Friday, July 15, 2011

Writing as Process: A Good Reminder from Ryad Assani Razaki in Yonge Street

Though I usually cover visual arts, I've been given an opportunity recently by Yonge Street Media to profile a few people in the GTA succeeding in other cultural genres. This experience is a bit intimidating for me, because as much as I sometimes love to slag ye olde art worlde, it's also a place of comfort for me.

In any case, my first profile for Yonge Street, focusing on Parkdale-based scribe Ryad Assani-Razaki, went up this past week. Here's an excerpt:

Jameson Avenue's 1960s apartment buildings, packed with new Canadians, are home to many stories on migration. But only one of its residents has won a $20,000 provincial prize for telling these tales.

That's 29-year-old Ryad Assani-Razaki, a native of Benin who settled on Jameson in spring 2008 and whose first book, Deux Cercles, won the Trillium Award for Best Book Published in French in spring 2010. The short stories in Deux Cercles are sensitive portrayals of the frustrations of immigration, and Assani-Razaki's anticipated first novel Le main d'Iman, due out in September, promises to more deeply explore these themes.

Sitting at the wobbly kitchen table cum writing desk in his tiny, tidy second-floor studio apartment, Assani-Razaki -- fluent in Yoruba, Fon, French and English -- talks energetically about his writing and its origins.

"I started seriously writing stories when I was 13," he says. Then as now, the driving motivation remains personal. "I just like writing stories for myself. Writing makes you feel good, makes you understand things, makes you release things and that's why I write, mostly. I think the process of writing is more important than the product."

Assani Razaki knows of what he speaks--he wrote his award winning short story collection for himself, and only sought a publisher on the urging of friends. Since writing is often a deadline driven job for me, speaking with him was personally a helpful reminder of the creative side of the process I often forget about, or perhaps have neglected.

A few fun facts that I trimmed for length along the way:

-Toni Morrison and Jhumpa Lahiri are among Assani Razaki's favourite authors

-One bonus of getting nominated for the Trillium was that Assani Razaki got to meet Margaret Atwood, also nominated for an award last year. Assani Razaki was thrilled by this, as reading Atwood's poetry (and writing his own) was part of what helped him learn to speak English when he landed in North America almost 10 years ago. (That was to go and do an undergrad degree in computer programming in North Carolina.)

-Well this fact is in the article, but it's worth reiterating: Assani Razaki works as a computer programmer by trade, and enjoys the balance he gets in terms of doing both writing and programming. He says he wouldn't like to write full time, as then one only ends up writing about writing.

Do read on at Yonge Street for the rest.

(Image of Ryad Assani Razaki on Jameson Ave from Yonge Street Media)

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