Joshua Sabey and Stephen Tuttle, English
When I was in high school, my family hosted an Iraqi student named Ali. He eventually went AWOL (absent without leave) and we were able to help him get political asylum. Since then I have built friendships and collected stories from several other Iraqi students that I have now compiled into a book.
I chose to write about Ali’s experience in fiction for both artistic and pragmatic reasons. Pragmatically, much of what I observed is subjective and I do not think could be considered facts. Artistically, I didn’t simply want to tell Ali’s story, I wanted to capture his experience aesthetically.
Because Stephen Tuttle encouraged me to seek other authors as stylistic inspiration, I modeled my work after a very famous and old collection of stories known as One Thousand and One Nights. My novel is a loose simulacrum of this collection in that many times characters within my story begin to tell other completely separate stories. I include the stories I have gathered from the Iraqi students through interviews I conducted via Facebook. All of these students were part of the exchange program that brought Ali to America. And all of these students, unlike Ali, returned to Iraq after the program. In my novel I also retell stories about Sinbad the sailor (a prominent character that appears several times in One Thousand and One Nights) as well as stories I was told as a child. My purpose in retelling childhood stories is to combine separate cultural heritages, allowing the stories—simply by their proximity within the novel—to comment on each other, showing both similarities and differences.
By combining disparate cultures and stories into a single novel, I hope to have performed a natural deconstruction. This is partially inspired by Louise Erdrich’s postmodern novel The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. In this novel she combines the Ojibwe religious narrative with a more standard Catholic narrative. The narratives flow together as the religions merge.
After I completed the novel, I defended it as my honors thesis. The novel was accepted by my honors board and digitally published by the honors program. Since then I have sent out several query letters to literary agents and have recently received a request for my full manuscript from Writers Representatives LLC. Though they have not yet agreed to accept me as their client, even being considered by them is a huge honor. Writers Representatives LLC is a very competitive agency with clients like David Brooks and Herald Bloom.
When my book is published, it will help people understand more about life in Iraq during US occupation as well as raise awareness for the country’s desperate condition as it battles ISIS. Richard Burton (one of the earlier translators of One Thousand and One Nights) in his preface to his book spoke to England as a whole and said, “(myself and a host of others) can offer her the means of dispelling her ignorance concerning the Eastern races with whom she is continually in contact.” This speaks to my purpose for my novel. America will only increase her contact with the Middle East. The more we can understand the people’s lives and culture the more we will be able to find ways to live peacefully together.
I would like to thank the patrons who contributed to the ORCA program for helping me complete my first novel. I believe it will soon be published by a major publication company. Writing my first novel was a huge learning curve and required endless revisions. It was a great blessing to have mentors and support along the way. Now that I have finished one novel, I feel like the next novel will be much easier to complete. Though now that I know how much work it takes, it may be harder to begin…