Five Questions With Reem Abu-Baker

Kayla Rae Candrilli: Your story “In This Way, We Fall in Love” is in NANO 9.2’s queer feature. What struck me about this piece was the speaker’s continuous self-revision. Again and again the speaker feels compelled to revise their fantasy, doubling back on oneself. Can you tell us a little about the process of writing so many first person character revisions in such a short space?

Reem Abu-Baker: When I’m writing, I come up with a premise and then just sort of follow its logic as far as I can. Lately with flash I’ve been trying to be as twisty and maximalist as I can because there’s something appealing to me about veering in a bunch of different directions at once inside a teeny tiny box. With this story, I used the narrator to follow my own thought processes and anxieties about sex and sexuality and writing.

KRC: This piece is an overtly political one. What role do politics and social justice play in your work? Is this a consistent concern for you, and if so, why?

RARA: I think everything we create is political in some sense, even when we’re not directly thinking about it. When you’re writing fiction you’re literally building a world, whether it’s a new invented one or a replica of reality, and I think there’s a lot of responsibility and power in that act. It’s so cool and exciting and beautiful and confusing and scary! I’m still learning and trying to understand it. I do spend a huge amount of time thinking about the politics and ethics of writing, regretting mistakes I’ve made in my work, worrying that I’m making more mistakes. Being a woman and being bisexual and being mixed race and Arab and from a lower income family, I’ve never seen much fiction that actually represents my life or my body, so I guess I’m trying to write towards that.

KRC: What is queerness to you? What role does queerness play in your work?

RA: I don’t think I’m the best person to define queerness, but I think it has to do with pushing and refusing and accepting and contradiction. I think it’s intentionally difficult to define. I think it’s about imagination and reinvention as ways to survive and hope and blow shit up, which is also how I think fiction can function. So, it fits into my work in that I want to imagine with intent, and I want to try to push against normative or expected narratives.

KRC: What have you been reading lately? Are there a few writers in particular that inspire your process? Anyone new on the scene we should know about?

RA: Neither of these are brand new, but I’ve recently been inspired by Tom Cho’s Look Who’s Morphing and Selah Saterstrom’s The Pink Institution. I’ve also been reading Sarah Ahmed’s blog, which isn’t fiction but is a goddamn lifeline.

KRC: What are you working on now? And where can our readers find more
of your work?

RA: I’m working on way too many short stories about girls. I have fiction in (or soon-to-be in) Ninth Letter, Monkeybicycle, and Timber—all of whom have the sweetest and sharpest editors ever.