Author Sofia Samatar draws inspiration from reading

Author Sofia Samatar draws inspiration from reading

Sofia Samatar likes to read.

An award-winning author, poet and essayist, Samatar credits her love of reading as what inspired her to become a writer.

“Reading. It’s still what makes me write,” Samatar said. 

Samatar, author of the award-winning novel "A Stranger in Olondria," is visiting the University of Alabama on Friday, Oct. 16, as part of the Bankhead Visiting Writer series, which invites writers from across the globe to the University of Alabama to read their work and lead a workshop for students. 

This workshop is designed to give creative writing students the opportunity to master their creative writing skills under the mentorship of a published author; however, it’s open to the public, said Maggie Smith, the Bankhead Visiting Writer event coordinator and creative writing graduate student.

“She’ll help us read something as a group and dissect it,” Smith said. 

A job fit for Samatar, because when she’s not reading or writing, she’s teaching.

“I love people, I love places and I love talking about writing,” Samatar said. “I like people who are really working on their writing, who take it seriously. I like problems.”

Samatar draws her inspiration from reading writers such as Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kelly Link, Bhanu Kapil and Tayeb Salih. However, Samatar knows that inspiration can be drawn from almost anything. Different things have inspired her at various points in her life.

“I’m inspired by everything I study, everything I really pay attention to,” Samatar said.

If her source of inspiration has no parameters neither does her definition of her writing. Sometimes it’s fantasy. Sometimes it’s science fiction. But to Samatar, her writing is something much bigger.

“To me it’s literature—that is, an ongoing exploration,” Samatar said. 

Samatar’s work varies greatly. She writes novels, essays, poems, short stories, and even reviews. Although her work doesn’t fit into a specific category, she always draws from her personal experiences as well as from reading.

It’s no surprise, then, that Samatar considers reading author Kate Zambreno’s work a life-changing experience. By reading Zambreno’s writing, she discovered Dodie Bellamy, Eileen Myles and Bhanu Kapil, all writers who have transformed how she thinks about feminism, genre and writing in general. 

“Reading them, I understood that a lot more is allowed for writers,” Samatar said. “You don't have to hold back.”

To Samatar, the relationship between reading and writing is clear. The relationship between life and writing, however, is cloudier. She always thought "A Stranger in Olondria" was derived from her experience in South Sudan, but she recently discovered that it was equally influenced by Mennonite history. An example of how writing doesn’t always reflect the writer’s life the way he or she thought. 

For Samatar, reading, writing and teaching are an everyday occurrence. Samatar abides by Patrick Bizzaro’s advice, and hopes young writers starting out will too:

“Read widely, pay attention, and—this is something Patrick Bizzaro said that I read recently and liked—never waste an experience," she said. 

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