Hey Guys! What’s new? How’s your week been?
So, you guys already know I love interviewing people. I mean what’s more inspiring than hearing what my fellow peers are up to? And Salma Ibrahim is no exception. I had the amazing opportunity to sit down with her and learn about her brainchild, Literary Natives.
But what is Literary Natives (LN) all about?
Well, the way I learnt about LN, was when creator Salma Ibrahim tweeted a seemingly innocent thought about wanting a space for writers of colour. A space that they could come together and collaborate, something that is distinctly missing from the literary scene.
Enter, LN, a brand new place that not only brought writers of colour together, but would provide a unique platform just for them, increasing their chances of being seen and published.
Of course it didn’t take long for LN to gain a following as well as the support of amazing authors. One of them being Muhammad Khan, writer of electrifying novel, I am Thunder, attended LN’s first event. It showed how necessary and important a space like LN is.
We met at North Greenwich station on a sunny Saturday. We strolled to a lovely open garden near the docks and decided to do our interview there. Salma glowed in a beautiful matching hijab and maxi dress, looking as graceful as ever.
So, how did you come up with the idea for LN?
Salma: I had a blog previously called, ‘A literary native‘ where I used to showcase any of my latest writing. The name stems from the fact I’ve always felt like a ‘native’ to literature and most at home.
But I also wanted to link up with my fellow writers of colour, so they could share their work too. Not only that, but to feel completely supported in doing it.
I couldn’t really find anything similar already in existence, but I knew then I would have to do it and create a new thing.
So in way I took the essence of my blog and turned it into a physical space for other ‘natives’ of literature to link up.
Why are you so passionate about books and writing?
Salma: I think it’s because I really love how literature reflects our times. It allows us to express ourselves most honestly and truly. I also like how literature allows me to change the narrative or re-create something to my own taste. I find so much solace in escaping into literature and immersing deeply into the stories I read.
I started writing because I really wanted to see the stories and parts of the world that I cared about in the pages before me, something that Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri and Leila Aboulela do so well. It helped that I didn’t like that many other things, so literature stayed really important to me.
Do you have any mentors or people who deeply influence you?
Salma: Well, back in school I always had a really good relationship with my English teachers. They always supported and encouraged me when it came to my writing. They also guided me with my important decision to study English at university, instead of something I really hated. It’s probably one of the main reasons why I do what I do now.
Also of course my friends and family, like the amazing Nancy Adimora! She’s such an inspiration, especially as she created the fantastic Afreada (an Africa literary magazine). My parents encouraged my artsy side when I was younger so that definitely helped too!
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far with LN?
Salma: Time and resources! It’s been tough to pursue some of our plans without the financial backing we want, but we hope to change this very soon. I’m also hoping to create a proper team for LN as with two people we end up spreading ourselves thinly.
Our next event based on the idea of trans-nationality, is at the Migration Museum, celebrating Refugee Week 2018 (which is in its 20th year!) That came about completely through networking and it really shows the power of reaching out to see what can be done. We really hope for more collaborations like that in the future, allowing more people to engage with us.
Do you run LN on your own?
Salma: No way! LN requires a lot of dedication and effort, but I’m also trying to complete my novel.
Luckily I have a co-producer called Asha, who is writer and illustrator, and we collaborate on all future LN events. She definitely helps me figure out logistics and the business side of things which can be tough. I’m glad I have her!
What would you say has been the rewarding thing?
Salma: It’s got to be the connections that people make with each other at our events. It’s absolutely amazing to see all the friendships that blossom out of it and how much everyone supports each other. I love how literature brings people together, and I’m constantly seeing interactions online and offline.
It’s exactly what I wanted to achieve, but we still have so much more to do.
And what’s been your biggest lesson so far?
Salma: I think to really make use of what you’re good at and not to downplay those skills. The things I’m talented in, help me so much on my LN journey, but I never thought they would!
Getting published is notoriously difficult, especially as a writer of colour, what do you think about that?
Salma: I think a lot of the time it has to do with class and access. The gatekeepers of the publishing world, who are generally homogenous, get to decide what the culture is and what writers get a platform.
Unfortunately, its hardly writers of colour that get these opportunities and that’s why we don’t see enough of their works being published. Of course when they do get a platform, these books do so well, like Reni Eddo -Lodge’s ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’.
I guess that’s why BAME in publishing is so important. They are (alongside so many other organisations) are working to change the narrative into a diverse one, as well as switching up the gatekeepers. It truly is exciting times in the publishing world!
So, what’s next in the pipeline for LN?
Salma: We have so much in store! We’re hoping to create web content and online spaces for writers and publishers to meet and find each other. Also, we want to collaborate with other brands for future events.
Or even perhaps take LN abroad and make it into a global hub of writers and those wanting to get published. The possibilities are endless really, but it’s super important to get the foundation right before we do anything else.
Finally, describe LN in three words?
Transformative, Authentic, Bold.
Find out more about Literary Natives here
Catch Literary Natives online (Twitter) @Literary Natives
Catch Salma online (Twitter) @SalmaWrites
Tickets for LN’s next event here.