Interview with Room's Writing Contest Judge, Saleema Nawaz

Interview by 
Kayi Wong

Here is our second interview with our contest judges! Don't forget that the deadline of our annual writing contest is on July 15th. If you wish to see your work published, submit! 

Saleema Nawaz is the author of a short story collection, and a novel Bone and Bread, which won the Quebec Writers' Federation Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction last year. Nawaz has written and published short stories in various journals long before her first novel was published. Her short story "My Three Girls", won the 2008 Writers' Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. For more on Nawaz, visit her blog, where she documents her traveling and literary adventures. 

ROOM: Was the progression from publishing short stories to novel a natural step for you?

NAWAZ: I’d always planned on writing novels, so it was natural in the sense that it was always what I was working towards. Writing stories was a way me for to learn how – or so I thought. But short stories are their own art form, and writing a novel is probably the best way to actually learn how to write a novel. 

ROOM: Is there any one thing you try to achieve by the end of each final draft?

NAWAZ: Each draft of every manuscript comes with its own complex set of challenges and problems that you’re hoping to resolve. The only thing that is the same is that you’re always trying to do the best that you can at any given moment. Mostly, at the end of each draft, I’m just focused on finishing. That’s the one thing I’m trying to achieve!

ROOM: In an earlier interview with The National Post, you mentioned that the yoga aspect in your debut novel, Bone and Bread, was inspired by your practice of yoga early in your prose writing career. Are you still practicing yoga or have you picked up a new routine that is complementary to your writing?

NAWAZ: Not really. After training as a yoga instructor in 2001, I more or less decided I didn’t want to set up my own practice. I didn’t feel like I could live the life of a yoga instructor as I thought it should be lived (rigorous, pure, disciplined), so I didn’t want to put myself out there as a role model. Writing requires so much of its own discipline that I don’t really feel like I have enough left over for anything else. 

ROOM: What was the last piece of fiction you read that had a significant effect on you?

NAWAZ: The last book that made me cry was February by Lisa Moore. The last book I couldn’t put down wasThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I loved how much she managed to squeeze into that book.  

ROOM: Are you working on any writing projects right now?

NAWAZ: Yes, lots! Though the two that are serious at the moment are a novel-in-progress and a collection of linked short stories.

ROOM:  What advice do you have for the writers wishing to submit their fiction work to the Room contest?

NAWAZ: Contest submission deadlines are great motivation to finish something you’ve been working on or meaning to write. Even if you don’t win, you’ve produced something, which is something to feel good about.

ROOM: Final question: with the #readwomen2014 reading list in mind, who are a few of your favourite female authors, fiction or otherwise?

NAWAZ: Too many to name, but here’s three: Lisa Moore, Miriam Toews, Lynn Coady.

“It's Canadian, feminist, and one of my favourite things ever.”

—bucketofrhymes, "29 Amazing Literary Magazines You Need To Be Reading", Buzzfeed Books

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