Sarah Kabamba, Winner of Room's 2015 Fiction Contest

Interview by 
Kayi Wong
sarah kabamba fiction contest winner

Room's Kayi Wong, spoke with our 2015 Fiction Contest Winner, Sarah Kabamba, about her writing process and motivation and her winning-story, “They Come Crying,” which will appear in  Room 39.2, published in June 2016. Sarah Kabamba describes herself as a word-obsessed, tea-loving, fourth year Law student with an English Minor. She believes in the power of words in constructing identity and recognizing the importance of family, beliefs, and culture. Sarah currently resides in Ottawa, where she writes and reads as much as she can.

Could you tell me more about your story, They Come Crying?

The story was based on my feelings and emotions when my own aunt passed away. I didn’t write the story until a couple years after the event, but something about it stayed with me until I felt I was ready to tell the story in some capacity. I think I used the fiction genre and the character of Ada to distance myself and the emotions I had attached to the event. I wanted to show the intricacy and depth of grief, and the importance of culture in addressing it. A lot of the events in the short story were based on real events, things my parents told me, and my personal experiences. 

Food and cooking play large roles in They and in the lives of the characters. Could you elaborate on that choice?

Growing up, food and cooking has always played a large role in my own life, which I feel is amplified in situations of grief. I tried to capture this cultural practice in the story with the women and their interactions with food and cooking. It’s about more than just the kind of food that is being prepared but the feeling of community, family, comfort, and warmth that the simple process can provide in difficult times.

What is your writing process like?

When I’m writing, I usually start with a particular idea, phrase, or image and then I write around it. Most times, I’ll write out a draft in about a week, but I’ll always be constantly thinking about the story I’m working on and jotting down ideas for when I do sit down to work on it. A teacher once told me to let a draft sit for at least a week before you look at it again, which I try to do. I do several edited drafts myself first, then I ask for input from family or friends. With this particular story, I was lucky enough to be part of a writing workshop at the time, and the participants were extremely helpful at giving me suggestions for edits and tightening up the story.

What motivates you to write?

That’s a tough question! I’d have to say experiences, the world around me and a love for words and capturing emotion. I’m constantly writing things down, in notebooks, on my phone, even on my hands. I don’t think I could stop if I tried. I love writing and I think that fact on its own motivates me to keep writing, even if it’s just for myself.

Do you submit your work to literary magazines and writing contests often? How has the experience been for you?

To be honest, this is something I’ve just recently started doing. I took a poetry writing workshop in my first year of university and the professor, Armand Ruffo, would always tell us that we shouldn’t write in a vacuum. He said writing could be very lonely but only if you made it so. This stuck with me, and I started looking for ways to share my work. I am a pretty closed person by nature so sharing my work took a little working up to. I took a couple workshops, and began sharing my work with other people besides close family and friends. I’ve sent out a few things, last year a piece of mine was shortlisted for your creative non-fiction contest. This particular story was shortlisted for Freefall magazine’s 2014 writing contest, then I reworked it and sent it out again. There’s obviously been a fair share of rejections but I find the whole process is exciting. Contests also give me deadlines to work to and further motivate me to finish more work. I think the worst part about the experience is waiting for a response but that may be because I am an impatient person! As soon as I send something out, I want to know how I can continuously improve my work and writing for the next time.

What are you working on right now?

I actually started out writing poetry, and for a while that’s all I would write. I wanted to keep growing in my writing, so I decided to work on my prose (fiction and creative nonfiction). I’m attracted by the different structure and rules of all the writing genres (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry), however, I think that no matter what genre I’m writing in, poetic tendencies tend to leak in. I love the idea of blurring the lines between genres, and letting them feed off one another. Currently I’m taking a workshop on creative nonfiction and developing a piece on my family history, with a focus on my parents. I am also forever writing poetry, and am working on a collection around the theme of culture and roots.

Which is one short story you wish you had written? Or along the same vein, do you have a favourite short story writer or collection?

I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work. Her collection of short stories, The Thing around Your Neck, is very powerful and would have to be one my favourite collections. The story I wished I’d written in that collection would have to be “Tomorrow is too Far.” The way Adichie depicts scenes, and the emotion of missing someone just hits me every time I read it.

Kayi Wong is an editorial collective member and the Contest Coordinator at Room magazine. She will edit an issue of Room on the theme of food in 2017.

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