Q & A with Amal Awad

As a journalist, author and public speaker, Amal Awad boasts an impressive list of achievements.

Many of her books deal with themes such as religion, feminism and sexuality, and give audiences an insight into the lives of others.

Having grown up as a Muslim in Sydney, Awad has her own personal experiences which she draws upon for her work.

Her recently published fourth book, Beyond Veiled Cliches: The Real Lives of Arab Women, explores the lives of Arab women both in Australia and the Arab world.

Q: Can you tell me briefly what ‘Beyond Veiled Cliches’ is about?

A: Beyond Veiled Cliches is a collection of Arab women’s experiences and viewpoints on issues relating to life, both in Australia and in the Middle East. These are the result of more than 60 interviews I did with Arab women. I’m not making comparisons per se, but I do unpack how some experiences vary. The book covers several themes, including religion and culture, identity, trauma, feminism, sexuality and justice.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: So often Arab women are spoken of and about, but not really consulted or trusted to tell their own stories without an outsider’s lens. So many words have been written about us, so many stories depicted on screen minimise us and our lives. I saw an opportunity to not only reflect on my own experiences growing up in the west, but also to share experiences directly from Arab women.

Q: Who would you say was the most interesting person that you interviewed for ‘Beyond Veiled Cliches’?

A: I can’t narrow it down to one person; they were all personal, interesting experiences. But perhaps one of the most memorable and personally-affecting experiences for me was meeting with feminist theory academic Rula Quawas, who was on staff at Jordan University at the time.

Unfortunately Rula has since passed away and I wrote an article reflecting on how much I learned from her in just one meeting. She was immensely charismatic, warm and generous, and she has influenced and guided so many students to embrace who they are and the potential of their lives (both women and men).

Q: What was your most interesting experience whilst writing ‘Beyond Veiled Cliches’?

A: I loved the variety of experiences, but hearing about the work social justice activists in Jordan are doing was up there. Jordan has gotten a lot of negative coverage due to the connection people make to so-called honour killings. But great inroads are being made in the justice system.

Q: All your books deal with issues that are quite personal for you. Would you say that this has made it easier or harder to write?

A: Definitely harder if it’s non-fiction. But writing and exploring personal things also makes writing books more meaningful and rewarding. When I’m writing fiction, there’s more freedom to explore without worrying about where reality meets imagination – you can deep-dive and see what comes up, not always knowing what is coming from your own experiences versus what you see in the world. In writing non-fiction I obviously lack that freedom because everything I share is me, it’s the truth and I do have to think more carefully about how much of myself and my experiences I wish to share.

Q: This is your fourth book. Which has been your favourite book to work on so far? 

A: Each book has taught me a lot – about writing, about myself and about how we express ourselves in life, so each one has given me something positive. This book, however, was perhaps one of the most challenging and rewarding because it involved so many real-life experiences and it truly changed my life.

Q: What’s next?

A: I’m writing a book on ageing and illness. In a similar vein to Beyond Veiled Clichés, my personal story is in there, but it’s a more universal exploration of ageing, illness and how we deal with it as carers, family, society and so on. I’m speaking with Australians of many backgrounds and experiences, as well as workers in the aged care sector and medical/health professionals.

Come along and hear Amal discuss Beyond Veiled Cliches: The Real Lives of Arab Women on Wednesday 6 December at Castle Hill Library.

Click here to book your tickets now!

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