“The personal is political” – Nebila Abdulmelik writes about family

Nebila Abdulmelik’s Oma reads like a homage to one’s spiritual leader. While the narrative is energized by its narrator’s awareness that death is imminent, in cataloguing her subject’s life with sparkling anecdotes, Nebila Abdulmelik is able to chart Oma’s unique path. Oma has been longlisted for The Short Story is Dead, Long Live the Short Story! (2018)

What was the germination of your story?

A desire to somehow immortalize my aging grandmother who is now over 90. To be able to capture and document some of her ways. To keep her living for generations to come. To share the experience of her – the matriarch of the family – and the only grandparent I’ve known.

In what way would you say your writing is political?

Nebila Abdulmelik

In the way that the personal is political. This is a very personal story – sharing aspects of family and personal life – about how a Muslim, Hareri, aging widow navigates life as the oldest in a family of over 80 descendants. The role of religion and beliefs she’s carried from childhood influence her actions and her daily life.

What are your opinions on religion, especially regarding how it is talked about in African literature?

It is often not nuanced enough.

What lesson are you hoping readers will take from your story?

Am not sure there is one particular thing I want readers to take away – I just want them to share in her life – get to know this elderly woman who has lived her life (close to a century!) quietly for the most part – but is hugely influential in the family and drives much of the family direction.

In the way that the personal is political.

Nebila Abdulmelik

What advice would you give to beginning writers?

Write, write and write some more. But also read – a lot. And from a diverse range of writers and genres. It will help you hone your craft.

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