Interview

'We All Have To Struggle In Order To Create Meaningful Lives,' An Interview With Somali Author Diriye Osman

We speak with Somali author Diriye Osman about 'Fairytales for Lost Children' and his experiences as a young, gay African writer.


Photo by Bahareh Hosseini

OKA: In “To Be Young, Gay and African”, you wrote: “Shame and fear are the most potent weapons in the homophobe’s arsenal. If one rejects the notion that one has to be ashamed of being gay or lesbian, then half the battle is won.” Have you won this battle? If so, what was the process like and are there parts of this process that you have not shared with others?

DO: I’m pretty open about my life and I walk around with a real sense of self-value. I like myself and I think that’s important. When you experience trauma you can learn how to cultivate self-esteem and pride, and that’s what I’ve done. Like one of my characters says, I love being gay. I’ve become the man that I always dreamt I would grow up to be. If that’s not winning at life, I don’t know what is.

OKA: There are many themes explored through the stories of Fairytales For Lost Children. Some include mental health, homophobia, immigration, gender-transgression, and the intersectional experience of being Somali, Muslim, immigrant and queer. It is fair to say that the themes of this book are wide-ranging, much like the experiences of a Somali-diaspora, queer-identified, Muslim man. Can you speak to process of trying to encompass all of these experiences into only 150 pages? Was it difficult and compact during the process, or natural as it has been part of your personal experience (or the experience of those around you)?

DO: The writing process of Fairytales For Lost Children was organic. I knew what the overarching themes of the book would be before I wrote it but it was only after I completed it that I configured the texture and flow of the entire narrative. I like getting in and out of each story after laying down my arms. It was important to me that the book encompassed what it meant to be a young, LGBT Somali person living within the diaspora. It was important to me that my characters were passionate, sexual beings. It was important to me that my characters retained their humanity and did not harbour any bitterness. We all have to struggle in order to create meaningful lives. It was a challenge trying to condense these complexities but it was a valuable lesson in compression and the art of building short stories. If the novel is a mansion, the short story is a dollhouse: the minutiae matters.

OKA: What was the intention and significance in using Arabic calligraphy for each story in this book rather than Somali?

DO: I grew up in a Muslim family so Quran lessons were a large part of my upbringing. I was a very artistic child and I was always drawn to the creative intensity of Arabic calligraphy that I inherited from my Quran lessons. The Arabic calligraphy in Fairytales For Lost Children is a nostalgic nod to that personal history.

Prev Page
Next Page
Popular
Photo by Giles Clarke/UNOCHA via Getty Images

Cameroon Holds Vigil to Remember Children Killed in School Attack

Residents in Kumba paid their respects to the seven lives lost, and those injured during the attack over the weekend.

In the latest tragedy to come from Cameroon's historically violent clash between Anglo and Francophone citizens, seven children were murdered after attackers stormed a school with guns and machetes over the weekend.

In what has been deemed as the "darkest and saddest day," by Bishop Agapitus Nfon of Kumba, armed attackers stormed the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, targeting students aged 9 to 12. The tragic event saw dozens of children injured, some critically.

The attack has shocked the nation, with both local and international agencies condemning the horrible offense. On Monday, Cameroonian President Paul Biya denounced the "horrific murder" of the school children, and alluded to the "appropriate measures" being taken in order to bring justice to the families of the victims. Prime Minister Dion Ngute Joseph shared his condolences via a tweet saying, "I bow before the memory of these innocent kids."

The Cameroonian presidency and governing body have blamed Anglophone 'separatists' for the attack, though the group claims no part in the attack.

Human rights groups, however, have blamed both opposing parties, as the conflict has led to the death of over 3,000 deaths and resulted in more than 700,000 Cameroonians fleeing their homes and the country.

get okayafrica in your inbox

popular.

Interview: Meet Velemseni, Eswatini’s Queen of Soul

Soul artist Velemseni's music reflects Eswatini culture and aesthetics. "The Kingdom of Eswatini is a magical and mysterious place, and my music aims to interpret and document that mystique, drawing from genres like Swazi gospel, soul, African soul, cinematic and traditional music," says the artist.