Hana Shafi is a writer and artist who illustrates under the name Frizz Kid. Both her visual art and writing frequently explores themes such as feminism, body politics, racism, and pop culture with an affinity to horror. A graduate of Ryerson University's Journalism Program, she has published articles in publications such as The Walrus, Hazlitt, This Magazine, Torontoist, Huffington Post, and has been featured on Buzzfeed India, Buzzfeed Canada, CBC, Flare Magazine, Mashable, and Shameless, Known on Instagram for her weekly affirmation series, she is also the recipient of the Women Who Inspire Award, from the Canadian Council for Muslim Women. Born in Dubai, Shafi's family immigrated to Mississauga in 1996, and she currently lives and works in Toronto. It Begins With The Body is her first book.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It Begins with the Body is my first book and it's pretty surreal finally having this out. It's something I've dreamt of for a long time, but it's difficult actually thinking about how it'll feel when the book is done and physically in your hands. I'm soaking in this feeling as much as I can.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry was always my go-to writing style since I was a kid. I started writing poetry in the fifth grade—terrible, cheesy, angsty poetry haha. But I think it's a very interesting genre. People have a lot of preconceived notions about what poetry is supposed to be like. We tend to picture really abstract work with high-flown language. I've always wanted to show people how diverse poetry can be. I went to journalism school, so non-fiction writing is something that I was really invested in for a long time. It made me miss poetry a lot. I still write non-fiction, but getting to write a full book of poetry just felt like a huge release.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I start writing pretty fast, but refining it takes a while. Some of my pieces are very close to the first draft, whereas others were dramatically revised.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Before It Begins with the Body, I would often just write short pieces and then want to combine them into a larger project. When I started on the book, I wanted to write pieces that were more deliberately a part of a narrative. So I think this book has definitely changed my writing process.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do enjoy readings. I get nervous sometimes, but I'm a pretty performative person, so I do like being up there.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I don't really think there's a singular answer to this question. The role of the writer changes over time, changes from person to person. For some writing is therapeutic, for others its activism, for others its to push buttons, start discussions, change public opinions. For some it's about leaving a legacy. For me it's often all of these things at once in varying degrees.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Vivek Shraya was my editor and I found her insights to be essential to my work. She was very much a mentor to me in that role; a much more experienced writer from similar cultural backgrounds who could really understand why this work was important to me, and how I wanted to tell this story. It's important to have an editor that's willing to critique your work, but who also comes to it with a cultural competence that allows them to understand your work so that they're not changing it in ways that remove your original intentions.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Probably from Vivek, during her Toronto launch of her book I'm Afraid of Men. She said to the audience that no one knows you as well as you know yourself and explained that people may try to make other definitions or interpretations of you, but only you know your true self and to hold onto that.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to artwork to journalism)? What do you see as the appeal?
For me moving between those genres has been easy because each of them have had a different purpose, and each of those genres is able to inform the other I think. I see a lot of my journalistic background spilling into my poetry and artwork, and I like that I don't necessarily have the same conventional background of going to art school and always being immersed in that. Having done other types of writing helps me see poetry in a different way. Having been in a very research-oriented genre like journalism has helped me approach visual art differently.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
If I'm getting stalled, I try to just write something crap. Nobody has to see it, or no about it, but you kind of need to purge yourself of all the crappy writing before you can really get back to that project you really care about.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Agarbathi and bukhoor!
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
People watching. People watching is a huge thing that influences my work. I get a lot of work done alone at bars and cafes because I like to observe people, movement, white noise, chaos. A lot of people may find these things boring, but if you really tune into people watching, you learn a lot.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Sex Magick by Ian Young is a hugely important book to me. I also really love The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. On a totally different end of the spectrum, I love a lot of Alan Moore's work; naturally, graphic novels appeal to me a lot as both a writer and visual artist. And since I'm a big fan of non-fiction narrative, and dabble in that a lot myself, I really enjoy Roxane Gay's work. I learned a ton from her book Bad Feminist.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Maybe make a comic? I made a mini one in a class I took recently and I would love to make something bigger out of that.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
If I hadn't ended up being a writer or an artist, I probably would've just been miserable. I'm not good at anything else, hahaha. But if I could pick another occupation, I would really love to work with animals. I have zero credentials to do so and sucked at science in school. But I love animals so much, and I love seeing the work of dedicated folks who work to protect endangered species.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing came as an instinct. Maybe I chose to write and draw because it's just survival to me.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was a graphic novel called Redlands. And the last great film? I've actually been watching a ton of horror movies I've already seen before in the last few weeks, because I'm obsessed with Halloween. In terms of new stuff, I just finished watching The Haunting of Hill House series.
20 - What are you currently working on?
What I'm hoping will turn into my next book...
12 or 20 (second series) questions;