Etaf Rum on Exploring Herself Through Her Characters
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Etaf Rum about her new novel, Evil Eye.
Subscribe and download the episode, wherever you get your podcasts!
From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: Your main character has some cognitive dissonance because she sees the limitation of her mother’s life and she got to go to college and get a master’s degree and get a job and she thought she was gaining all this freedom when she got married but it didn’t matter because she was so unsettled on the inside. She thought she had this freedom, and she didn’t.
Etaf Rum: Yeah, absolutely. That’s such a great way of putting it. The story is very much an internal story; on the outside, everything looks good, and that cognitive dissonance is the reality of so many women who come from these bad, bad backgrounds. There’s an almost guilt for thinking that there’s even anything wrong, even though you feel it in your body, you feel that you’re unsettled, and you feel that, why am I not satisfied? Why can’t I just be happy with having this life? So, there’s so many layers, and I felt that I needed to explore them; I couldn’t write something else. To be honest, I didn’t want to write another trauma novel. I wrote this novel during COVID. So, it was a nightmare, you know, emotionally. But I needed answers to these questions. And I thought that exploring them through Yara would help me have the courage to explore them within myself.
Mitzi Rapkin: And did it?
Etaf Rum: Yeah, I did. I grow and become a different person with each novel, I’m realizing. So, I’m a different person now than I was before I started writing Evil Eye. Yara taught me a lot, a lot of how I delude myself. She taught me the extent in which I self-abandon, and how much I’ve been taught to self-abandon from a young age. Deciding to write Evil Eye and A Woman is No Man, despite how painful it was to write, was the first time in my life that I didn’t self-abandon, it was the first time in my life that I said, I’m going to write about this. I’m going to force myself to go there because I owed it to myself to try to find the words even when the words felt so out of reach, and to try to maybe help someone else through the process that themselves re struggling to find the words. So, I do feel much more empowered after this process that you know what I didn’t give up, I did this for this child, who’d never had the chance, or was never able to be heard.
Etaf Rum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, by Palestinian immigrants. She lives in North Carolina with her two children. Rum also runs the Instagram account @booksandbeans. A Woman Is No Man was her first novel.