Published March 2, 2021

Susan Abulhawa, author of Against the Loveless World, is a Palestinian-American writer and political activist. She is also the author of Mornings in Jenin and The Blue Between Sky and Water. Born to refugees of the Six Day War of 1967, she moved to the United States as a teenager and now lives in Pennsylvania.

Get to know Susan in this Q&A and then join us on Friday, March 19 at 4 PM EST as part of the all-virtual 2021 Virginia Festival of the Book to hear her discuss her work in Writing Women, Writing Resilience.

Festival: What motivated you to become a writer? 

Abulhawa: I fell into it by circumstance. My chosen career had been in biomedical science, but I suppose I had always been a writer. I was propelled to finally write a novel after witnessing the aftermath of a massacre in Jenin, in which Israel murdered hundreds of people and buried others alive in their bulldozed homes. It was a life changing trauma that I transformed into art. But I kept writing after my first novel and eventually left science.

Who or what are some of your creative influences?

Gabriel García Márquez, Alice Walker, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Isabella Allende, Arundhati Roy, Toni Morrison, Sahar Khalifeh, and many others.

What was your favorite part about writing your book?

Writing the friendship between Nahr and Um Buraq, as well as the intimacy between Nahr and Bilal. 

Do you have any sources of inspiration that you come back to while writing?

Every writing project is different and draws on different sources as I get older. 

What impact or takeaway do you hope your work will have for readers? 

I don’t like to tell readers what to think or how to interpret my work. That should be entirely up to them, and is in fact an important part of a book’s journey in the world.  

Describe how a book changed your life or perspective.

When I settled in the US at the age of thirteen, I was barely literate in English. I secretly and fervently tried to teach myself during every free moment I had away from school. I was working up to be able to read a book cover to cover. By the end of that year, I finally did. The first one was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. The second was The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Those two books carried me from a dark and desperate place into sunlight. There are a lot of other books, both fiction and non fiction, that have touched my life in different ways. But the ones that have shaped my worldview have mostly been nonfiction. Examples are The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton, Che: A Revolutionary Life by Lee Anderson.  

What is something that you’ve read recently and would recommend to others?

I’m currently reading Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, and I’m loving it. It’s quite absorbing. 

What are you working on next?

I am doing a few small projects (short stories, a children’s book) while another novel brews in my head and my dreams. 

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