Fem: How have your identities shaped your writing?
Nashwa Khan: I believe that even fiction is rooted in non-fiction. Inevitably, even when intentionally avoided we write about our truths and identity seeps into the equation. Even when “talking back“ to dominant literature or orientalism in writing I find my own experiences at the core of analysis. Writing that is not about my own identity, for instance partaking in the popular creative writing exercise of writing a character based on my “opposite” I find my intersecting identities as foundational in understanding myself in reference to the world. Arguably, it is impossible not to anchor work in reference to self, thus identity beyond being foundational in shaping my work is intertwined in it. For me I think my understanding of my positionality and identity are iterative and although my identity shapes my writing, writing has also shaped my understanding of my interlocking identities. I am a mixed-race kid and I think writing has been a way me to carve out this complex id. With strokes of a pen, strokes of a keyboard I am constantly redefining what this has meant for me, unpacking years of an identity that has been contested in multiple spaces and one that even I have contested. It’s a theme that constantly emerges in my writing and one that I believe will continue to haunt my writing.
F: Do you feel pressure at all to fully embrace/speak to these identities when you write?
NK: Admittedly, I do feel pressure. I do enjoy writing about my identities but it is almost as if I have been pigeonholed into not writing reported features. Even when I write in third person my edits back sometimes insist on incorporation of the personal “I” voice. This is not necessarily a bad thing but I wonder why I cannot be the person to just cover feminism, why does my feminism have to be categorized as “Muslim feminism” or “Desi Feminism,” is it not worthy of just being Feminism? I also admit that it is a fine line, I would not want my values rooted in identity erased in certain pieces of writing most obviously the ones on diaspora or navigating the West as a young Muslim. The idea of fully embracing is also an evocative one. I wonder what it would mean to fully embrace identities that I am seldom fully embraced by. I’m always too Paki for Arabs and too Western for Pakistanis. I’ve been called all types of things like an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) so how can I truthfully embrace any of it? I try to stick to interviews or writing about myself as good practice.
F: Some of your pieces address issues in today’s pop culture. In your opinion, is pop culture influencing feminism for better or worse? How so?
NK: It really depends. I think feminism being in pop culture has given more access and tools to people who may have not otherwise engaged with it. When I was growing up I don’t recall positive depictions of feminism in pop culture. There were scenes or lines that were arguably feminist but they were not named and when feminism was named it was usually to slander it as something that belonged to pariah like women. I understand now the framing is due to patriarchy and toxic masculinities but at the same time feminism being in pop culture does not necessarily make it all good for all feminists. Take for example Lena Dunham’s Girls an exhausted topic I know, but it has been heralded for its injection of feminism into mainstream pop culture. Her work is championed as peak feminism in pop culture but who does it actually serve? Additionally she is a controversial subject, why is her feminism in pop culture more valid than Beyonce’s? These are all questions I wonder about. So I would not say it is for better or for worse but in a nuanced way feminism in pop culture has enhanced the ability to discuss feminism and be exposed to it at a younger age or arguably name feminisms that have surrounded many of us from a younger age.
F: Who are some of your pop culture inspirations? Any authors who inspire you?
NK: Young thoughtful feminists like Amandla Stenberg and Rowan Blanchard have really inspired me. Seeing young women formulate more complex thoughts on feminism than some academics blows me away and gives me so much hope. Right now I am very invested in the power of stories and oral histories, I have a dear friend named Hawa Mire who has inspired me in this field. Regarding poetry Warsan Shire and Shalija Patel always craft spaces that shake me in a needed way. My academic crushes at the moment are Rita Charon, Fatima El-Tayeb, Jin Haritaworn, Sarah Flicker and Neda Maghbouleh. I was blown away recently by work written and edited by Ghadeer Malak and Ghaida Moussa.
F: Where do you see your writing heading in the future? What subjects would you want to cover? Who do you want to reach?
NK: I hope my writing continues to grow and I continue to be generously given platforms from publications and editors. I hope I can do more reported features that are research oriented. I also hope to get more of my poetry published. Perhaps a book but I know that is a lofty goal while in graduate school. I would want to sharpen up my creative writing voice but ultimately I hope I continue to reach people when they need it most. I have been contacted a few times from people who have said my writing has helped them with naming certain processes that were happening to them, or how my writing has articulated things they were feelings or ways to work in solidarity better. I think if my work helps other others find a voice, community or just feel that their lives are not erased I have done a lot more than I have ever intended. Writing has helped me process and heal but it is always humbling to hear that I have helped someone. I hope I can reach wider audiences, I like to think my writing is not merely an echo chamber but it could be. Maybe my feminism can one day be embraced as feminism without the preface of “Muslim” or “Brown.”
Nashwa Khan is aspiring to be an adult while going to grad school in Toronto. She is invested in both her academic and non-academic community and currently sits on York University’s Senate. In her spare time she’s a waffle aficionado and freelance writer. You can find some of her work at https://nashwakhan.contently.com/ or tweet her cat photos @nashwakay.