Friday, November 13, 2015

Six Questions for Rewa Zeinati, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Sukoon

An independent, bi-annual, online literary magazine that is Arab-themed and in English. Sukoon reflects the diversity of the Arab world by publishing poetry, fiction, nonfiction, interviews, book reviews, drama, artwork, by writers and artists of Arab descent, or non-Arab writers and artists who have an ‘Arab’ story or art piece to share.

In Arabic, Sukoon means 'stillness.' And by 'Arab World' we mean the
countries that speak the Arabic language, in all its various dialects.

Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: Why did you start this magazine?

Rewa Zeinati: I started Sukoon in 2013, but have been thinking about it for years. Soon after I entered the world of literary magazines as a reader and contributor, especially in the West, I became conscious of the scarceness of the Arab narrative.  In a nutshell, I became aware that what reflected me, as an Arab Anglophone writer, was absent, or inadequately represented. Sukoon came in to fill a gap, in my opinion.

It came in to offer something that not only complements what is (thankfully) already out there and considered Arab related; be it Arabic literature in translation, or Arab-American literature, or Arab-city-centric or Arab-country-centric literary publications in English, but also to add to that storyline, to keep the conversation going, but through a more comprehensive platform of Arab Anglophone-ness. Also, to attach another layer to this conversation; the non-Arab’s “Arab” story.

Sukoon offers an alternative to mainstream media—as all literature aims to do—about what it means to be “Arab” or to have that experience; of course, for the purpose of greater understanding, wider expression and dialogue, and to create that sort of discourse, or proximity, all in one space, where the diversity among Arabs is highlighted, alongside the non-Arab’s Arab experience.

It’s also worth noting (and including) how thrilled I am to learn about the Etel Adan Poetry Series, which was recently launched this year (2015) by the University of Arkansas Press, together with the Radius of Arab American writers (RAWI), to publish and award a first or second book of poetry by an Anglophone writer of Arab heritage. Finally! And the name couldn’t be more perfectly suited.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

RZ: In literary work, I look for attention to language, a persuasive voice, emotional complexity. I’ve found that it’s usually evident from the first couple of lines of a poem or a story. Especially voice.

In artwork, I look for whatever I consider beautiful. I suppose that’s a little biased, right? Of course, it needs to relate to the Arab experience, be it through the artist; or the work itself, if the artist has no Arab roots.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

RZ: Orientalist stereotyping, misogyny, mystical poetry, archaic language/voice, poems that rhyme, preachy-ness, or work that justifies or dignifies political occupation, mainly the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

I also find myself having to clarify the distinction between the term “Middle Eastern” and “Arab” or the fact that “Arab” and “Muslim” are not synonymous, nor are they interchangeable terms. Which takes us back to a form of “Orientalism” or “ignorance,” which, now that I mention it, ARE interchangeable terms. Sometimes you can’t split literature from politics. Who wants to, anyway?

SQF: Do you provide comments when you reject a submission?

RZ: Oftentimes I do. Especially when the work is almost, but not quite, there yet. Or when there’s a submission by a very young writer, and I feel that, because of inexperience, the rejection might grow too big in his or her head, and I want that young writer to keep writing. So I write back and explain with (hopefully!) constructive feedback.

SQF: Who are some of your favorite authors?

RZ: Etel Adnan. Mahmoud Darwish. Hanan Al-Shaykh. Naomi Shihab Nye. Charles Bukowski. Banana Yoshimoto. Margaret Atwood. Milan Kundera. Kim Addonizio. Cecelia Woloch. Sandra Cisneros. Arundhati Roy.

I’m now reading the novel “Mister Pip” by the New Zealand author, Lloyd Jones, which is just absolutely gorgeous in terms of craft.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

RZ: Maybe the question, “Why submit to Sukoon?”

And the answer would be: Sukoon needs your voice and your story. You will be in good company here as past and forthcoming contributors to Sukoon include writers and artists Etel Adnan, Naomi Shihab Nye, Shurooq Amin, Nathalie Handal, Hedy Habra, Philip Metres, Frank Dullaghan, Sahar Mustafa, Susan Muaddi Daraj, Lisa Suheir Majaj, Claire Zoghb, Elmaz Abinader, Zeina Hashem Beck, Hind Shoufani, Majid Alyousef, Lauren Camp, Lena Tuffaha, Steven Schreiner, Shebana Coelho, Zahi Khamis, Olivia Ayes, Kenneth E. Harrison Jr., Kim Jensen, Marguerite G. Bouvard, Jennifer Jazz, among many others.

Thank you, Rewa. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

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