Interview with longlisted author Miral Tahawy
When did you start writing Days of the Shining Sun and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I moved to the state of Arizona at the beginning of 2012, to teach at the state university as associate Professor of Modern Arabic Literature. I became busy with research and with non-fictional and academic publishing. I would just jot down some notes, hoping that I would find some time to begin writing. I delayed the novel for many years, but meanwhile its protagonists occupied my imagination. I’d make notes continually, but still keep putting off getting down to writing, hoping I’d be able to dedicate time to it. I was only able to do after many years, during which I was busy with the university work responsibilities of my academic job. I didn’t find the time until the beginning of 2020. I had recently finished the research projects in which I had been absorbed for so long, which I published in two books: Daughter of a Bedouin Chief, a cultural study of the history of Arabic tribes in Egypt, and Barqa Is Too Far for The Messenger, a literary study of the popular poetry called ‘gnawa’, a kind of poetry common in the border area between Cyrenaica, the eastern half of Libya, and the western desert of Egypt. After all the time spent away from fictional writing, busy with other things and procrastinating, I decided to finish my novel, which had become complete in my mind, and I really needed to dedicate time to it. I began writing in 2020 and finished it within a year. Then I started to get advice from some friends about the draft and they helped me a great deal, in reviewing and editing it.
How long did it take to write and where were you when you finished it?
It took a year or two, I don’t remember exactly. In general, it was a difficult time personally, and the only psychological and mental healing I found was in escaping through writing. That was in Phoenix, a city in Arizona. I’ve lived and taught at the state university there for several years. All I recall about that period is that it was the time of the pandemic, and its tragic repercussions. The enforced isolation provided me with some time to dedicate to writing. Work responsibilities were slightly less, after studying moved online. The isolation was provided, and it was just what I needed to return to writing.
Do you have writing rituals?
Academic work, particularly in the United States, is a daily occupation, involving many university responsibilities, like teaching, publishing and working with students. Those demands of the job don’t leave me with space to remember that I am a writer or to think about rituals. Since I moved to the States, I’ve become simply a mother, employee, maybe a teacher, working to cover her bills. I’ve lost a large part of my identity as a writer. I am just an immigrant looking for security, like others searching for the same thing. Writing has been pushed to the margins, and I yearn for it. I escape to it, trying to make full use of every opportunity. The only ritual I need is dedicated time away from my many duties and to break away from daily responsibilities, to believe that I am still capable of grasping the text which I have imagined.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I have almost finished a draft of the book for which I obtained a Fulbright scholarship. It is about Arab women’s writing and protest through self-exposure. It is both a study and a biography, a work which deals with my experience and fears as a female writer. It’s also a work of research on which I have spent a lot of time, which attempts to discover the relationship between writing and fears, or the phobia of being exposed and vulnerable. In its chapters, I discuss the development of Arab women’s writing about the self and the ways in which it is received, as a kind of symbolic self-exposure.
There is a possible fictional project which I’ve begun to work upon, but I am one of those who prefers to take their time before publishing, to give each creative project time to mature. In reality, the idea of writing a new novel is associated in my mind with a great deal of anxiety, hesitation and procrastination. Of course, I hope to get rid of this anxiety so that I can write all that I have in me to write, which is a lot.