Bothayna Wail Al Essa – Interview
We live in a world of complexities, to some, it fosters an irrevocable quest to find an answer, question authority and break away from the incessant grip of a system that deters ideas and imagination. Bothayna Wail Al Essa is one such novelist that has stepped out of the social confines and ventured through words to speak her heart. Born in 1982 the Kuwaiti writer, Bothayna al-Essa obtained her degree in finance but landed a very different career ultimately by publishing five novels and one collection of essays. Her first novel, Irtitam la yusma‘ lahu dawii (A Soundless Collision) was published in 2004, and since then she has been awarded many national and international prizes for her work, including being longlisted for the 2013 Sheikh Zayed Book Award.
We spoke to Bothayna Wail Al Essa, at this years’ Emirates Airline Festival of Literature (2017), and learned more about her as a profound thinker, a passionate writer and a human that questions!
How would you describe your writing style?
It differs from one book to another. Lately, I feel my narrative has become more of a clear glass from where people can see through, to witness something that is happening right now.
Does it come with its own limitation?
Bothayna Wail Al Essa: I’ve been exposing myself a lot. In Maps of Wondering my latest novel, before this, I did a lot of deep inner work about feelings and emotions and how they evolve and feelings to give myself as a woman a voice that can be heard for what it is. After that, I just thought I had to go to a bigger place a place people think only man can reach or write to be exact, like crime, politics and philosophical questioning etc. I didn’t want to work only on emotions but also on whats really happening.
Do you face political or social restraints?
Bothayna Wail Al Essa: My book is censored in Kuwait, but it depends when you are writing you don’t want your work to become a propaganda or something. You want literature to be what it is. I think the role of literature or novel is basically to create a lie that is telling the truth. Lying for the sake of the truth. And you are building this world where you are trying to say something without imposing the ideas to the reader. You then ask question rather giving your opinion. I want my readers to build a meaning out of my work and my book as a motivation for that. On a personal level, I’ve been living a life of an activist. I went to the parliament in Kuwait and gave speech there and have participated in many events.
How do you brave the criticism?
Bothayna Wail Al Essa: I think it will destroy me not to try. My greatest fear is to cope with something that is really wrong rather than to fight against. I live in Kuwait, we have this political awareness since 1938 our great grand parents asked for democracy or majority role to have a voice, therefore we are accustomed to criticizing and questioning what is happening, no one is going to put you in jail for that. To some extent we have this freedom of speech as long as this is not written. When its written you won’t go to prision but there will be censorship.
What does it take to be a novelist?
Bothayna Wail Al Essa: I think a novelist is a one who really listens and pays attention. He/she is always curious about what is going on and how things are taking place in the world. What are the patterns, how relations work and how this effect us… You are always in a cloud of analysis. So that’s one side. Another side is, a novelist or a writer is a person who is deeply in love with a language. The chemistry that results from putting one letter with another is music that resonates in the language itself.
How would you rate the literature from GCC?
Bothayna Wail Al Essa: When it comes to Kuwait, we have many great contemporary young writers, genuine voice, people trying to experiment with new forms ways of expressions. It is in good shape now compared to the old age. There’s been a gap and the social media kind of helped in bridging the writers connect with the reader. Back in the days if you had the right connections you were invited to book discussions and all. Now we are more able to connect with the reader directly.
Who’s your favorite writer?
Bothayna Wail Al Essa: I have a bunch of people. I love Gabriel García Márquez, Eduardo Galeano, Jorge Luis Borges, to name only a few.
Where do you find your characters?
Bothayna Wail Al Essa: I build them, some from here and some from there, they are all around me.
Any words of advice?
Bothayna Wail Al Essa: I always encourage writers to do 4 things. Read a lot, to be able to write one word you need to read 100. Secondly, you train your writing muscle because it will make you fit eventually. Thirdly we need to isolate our self from the system, which is kind of built to make us consumer and eventually consumes us. If we fall into that we will never listen to the deep voice inside us and won’t be able to understand what’s happening around us. We need a lot of dialogues, so, read a book expose yourself to the wilder imagination…