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Take Me Away Q&A with Yumna Kassab

As May rapidly approaches, we are so excited to welcome you to the Festival and to introduce you to the writers who make it all worthwhile. To awaken your Festival spirit, we're got a series of Q&As to introduce some of the 2024 participants. Get to know them as we discuss their reading, their writing practice and the Festival theme, Take Me Away.

This week, we speak with Yumna Kassab, the inaugural Parramatta Laureate of Literature and author of The House of Youssef, Australiana, and The Lovers. Her latest book is Politica, which she says is an imaginary history of the Arab world or else a feminine telling of politics.

Which book would you take to a deserted island?

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés because it is so rich in symbols. Her use and interpretation of fairytales is important to my thinking and writing.

What kind of books do you get lost in while reading?

Books that are well written and do something with language. I’ve been immersed lately in Enter Ghost by Isabella Hammad, Hospital by Sanya Rushdi (translated by Arunava Sinha) and then the fantastic Always Will Be by Mykaela Saunders. 

What drove you to write Politica?

I have long been interested in Latin America. My interest touches on literature, geography, politics, football and history amongst other topics.

This interest has given me a useful parallel with which to consider the Arab World. Politics is often presented as cold dates and times, and it’s my belief that the full impact of politics is only presenting stories about individuals. That is why the book has no slogans and no precise ties to place and time, and instead focuses entirely on people’s lives.

Also, it is only now that I realise that the protests in Chile in 2019 were important to the earliest pieces in the book.

Do you see all your books fitting together or are they separate projects entirely?

The books speak to each other. Each book is arranged based on theme and setting. Politica could be understood to be a prequel to The House of Youssef, and there is overlap between The Lovers and Politica in terms of the setting and some of the themes. I now notice that across my writing, I am interested in exploring the dynamic between an individual within a community, and that it’s important to me to keep pushing the language in a way that experiments and innovates. 

You are the inaugural Parramatta Laureate in Literature. What role do you think literature plays in local communities?

Literature is very much about connection and understanding and expression, all of which are integral to a healthy, functioning community. Literature is the circulator of ideas in a community, which is an ecosystem. A community also needs a story that articulates its energy, and literature, along with the other arts, is essential to that articulation. 

What events are you looking forward to attending at the Festival?

Short of a zombie apocalypse, I’m not going to miss Eat Your Words which will be hosted by the Parramatta Artists’ Studios in Granville. It’s going to include some of my favourite writers with connections to the region including Felicity Castagna, Jumaana Abdu, Max Easton and Eda Gunaydin.

I’m also very excited about Found in Translation featuring Jennifer Croft, Stephanie Smee and Daniel Hahn. I love the subject of translation and it’s a dream of mine to have more events that celebrate and explore this special part of the literary world. 

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