Writer, traveller, poetess Abeer Hoque describes herself as a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. Down for the Goa Arts and Literary festival, NT BUZZ spoke to her about all things she is passionate about
Janice Rodrigues | NT BUZZ
Abeer Hoque was born to Bangladeshi parents in Nigeria and spent most of her growing years in American cities. Being awarded the Fulbright scholarship, she travelled to Bangladesh and India, and the rest of the world. She has published a coffee table book of travel photographs and poems called ‘The Long Way Home’. Her first work of fiction, a collection of linked stories, photographs, and poems is titled ‘The Lovers and the Leavers’. She has also penned down her memoir, ‘Olive Witch’ which will be released in January 2016.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: You were born in Nigeria, lived in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Bangladesh and India. How has each of these places impacted your life?
I like to think of these cities – Nsukka, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dhaka, Barcelona, London, as my homes in the world. Since I was gifted with a peripatetic life early on, thanks to my parents, I’ve learned to experience places from the outside in, a necessarily surface understanding sometimes, but always with love.
Q: When and why did you decide to give up your San Francisco home and become a nomad/ traveller?
I left San Francisco in 2005 when I lost my job and flat in one fell swoop. At the time, I thought my life was falling apart, but of course, it turned out to be a marvellous sea change. I had wanted to go travelling for some time and losing out a bit in SF opened up the rest. I thought I’d go spend a year or two in Bangkok and Barcelona (where I had friends) and I did, but my stay in Barcelona was cut short when I won a Fulbright to Bangladesh and India. Basically every year, I kept extending my nomad life another year. There’s no way I would have wanted to go travelling for seven years. That sounds mad and exhausting to me (and probably most people). But I was like the frog in slow boil. But make no mistake, they were a wondrous seven years and I wouldn’t do it again but I’m so glad I did.
Q: In your blog, you’ve described your life as ‘pitch perfect if penniless gypsy life’ please elaborate.
I never had enough money when I was travelling. I did a bit of editing on the road for some US clients, stretched the money from my Fulbright, occasionally came back to the States when I was totally broke, to work and save up more money and go off again, stayed on friends’ couches for months, and so on. It wasn’t easy, and I learned how to be a little hungry, and to carry a flask. But if you’re on the road, really, what more do you need than a little hunger and whiskey?
Q: When and why did you begin writing?
I always wrote. Cheesy poems to start with, full of angst and schmaltz. But I never thought of myself as a writer until 2001 when I decided to quit business and follow the light of poverty.
Q: Can you tell us something about the coffee table book ‘The Long Way Home’ and your memoir ‘Olive Witch’?
The Long Way Home is a book of travel photographs and poems, shot and written between 2005-2013. It ranges over five continents, twenty three countries, 72 singular places, and is organised into ten whimsical chapters that take none of this geography into account.
Olive Witch is an intimate memoir about taking the long way home. I grew up in a small sunlit town where the red clay earth, corporal punishment and running games are facts of life. At thirteen I moved with my family to suburban Pittsburgh and found myself surrounded by clouded skies and high-schoolers who spoke in movie quotes and pop culture slang. Later when I moved to Bangladesh on my own, it proved yet another beginning for me as I was only just getting used to being an outsider – wherever I was.
Q: The ‘Lovers and the Leavers’, is a collection of linked stories, photographs, and poems, how did you integrate the three into one work, considering that these are three very distinct streams of arts?
I believe that we experience the world with all different kinds of lenses, sometimes all at once. It’s a bit chaotic and doesn’t always come together or make sense, but that’s how I think of life. And so my eliding of these genres is an attempt to create multiple filters – so a reader can read/see/experience the story in different ways. I have to admit my initial vision of the book was something a little wilder than this end result. For example, I imagined having different coloured pages and a looser narrative structure, so one might have read the blue pages for one version of the story, the red for another, the poems for a third, the photographs for a fourth, and so on. This book is a bit more straight-laced than that, perhaps thankfully. I still want to make that crazy experimental book. It just wasn’t this one.
Q: You’ve written stories linked in India and Bangladesh, how similar and different are the two places?
Ah, such a hard question. Of course there are similarities, especially between West Bengal and Bangladesh, but India is such a large and sprawling and touristed country, the experience of moving through Indian cities feels more free to me than in Bangladesh where people are more homogenous and less used to foreigners (I track as a foreigner in Bangladesh, despite both my parents being from there). That said, I was coming from America, and I thought I’d be writing different kinds of stories, given the wholly unfamiliar setting in both Bangladesh and India, and yes, South Asia is a mad beautiful distinct region of the world, but as it turns out, we think about the same things the world over: love, money, family.
Q: Any plans in the pipeline?
I’ve been working on a novel about memory loss for a few years now, and a collection of travel themed erotic short stories (which are set in some wild places in the world that I’ve been lucky enough to visit), and a series of poems inspired by photographs.