I have known about Umm Juwayriyah’s (Maryam Sulivan) work for a while but became a fan after reading her amazing Muslim urban fiction novel, Tried and Tested. Check out the blurb.
A teenage Iman Johnson left home over a decade ago to follow behind a sweet, loving hustler who promised her the world. When that world became too much for her to endure, mentally and physically, she found herself back in Pittsburgh, PA at her Muslim mother’s doorstep, seeking refuge.
Will the Muslim family and community that she’d turned her back on years ago be ready to finally accept her, or is there too much time, emotions, hurt, and secrets built up between them to overcome? Iman will have to find the strength to face her past and relearn the basics if she ever hopes to find the sweetness of faith Allah promises.
She is a prolific author, whose works include poetry and prose. She has penned five books for children, young adults, and adults. I will never forget when she walked on stage at an event—for what everyone thought would be an author’s reading—and started dropping bars like it was nothing.
She is an educator and organizer of wonderful initiatives like the #MuslimGirlsRead literacy campaign. Every year, she raises funds to provide Muslim authored and centered books to urban youth. Yeah, she’s pretty dope.
So, it is clearly understandable why I was thrilled to have the chance to work with her on projects like the Black Muslim Authors event at New York University and the upcoming Black Muslim Reads anthology. I recently asked Umm Juwayriyah about writing and storytelling.
What is the first book that made you cry?
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I used to, but I don’t anymore. It’s procrastination fueled by a myriad of triggers (fear, stress, family obligations, life changes, etc.). Anything and everything can throw your writing groove off if you allow it.
When you are working on your project, set a goal to write every day and do it! Don’t be afraid of your voice. Embrace it.
Don’t be afraid to readjust your goals because sometimes you have to, but keep writing, and don’t stop until you finish your story.
What was an early experience when you learned that language had power?
Reading story books with my Umm and being drawn into the story. Seeing myself in the books, hearing the characters’ talk, smelling the trees and feeling the sun as she read each word was powerful. I wanted to do that for others too.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Two novels, one children’s book, and the anthology.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do. I think critiques are an important and uncomfortable part of a writer’s growth and development. I really appreciate book reviews because they are important for readers to jump into the world I created and ruminate about the things they experienced from a different point of view.
Overall, I think it helps to sharpen your writer’s voice and fine–tune techniques you can improve.
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