arab world is so culturally diverse, you can’t clump us all together in one box; it’s not accurate. It’s important for Arab women to speak their minds because that’s the only way one can hope for a positive change. On the other hand, there are many Arab women who find these “repressive” experiences foreign to their world. They’re either lucky or they’ve managed to escape them, or their great aunts fought back before they were born. Good on them.
Reading is a key ingredient for empowering Arab women as it adds to, and enhances knowledge. How can we motivate them to grow a passion for reading?
I think reading is a culturally influenced habit. It must start at a very young age, in the school culture, at home, on the bus, the train, the plane. What bus? What train? I know. Reading should be introduced in the classrooms in fun and entertaining ways, not imposed tyrannically, or shoved down students’ throats, where you’re forced to read a million pages in one night only to get tested on them in the most tedious ways.
Reading is a magical experience, but it’s hardly introduced that way, especially in our part of the world. It’s considered ‘work’ so it loses its magic. It’s a passive learning type of education in many instances, unfortunately. I think it’s important to encourage the idea of libraries and book selection in a constructive and healthy way, and to read aloud to kids in the classroom from a very young age; to make it a joyful and communal activity. To read aloud to your kids at home too. Teachers can take students to visit bookstores in the area, have a coffee together, talk about a book; they can even listen to audio books to ease the way into reading. There are so many ways. It’s also important to encourage an attitude of proactive thinking about the text being read, instead of just passively reading the pages.
Tell us about your journey with Sukoon magazine? How did the idea come about?
Sukoon magazine was founded two years ago, but was conceived a while before that. Around the time I began to get my work published (in poetry journals in the West), I began to notice an absence; an absence of the Arab narrative in English. There weren’t many, or at least enough, platforms out there that sought or published Arab Anglophone writers; it was mostly Arab literature that was translated into English or literature by Arab-American writers, which is great, of course, and incredibly important, but what I was missing was what more closely represented me, the Arab story in English, and not only in the American context.
I love literary journals, something I think I was introduced to at a relatively late stage in my writing life. I love what journals represent, what they offer, how timeless they are, their significance to writers in their writing journey, how they introduce us to various emerging and established writers and artists all at once. I wanted to capture the Arab narrative in that way, all in one place, but I also wanted the eyes and stories of the non-Arab writer or artist who either lives in the Arab world or had something to share about the Arab experience, to also be in one space with the Arab Anglophone artist and writer. Maybe they can talk to each other, or maybe they can find themselves in each other.
What do you hope to accomplish from it?
I am an Arab writer who writes in English and who loves literature, so I wanted to create something that expresses that kind of love in that “kind” of language, and to share this non-mainstream literary perspective with others who have a passion for literature also. I suppose I want to create this virtual Arab Anglophone literary ‘salon.’
What makes Sukoon unique and why call it Sukoon?
I guess what makes it unique is that it not Arab city- or Arab country-centric or Arab literature in translation. It’s more comprehensive. And it includes the non-Arab’s ‘Arab story’ too.
Sukoon is Arabic for stillness, that ‘stillness’ we feel when we are in the midst of the creative storm.
What are some of your dreams, goals, and aspirations for the future; personally and generally speaking?
To keep writing, to publish more, to have Sukoon reach as many readers as possible worldwide. I’m always happy to receive an email from a reader or a contributor of Sukoon who tells me that they are pleased that they found Sukoon, that it is filling a gap in the literary world and that it publishes powerful, much needed content. Theirs words, not mine.
What advice would you give young girls with high ambitions and limited means?
Do your best to seek out those who support your ambitions, surround yourself with those people and that support and meet people who have similar interests to yours to share ideas and develop a sense of community. That helps a lot. Technology and the Internet have opened up the world for all of us. Also, be prepared to fail, maybe multiple times, but be okay with that. The trick is to keep moving, to never give up on your ambition.
Sukoon magazine can be found online at www.sukoonmag.com
Bullets & Orchids can be found at http://corruptpress.net/?q=node/58
Nietzsche’s Camel Must Die can be found in bookstores in Dubai and Beirut as well as online.
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