I’ve highlighted some of Omar’s responses in blue, because they made an impression on me. He’s a fantastic poet and orator. If you hear he’s reading in your neighborhood, drop everything and attend. I’ve heard him live: it is quite an experience.
Please ask him any questions that occur to you, and he might drop by to answer them.
1. Could you tell us something about your writing journey?
My writing journey started with writing poetry and telling stories as a child. It was something came easily and was just a fun thing to do. Early on, I was influenced by my mother (who was in the theatre world), my father (he wrote poetry in Bahasa Melayu) and a meeting with the great Indonesian poet W.S. Rendra, who performed very declarative, political poetry, when I was in primary school. In my teens I got into hip hop music and MCing, then in my early twenties into slam/spoken word poetry, then in my late twenties into writing fiction. It has been a weird journey, but one which makes sense to me. They are all branches of the same river.
2. You’re a poet and a novelist: what importance does each role hold in your life? In your writing journey are your preoccupations?
Both are important to me, but poetry is number one. When done right, I think it is the highest of the literary forms. My preoccupations are powerlessness, violence, migration, racism — the poetry of unease.
3. Which authors and poets have been your biggest influences? Could you name a few works you think all writers should read?
Roberto Bolaño, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Anne Sexton. Every writer should read and memorise the poem “To Posterity” by Bertolt Brecht. It’s my favourite poem of all time. Every writer should read “The Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges. If that doesn’t ignite a million poetic fires in your head, nothing will.
ps: I haven’t memorised “To Posterity” yet, so I’m a complete hypocrite, but I’d be a better man if I did.
4. What tips would you give a new poet or writer?
“Write in passion, edit in cold blood” — I got that from my mate Sarge Lacuesta, who got it from his mum, who got it from her Jesuit teacher in the Philippines. “Sharpen your sWord” — I got that from Snoop Dogg. And my own, far more prosaic advice — be fearless and especially, never be afraid of your imagination.
5. Tell us something about your novel Here Come the Dogs, and your impetus behind writing it.
I wanted to write about powerlessness, migration and fire — the fires that burn outside us and the fire that burn within. I wanted to write about Australian suburbia. I wanted to write about hip hop in a way that I hadn’t seen done before.
6. Talk to us about your piece Supernova at Griffith Review: New Asia Now.
“Supernova” is, in part, about the current mess that is Malaysian politics, but it is also about people who are trapped in between worlds. In recent trips to Malaysia, I have heard numerous accounts of people who have gone to vote and been told that they have already “voted,” especially in Sabah, where my family is from. I didn’t want to make Azlan Muhammad a cynical man when it came to politics, even though people of his generation would be justified in their cynicism. I thought that in this story, his well-meaning nature and naivety would make him all the more tragic and somehow, heroic.
7. What’s your take on challenges facing Asians writing in English today?
I’m not an Asian writer per se, but one thing I have noticed is that in the West, Asian writers are often expected to be “exotic” or focus on the historical, folkloric or “traditional”, whereas it seems obvious to me that Asian countries are home to vibrant, complex contemporary cultures.
I’ve loved the editions of Griffith Review I’ve read before, and would encourage you to pick up a copy. The New Asia Now edition carries insightful features, essays, poetry and fiction that give an insight to emerging Asia. I’m stunned by the amazing diversity of voices in this issue. Volume 2 of this edition is available exclusively as an eBook: Download it here!
Omar Musa is a Malaysian-Australian author, rapper and poet from Queanbeyan, Australia. His debut novel “Here Come the Dogs” was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award and he was named one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Young Novelists of the Year in 2015. Find him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Have you read Omar Musa’s Here Come the Dogs? Have you checked out the Griffith Review New Asia Now edition? Interested in writing from Asia? If you’ve been writing for a while, what has been your writing journey ? Do you have questions for Omar Musa?
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