Reflections from the contributors of Us, Now
Recently published by Newfoundland-based publisher Breakwater Books and edited by Lisa Moore, Us, Now collects funny, tender, and heart-wrenching stories by racialized Newfoundlanders that confront racism and celebrate resilience. In these pages are stories about families, about language, about facing down the horrors of homophobia, about the joy of love, about lifelong relationships and the glee of a magnificent crush.
We were lucky to have the chance to hear from the contributors of the Us, Now about their takes on short stories ("a gourmet sampling," "a well-brewed cup of tea") their relationship to Newfoundland (beauty, resilience!), and their unlikely sources of inspiration (Animal Crossing!). Read on for their thoughts and reflections.See more details below
All Lit Up: If you had to describe your story in Us, Now using only a handful of nouns, what would they be?
Ayse Sule Akinturk: Parents and their children; connection to time and space; Muslim spirituality and Ramadan; meaning of success in life.
Xaiver Michael Campbell: Nipple, Church, Sun, Ocean. Gay. Religion.
Richard Elcock: Barbados, Family and Love.
Santiago Guzmán: The vanity of queer love.
Tzu-Hao Hsu: Sacrifice, love, legacy.
Zay Nova: Water Buffalo, Sampan Village, Don, Beautiful Childhood, Memories, Kirot, Gay Buffalo.
Nabila Qureshi: Midnight, education, young girl, and valley.
Sobia Shaheen Shaikh: Family, mother, faith, Punjabi, Muslim, agency, inner wisdom, love, leaving, staying, leaving, sexist violence, racist violence.
"[...] I relish the thought of extending the story in my imagination—in a way, the story appears short on paper, but lengthy in mind." —Nabila Qureshi
ALU: What do you enjoy most about the short story as a form, whether you're writing or reading?
Ayse Sule Akinturk: I like that it gives a brief yet an immensely powerful and condensed narrative while leaving ample room / agency for the imagination of the reader. I guess it is like a gourmet sampling that leaves you with an everlasting unique taste; one that you won’t be able find again even if you immerse yourself in a full-size course version of it cooked by the same chef.
Xaiver Michael Campbell: That I can become so intimately acquainted with marvellous new characters in a short span of time.
Richard Elcock: Glimpses into an experience and/or perspective which allows me to further reflect or attempt to fill in perceived blanks.
Santiago Guzmán: I like the opportunity to immerse oneself, as a writer or a reader, in a bite-size world.
Tzu-Hao Hsu: I like that it’s a glimpse into a greater story, one that allows you to consider many possibilities. A well-written short story is a well-brewed cup of tea, in that it lingers in the air and continues to warm you long after you’ve consumed it.
It also parallels life in the sense that we tend to keep just a handful of friends and families throughout our lives—our novel, if you will—and most times you are a part of, or someone is a part of your, short story. Many paths cross and continue on, rarely do we have the parallel to continue in life, and this is what draws me to short stories—I often wonder, years later, what happened to someone I met along the way, then my imagination takes over!
Zay Nova: I enjoy most the moment waiting for my father to come home after three years.
William Ping: As a novelist, I probably shouldn’t say this, but to me one of the best aspects of the short story form is the very nature of it being short. We all lead busy lives and we don’t always have the time to cozy up with a big novel. The short story is a way to connect with, and enjoy, literature without the big time commitment of a novel. That’s my point of view as a reader, however, as a writer, the short story is in some ways a more deceptive challenge than a novel, again from the very nature of a short story being short. It takes craft to render a full narrative, along with characters, setting, dialogue, etc. all in the matter of only a couple short pages.
Nabila Qureshi: Based on the author's ability to pique their reader's interest, I relish the thought of extending the story in my imagination—in a way, the story appears short on paper, but lengthy in mind.
Sobia Shaheen Shaikh: I have to admit, I didn't always enjoy short stories. Although I love poetry, I have always preferred epic, long, dramatic novels to read (and to imagine to write!). I hate(d) when all good stories end(ed), and especially when I had to leave the characters behind. I have changed my mind, though, as I have learned that short stories give unexpected gifts. Whether reading or writing them, I now believe that good short stories actually never end. The words sometimes accompany you into the next story, characters and images follow you, and the untold stories linger in forms of haunting questions and hopes of yet to-be-continued.
"The vibrant artist communities and history across the province compel me to find ways to create stories that foster connection, love and recognition." —Sobia Shaheen Shaikh
ALU: How does Newfoundland play a role in your writing?
Ayse Sule Akinturk: I have been living in this province for almost twenty years. In the absence of a community with whom I could regularly engage with in my native language, English gradually dominated all aspects of my human experience: thinking, reflecting, writing, and even dreaming. Initially, I resisted by keeping a blog in my native language. But then I felt like I can perhaps do more justice by using English to speak to my experience of being a racialized religious minority in this predominantly white, European, and Christian province. A welcoming place where you are stuck in the category of the “forever newcomers,” “forever others”…
Xaiver Michael Campbell: I would say Newfoundland lives rent free in my mind. It is my home. Where my ideas are formed and take shape. Newfoundland inspires me daily and I think that is obvious as I chose to write about Newfoundland. I think we are now intimately intertwined, so why not write about what you know.
Richard Elcock: The beauty of the land and resilience and joy of its people are things which have made a major impression on me since arriving here twelve years ago. Although my pieces haven't necessarily focused on Newfoundland landscapes or its people just yet, I could see in-depth descriptions of the same as being a key part of future writing which is set in the province.
Santiago Guzmán: My piece is set in Newfoundland (as most of my body of work). I reframe the definition of "Newfoundland Literature" by writing unapologetically about brown, queer, and immigrant characters in our community simply because that is my reality. That's who I am and this is where I am.
Tzu-Hao Hsu: In “Across Oceans,” to be published in Us, Now, Newfoundland was first seen as a foreign, hard and unfriendly place, literally made of rocks that cut your hands open when you dig into the earth. As the story progresses and the family settles, it becomes a magical place of adventures, with berries, icebergs, hikes, ice rains and oceans, something still foreign to the family’s friends in a distant land, but spoken of with joy and excitement, an Other World Home.
This was a reflection of my own family’s journey as we learned what it means to be Newfoundlanders and Canadians. As we adapted and grew here we realized Newfoundland is not as temperate as our home in Taiwan (warm climate, easy to grow fruits and flowers, easy access to many resources and places), life here only needs to be as difficult as we make it to be. People have survived and thrived in Newfoundland for generations and if we learned the right ropes we can, and have, done the same to proudly call ourselves Newfoundlanders. I try to include that experience of transformation and growth as inspired by the Rock anywhere I can!
Zay Nova: The calmness of Newfoundland gives me more room to think and remember what to write.
William Ping: Newfoundland is where I was born, raised and still reside, so I think it will probably always play a big role in my writing. It is only natural that the setting of my life will be the setting of my characters.
Nabila Qureshi: Newfoundland's hospitality is much like its jellybean row houses; playful, inviting, and charming. Its residents are a physical extension of that friendliness and this is reflected in the opportunity to publish this anthology. Although I have lived here for over a decade, I've always been asked the infamous question "Where are you from?". At first glance, the question sounds sweet, but its subtext challenges one's sense of belonging and identity. For some, it may create an "us and them" narrative. I suppose in this way, having had this question asked to me almost exclusively in Newfoundland, has implored me to investigate the nature of my once dormant and fluid identities. This exploration (which is still underway) has significantly shaped the way I think, and thus, the way I write.
Sobia Shaheen Shaikh: Connecting with artists, both established and emerging creators, here in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been so important in my journey as a creative writer. Here, there is joy, there is invitation, there is possibility. The vibrant artist communities and history across the province compel me to find ways to create stories that foster connection, love and recognition.
ALU: What are some of your unlikely sources of inspiration?
Ayse Sule Akinturk: I find children and seniors as unique sources of inspiration when they share their perspectives on life. They are so different yet similar in interesting ways. I also get inspired by the divine scriptures, especially the Holy Quran which requires significant time, focus and effort to study and properly understand.
Xaiver Michael Campbell: Legal systems, maybe?
Richard Elcock: Overheard exchanges between people, minus the identifiers of course!
Santiago Guzmán: La Más Draga (the Mexican equivalent of Ru Paul's Drag Race), my broken/pulsing heart, and ghosts from the past.
Tzu-Hao Hsu: I believe everything animate and inanimate has a story to tell, but the most recent "unlikely" source was a whetstone! I was sharpening my kitchen knives and thought to myself there are easier ways to do this, then thought of the generations of women around the world sharpening their knives in the same way, and found myself telling a story about a whetstone passed from mother to daughter in preparation for marriage. I think of familial bonds, traditions and heritage frequently as they have strongly influenced and shaped who I am, in work, art and life in general.
Zay Nova: My journey and struggle, and another peoples' journey, sacrifice, love, and respect, my partner.
William Ping: Honestly, everything inspires me. Sometimes I will eat a good meal and that will inspire me. Other times, a friendly exchange with a stranger will inspire me. For the story in this collection, one unlikely source of inspiration was Animal Crossing: New Horizons. As with many others in those cold, uncertain early months of the pandemic, I found a new quotidian rhythm in the world of that Nintendo game, even when it seemed like everything in our real world was crashing down. I was writing a lot during those months and animals figure largely into all of my work from that time. I think we can chalk that up to all the animal friends I made like Tom Nook, Coach, and Olive.
Nabila Qureshi: My spinster sister cats, eenu and meenu; Neo and the matrix; the four classical elements of earth, fire, water, and air; and any individual who has gifted me pieces of knowledge.
Sobia Shaheen Shaikh: My biggest sources of inspiration are from meaningful connections and social justice work. Relationships with other racialized people from Indigenous, Black, migrant and racialized communities in NL, and across the country, continue to inspire me.
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Thank you so much to the contributors of Us, Now for their insights and reflections. Us, Now is available for purchase here on All Lit Up.
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