March 9, 2018
Interview by LEDYA ALEMU
LaVergne High School, senior
The third annual Southeastern Book Festival is underway on the campus of MTSU.
This year’s event features 46 bestselling authors, 92 schools, more than 2,000 students and three days focused on books and reading.
Saturday, March 10 is free and open to the public.
In the final student / author Q&A previewing this year’s SE-YA Book Fest, LaVergne senior Ledya Alemu interviewed bestselling author Samira Ahmed.
“It is an amazing opportunity to get to interview an author,” said Alemu, who referred to Ahmed's book, “Love, Hate, & other Filters” as inspirational and life-changing. “It strengthened my view on fighting discrimination and defending those being discriminated.
“Additionally, it gave me inspiration to aspire for what I want and not allow doubts to push me away from my dreams. When reading a book, I tend to always put myself in the shoes of the characters, but the author seems distal and I do not get to know them any further. With festivals such as the SE-YA festival and opportunities like this to interview authors, I feel a lot closer to the author and it makes reading the novel that much more exciting.”
Alemu was raised in Ethiopia and enjoyed reading Amharic books. When she came to America, she expanded that passion by reading English novels.
Serving at her church is among the ways she spends her time when not studying at LaVergne High School. Next year, she plans to go to college and study in the medical field.
As the character Maya did in the inspirational novel, "Love, Hate, and other filters," by Samira Ahmed, Alemu would like to expand her horizons by studying abroad. The novel focuses on how Maya follows her dreams of making movies despite all the opposition.
“It has taught me that there will always be adversity,” Alemu said, “but I must fight through it to succeed.”
Alemu is attending SE-YA for the first time.
“I am very elated that I have been given this amazing opportunity to attend,” she said. “When watching a movie, I can see what the director wants me to see, but when reading a book, I become the director. Me and my sister used to talk about how we envisioned a certain character, but they turn out to look so different when we watch the movie.
“At a festival like this, I get more peers to share these views with. Festivals like this are my kind of fun.”
Ledya Alemu: Why did you pick NYU as Maya's dream college?
Samira Ahmed: NYU has a wonderful film program that I thought would be a great match for Maya’s particular passion for documentary filmmaking. Also New York is a city that is very much intertwined with our notion of immigrants and the American dream—Maya speaks to that in the book.
It brought tears to my eyes to read about some of the ignorant people that discriminate against Muslims based on the actions of one terrorist group. Has this ever happened to you? Meaning was there a time you were discriminated against or bullied for being Muslim?
I’ve been confronted with prejudice many times, in ways big and small, but my first experience is what most influenced my approach to bigotry in the novel.
My first brush with Islamophobia was during the Iran-Hostage Crisis, when I was very young—about 7 or 8 years old. I was in Chicago with my parents and a grown man yelled at me, “Go home, you goddamn fucking Iranian!” I was shocked. Literally, couldn’t move. Had never heard an adult speak that way, and certainly never to a child. It was my first exposure to the ignorant and the blatant hatred of bigots. It was this moment where a part of childhood was shattered and I wanted to capture that same feeling in writing.
I am Ethiopian and live in an area where I get to meet Ethiopians alot throughout my week. What advice do you have for me as i go to college and become part of a community that is not just full of Ethiopians and how i should adjust to the diversity?
I tend to shy away from giving advice, but for myself, as I headed off to college, I went with the idea that I wanted to make my world as big as possible. Our nation is incredibly diverse and stronger because of that. I loved the idea of meeting people from different parts of the country, from different nations & cultures—to learn from them, to share experiences with them, and to, ideally, eat as many different cuisines as possible, because I adore the idea of learning about cultures from food. I try to keep an open mind and to remember how very much we, as human beings, have in common.
I really loved the novel "Love, hate, and other filters" and I want to know if you incorporated your life into it or just made up all those events? Did you incorporate your life into any part of the story? And if yes, what part?
First, thank you for those kind words!
Maya’s hometown is the same one I grew up in—Batavia, Illinois. Even though I fictionalized the town, there are some locations that remained the same and I tried to give Batavia the same charming, small town feel I grew up in. It was important to me to set this story in what some people might see as a quintessentially “American” town. Maya is Indian-American and Muslim but her story is an American one and setting it in a place I know so well, was a way I could convey that.
I think every writer leaves a part of themselves on the page, and Maya and I do share the same background and some of the same affinities (I love movies, too!) but, really, she is her own person with her own individual experiences, completely separate from mine.