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"About the Work" with Nadia Shahbaz

In our "About the Work" series, Natalie Tombasco asks recent contributors for insight into their writing or for current sources of inspiration. Read Nadia Shahbaz's story, “Immigrant Making Art Origin Story," in SER Vol. 39.2.


My essay “Immigrant Making Art Origin Story” began many years ago in a more traditional story structure. I was trying to explore how “arriving” forms a part of my American identity—that notion of my family needing to feel as though they’d “arrived” after they left their home countries. It led me to want to write about my grandmother’s arrival to the United States from Afghanistan, but that unfolded in a million directions. Many of these had a political tone since the bulk of the piece was written during the Trump presidency. The piece gained its voice, drive, and arc after listening to Ocean Vuong’s interview on the podcast “On Being.” There he spoke about the power of language and how we hold it. It echoed into a question George Saunders posed once on when writers come to believe words have power. It brought me into the spaces I grew up in, houses full of non-English speakers and people swimming in different states of longing. As I wrote into these ideas, my grandmother’s arrival story blended into my own story of becoming a writer. But it wasn’t until I read Matthew Klam’s piece “Let’s Get Small” that I found a structure and flow. The timestamps allowed me to cover large swaths of time and connect memory fragments into a feeling of wholeness, a feeling that the dots do connect. I’m still in awe of Klam’s piece and am still discovering its magic.


NADIA SHAHBAZ is the first in her family to be born in the United States. Her writing has been published in The Rumpus, Tahoma Literary Review, Coffee + Crumbs, and the We The People art project. You can find her at @nadiashahbaz_writer.


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