Why Saskatoon library's new Writer in Residence believes words are ‘the closest thing we have to magic’
(Courtesy Danny Ramadan)
SASKATOON -- Danny Ramadan has some advice for aspiring writers:
Be kind to your writing.
“I write the same sentence 12 times before I am comfortable with it,” said Ramadan, Saskatoon Public Library’s new Writer in Residence.
“I sometimes sit down and write 2,000 words in one day and then only 10 of them are actually any good. It’s normal that as a writer you would find yourself judging your work, but my biggest advice to you is be kind to yourself. You’re trying your best.”
The Syrian-Canadian author, public speaker and LQBTQ refugee advocate came to Canada almost seven years ago and is about to finish his Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.
He was arrested for six weeks in 2012 after having run an underground LGBTQ centre in Damascus for two years. He was sponsored by Rainbow Refugee in Vancouver and arrived in September 2014.
Being named to the Writer in Residence position moved him, he said. He has heard Saskatoon has a fantastic, vibrant and diverse arts scene. His husband, Matthew, is from Saskatchewan and Ramadan wants to get to know where he came from.
“Even when I wanted to be part of my country and the history that is being made, I knew that I would never be able to go back to Syria without the challenge of possibly being arrested, so I had to look for the next option. And the Canadian family I have here came together, heard of my story and decided to sponsor me.”
He says he is obsessed with the ideas of integration into a new community and telling stories about queer Syrian refugees.
His debut novel, The Clothesline Swing, tells the story of two gay men looking back at their experiences and becoming refugees in Canada.
“I could write a thousand stories, each story is completely different and nuanced, about a thousand different gay Syrian refugees and they’re all going to be as interesting and intriguing.”
He has also published a children’s’ book, Salma the Syrian Chef, about a Syrian newcomer who cooks a Syrian meal for her mother.
Being a Writer in Residence will be a learning experience for him and the people he works with, he said.
“Many of those authors come to me with their own lived experiences, their own beautiful art I can learn from. I can also bring to them my own knowledge, my obsession with words and how words come together and create beautiful sentences and how to tell a story that is authentic and unique and nuanced. So I feel it’s going to be a beautiful, two-way street.”
He released his first collection of short stories when he was 19 in Egypt. The power of words can create not only images but empathy and sympathy towards the characters, he said.
He is learning to navigate his thinking from Upper Arabic, which has 560 million words, to English with its six million.
“The way the Arab language, my mother tongue, turns a phrase, turns something from multiple words that are on a page into a full image that inhabits your brain, I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s magical. It’s the closest thing we have to magic.
“When I came to Canada I wanted to bring that ability of writing from the Arabic language into my writing in English. And I think I’m on my road there.”