Contributor Interview: Elmaz Abinader

As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.

Abindaer, Elmaz

Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.

A performance artist, Julie Coffey, asked me if I could be part of an experiment she was doing for a performance. She was distributing a card from a deck of cards to artists and asking them to create a response from the image or the numbers. She handed me a Queen of spades. At the time, I was working on my novel in progress, Almost a Life, and examining the lives of women in war. In my life, the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) had enormous impact, but no one talked about it. They call it war amnesia. This led me to the stories that are silenced—what are the secrets these women hold? As they now sit in parlors or go to work what memories are driven beneath the surface? This story, “Queen of Spades,” uses the protagonist’s spade to uncover one.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

The first line: Linah failed miserably at misery.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

1. Write a lot

2. Walk away from the writing and let it rest to get a new perspective

3. Don’t think about audience until your final drafts when you need to clear up fuzzy references and moments.

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

For all my writing life, I have also been a fitness instructor—it’s the perfect balance to all the sitting. I teach Cycling, Pilates, Weight Training and Interval Training

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

My novel in progress, Almost a Life, is about a woman who leaves Lebanon in the middle of the Civil War to marry her fiancé in Connecticut. She transitions from living in a family under siege, living in bomb shelters, and running from the fighting, to an everyday life as a banker in Connecticut. She finds herself in a new kind of fight.

A book of poetry in progress, Works of Mercy, is a series of poems about the kinds of unpaid work we do, the emotional labor of helping someone die peacefully, of finding a home, of giving love under duress, etc.


Elmaz Abinader’s poetry collection, This House, My Bones, was The Editor’s Selection for 2014 from Willow Books/Aquarius. Her books include a memoir, Children of the Roojme, A Family’s Journey from Lebanon, and a book of poetry, In the Country of My Dreams . . . which won the Oakland PEN, Josephine Miles Award. Elmaz is one of the co-founders of The Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA/Voices) a writing workshop for writers of color.

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