The following is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Palestine In America, published on December 8th, 2015.
PiA: Where do you find inspiration to write?
TL: I think urgency inspires me to write. To be honest, I don’t really know if there is one specific place where I pull my inspiration from, I just know that I am moved by positive change, growth.
For me, it’s less about finding that inspiration, and more about living my life in a way that respects the space and communities around me.
When you orient your way of life towards a certain goal, I think the writing just follows suit. As a Palestinian American, I’m no stranger to loss and its many shades. That constant, looming threat of loss—whether it is a life, or an identity, or a piece of culture, etc.—lights a fire under me. So, when we talk about “urgency,” what I’m saying is that as a person of color with a variety of privileges and disadvantages afforded to me, I constantly ask myself how can I leverage my identity in a way that makes this world around me a bit more inhabitable for those I’m sharing this earth with.
PiA: What do you think the role of art/writing is in regards to the Palestinian struggle and/or social justice movements?
TL: Writing—and more generally art—serves so many purposes when it comes to social justice movements. I think some of the most beautiful and necessary works are born out of a personal desire to heal, and they are shared out of a greater desire to heal others. Secondly, each act of creation serves as a cultural and historical time-stamp of sorts. Yes, we have the news and Twitter, and the like. But, the works we are creating now also act as a form of journalism that current and future generations can look at to not only help them get a fuller understanding of the narratives taking place, but also to speak to these consumers of the story in a way that a news article or a scholarly piece cannot.
In terms of creating work with an eye on the Palestinian struggle, sometimes all we know is what we have lost and what we could lose. I think a lot of younger folks fall into this trap of dedicating themselves to illuminating the struggle, but neglect to take care of themselves in the process—I was definitely a victim of this when I was younger.
These days, I take some issue with the idea of creating anything that doesn’t try to heal us, first and foremost. This is definitely not to say that we shouldn’t be putting effort into sharing our struggles, as there is definitely a huge and vital place for the overarching strategies and works that combat oppression. But, one of the ways supremacy ideologies consume us is by forcing us to address them. As a member of the diaspora, I feel that it’s important that what we do isn’t solely a response to colonialism and imperialism. If we get to a point where all we’re doing is creating work to get the attention of folks we need to convince to care about us, we leave ourselves susceptible to forgetting about the people we do this work for.
Still, I don’t think the space is finite. Art makes reality more digestible, and it allows us to share with people and illuminate struggles in a way we aren’t otherwise able to. I think it’s necessary that we’re constantly pushing the narrative out there and using art to find ways to penetrate the world’s consciousness in a way it doesn’t expect, but I also think that as Palestinians it’s vital that we create beauty reserved for ourselves and our healing.
PiA: Being from Michigan and so close to Detroit, how do you think writing can be used to create connections between various marginalized communities in order to develop meaningful solidarity amongst them?
TL: Actually, I was born there and still try to a lot in the city as well. Though I grew up in Dearborn, I was in and around Detroit pretty often as a kid, so that proximity to the city and Gaza has been a huge influence on the way I perceive community and resilience. Ultimately, that’s translated to being a big point of emphasis for me in my work as a writer and an organizer because I’m constantly trying to find ways to bridge marginalized communities in order to build solidarity, while also making sure that that solidarity isn’t transactional. The greatest tool for me in doing that has been poetry.
So, when we extrapolate that to writing as a whole, I think the lessons we can use lie in active listening. Solidarity is easily derailed when we stop accepting one another’s stories as valid and become contentious with the populations we’re struggling alongside—and that’s not an easy thing to do. For example, anti-black racism is still a very real issue that we need to face in PoC (person of color) communities that doesn’t get washed away by saying “oh, but we’re both oppressed.” I think that the sharing of stories allows us a glimpse into the lives of other marginalized people who are fighting the same type of beast, while also reminding us to address the beasts our communities might be feeding, whether or not they know they are. At the end of the day, if we truly believe that our liberations are linked (and they are), then solidarity can’t happen if we’re not consciously combating what ails the people we’re working alongside—that process starts with listening.
To read the full interview transcript, visit the page here.