Gatepost Interview: Mona Awad, English professor

Jordan Bacci / THE GATEPOST

What is your professional and educational background?

I’m a novelist, so I wrote a novel in 2016 called, “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl.” It came out with Penguin. Then I wrote my second novel. It’s called “Bunny,” and it’s coming out in June of 2019. I was an English major in college. I have an undergraduate degree in English from York, and I have two master’s degrees – one MFA from Brown in fiction, and then a master’s in literature from University of Edinburgh. I have a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Denver.

What inspired “13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl?”

I struggled with body image all my life, and I wanted to write a novel that really looks at that struggle from the inside and the outside, and sort of shows how we see ourselves, and looks at how body image sort of affects every aspect of our lives – you know, relationships, shopping for clothes, the way that we see ourselves. I wanted to look at all of that.

Is there anything you’d want to say to anyone who also struggles with body image?

I think it’s important to remember that perspective plays a large role in how you see yourself. … It’s hard. I wrote a book about it because I had a lot to say about how it felt. And I felt like there weren’t a lot of books that really explored how it feels, every day, to deal with being inside a body that you don’t like. To me, there weren’t enough books and stories out there that were exploring that terrain. So, I would say if you’re having struggles – write. Tap into that, and understand that the way that you’re seeing yourself is being shaped by the world outside you, that it’s not necessarily the truth, that it’s relative.

What is your upcoming book about?

It’s a novel, and it combines fairy tale and horror – both of which I’m very interested in. It tells the story of this group of girls – they’re graduate students, they’re writers, and they get together and conjure men out of bunnies – magically, in these off-campus, ritualized workshops. It’s told from the perspective of an outsider girl, a student in the school who’s not part of that group, and then she gets sucked in. So, it’s very dark and it’s meant to be kind of comic. I had a lot of fun writing it. It is very different than “13 Ways,” but there’s some crossover. It’s got kind of an outsider perspective. It sort of looks at privilege, in a dark, fantasy sort of way.

Were you ever discouraged from being an author?

Oh yeah, many times. I almost quit my MFA halfway through, because I thought that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know what I was doing. So, I did almost quit, and I went back to it just because I really love telling stories. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was a kid, and I can’t imagine not. So, I just told myself this – I told myself it doesn’t matter if it gets published or not. It’s just important for you to write these stories down, no matter what happens.

What do you think is the importance of storytelling?

Stories are everything. Stories are what we do every day. We tell each other stories. We tell ourselves stories. We tell stories to explain ourselves to other people, or to explain ourselves to ourselves. We tell stories to defend ourselves. We tell stories to be understood. We tell stories to deal with grief, to deal with pain, to deal with emotional events in our lives that we can’t wrap our heads around. We tell stories for fun. It’s such a basic impulse of humans, to tell stories. I’ve always loved it because there is so much just in experiencing other people, and just in living daily life that I want to reflect on, and stories let me do that.

Do you have any books or stories that you particularly enjoy?

Yeah, I have a lot. I mean, I love fairy tales because they have magic, and magic is about possibility, and I think we all need a sense of possibility in our lives, and fairy tales give us that. I love them too because they narrate – in this very symbolic language – events that we all go through. You know – falling in love, dealing with death, dealing with adversity. They sort of narrate it for us in this symbolic language that I think speaks to all of us. So, I love fairy tales. I love Jean Rhys. She is a twentieth-century English author. She writes these first-person stories about being an outsider, being broke, and about getting her heart broken again and again in these wonderful cities like London or Paris. And I love her stories because they’re so immediate, like I can feel everything she’s feeling as she writes. The voice is so nuanced – it’s really powerful to me, so I always revisit those books. Also, I love David Mitchell. He’s a contemporary British author. I feel like he’s the Daniel Day-Lewis of writers. He can get in anybody’s skin and make you believe that he’s that character. He’s so good at voice.

Do you have any advice for students here at FSU?

I would say turn off your phone. Turn off your laptop. Experience the world with your eyes, with your ears, and with your other senses, so that you know what you really feel about things, rather than having it told to you. So, trust your own eyes and your ears. … I would also say read, because it is the one thing that gives you freedom. It gives you the most freedom to imagine, to visualize, the most freedom to engage all of your senses is to read. And it rewards attention, and it rewards discipline, and it’s a tonic for the soul.

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