New Delhi | Having penned a monograph of travel photos and poems; a collection of linked short stories, poems and photos and also a memoir, writing comes naturally to Nigerian-born Bangladeshi American writer Abeer Hoque who says it unwinds her and gives her a satisfaction that nothing else matches up to. And there’s more.
She’s working on a novel about memory loss, set in Berkeley and Brooklyn and also on a series of ekphrastic poems where she uses photographs from her collection to inspire new poems. HarperCollins India recently published her memoir ‘Olive Witch’ in which she tells about growing up in three different countries (Nigeria, where she was born and spent her childhood, the United States where she lived from high school onwards, and Bangladesh where her parents are originally from.
With poems and weather conditions framing each chapter, ‘Olive Witch’ is an intimate memoir about taking the long way home. In the 1970s, Nigeria is flush with oil money, building new universities and hanging on to old colonial habits. Hoque grew up in a small sunlit town where the red clay earth, corporal punishment and running games are facts of life. At 13, she moved with her family to suburban Pittsburgh and found herself surrounded by clouded skies and high schoolers who speak in movie quotes and pop culture slang.
Finding her place as a young woman in America proved more difficult than Hoque could have imagined. Disassociated from her parents, and laid low by academic pressure and spiralling depression, she is committed to a psychiatric ward in Philadelphia. When she moves to Bangladesh on her own, it proves to be yet another beginning for someone who is only just getting used to being an outsider – wherever she is.
Asked why she chose to pen her memoir so early in her writing career, she says, I started off as a poet and poetry is still a very big part of my writing life. I went to graduate school to get an MFA in poetry, and I fell in love with the creative nonfiction classes I took in the very beginning of the program. I started writing memoir in those classes, basically stories about my childhood and young adult years, and my classmates and teachers loved them and encouraged me to write more. But as my memoir shows, and the book before it and even the photography book, I can never leave poetry out of the picture.