Author Spotlight: Interview With Hanna Alkaf

Salaam, friends! It’s time for another author spotlight for #RamadanReadathon 2020.

As you know, the readathon is themed around the anthology Once Upon An Eid, so I wanted to spotlight as many of its contributors as possible during the month. I’m so excited to have Hanna Alkaf joining me on the blog today to talk about the anthology and her upcoming novel The Girl and The Ghost!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Processed with VSCO with e3 presetHanna Alkaf graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and spent over ten years writing everything from B2B marketing emails to investigative feature articles, from non-profit press releases to corporate brochures. She now spends her time making it up as she goes along, both as an author of fiction and as a mom.

Hanna lives in Kuala Lumpur with her family. Her first young adult novel, The Weight Of Our Sky, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2019; her middle grade debut, The Girl and The Ghost, will be published by HarperCollins in 2020. You can follow her on Twitter: @yesitshanna.

 

ABOUT ONCE UPON AN EID


once-upon-an-eid-s-k-ali-aisha-saeed-coverOnce Upon An Eid is a collection of short stories that showcases the most brilliant Muslim voices writing today, all about the most joyful holiday of the year: Eid!

Eid: The short, single-syllable word conjures up a variety of feelings and memories for Muslims. Maybe it’s waking up to the sound of frying samosas or the comfort of bean pie, maybe it’s the pleasure of putting on a new outfit for Eid prayers, or maybe it’s the gift-giving and holiday parties to come that day. Whatever it may be, for those who cherish this day of celebration, the emotional responses may be summed up in another short and sweet word: joy. The anthology will also include a poem, graphic-novel chapter, and spot illustrations.

THE INTERVIEW


Salaam, Hanna! Thank you so much for joining us! To begin with, could you quickly introduce yourself?

HA: Thanks for having me! My name is Hanna Alkaf and I’m the author of the YA novel The Weight Of Our Sky and the forthcoming MG novel The Girl and The Ghost. I also happen to be one of the contributors to the fabulous MG anthology Once Upon An Eid!

Your short story, Taste, in Once Upon An Eid is written in verse. Why did you choose to write in this specific format?

HA: Fun fact, Taste didn’t start out in verse! I originally wrote it as a regular ol’ story in prose, and when I turned in the first draft the brilliant S. K. Ali, who was my editor, asked me if I’d be willing to change it up as she thought the narrative fit the format perfectly. And she was, of course, absolutely right.

Food is a really important part of the story and an important part of Eid for most Muslims, especially as we mark the end of Ramadan. What does Eid mean to you? Do you have any favourite traditions or dishes?

HA: I knew I wanted to write a story that centred around food, family and forgiveness, because those are three things that, to me, are essential parts of Eid-ul-Fitr here in Malaysia.

When it came to food, lontong was the obvious choice – it’s what my mom makes for the whole family every Eid. It wouldn’t even feel like Eid without it!

My husband and I split our time between our families every year, taking turns with whose family we’ll spend the morning of Eid with, and then switching in the evening. That won’t be possible this year, sadly, since his family lives in a different state, and I doubt we’ll be allowed to travel due to the pandemic. But being with family, all dressed up in brand new clothes, praying together and eating together – that’s a thing I’ve always looked forward to every year.

As for forgiveness, it’s common in Malaysia to follow up our Eid greetings with “maaf zahir dan batin,” which loosely translates to asking for forgiveness in body and spirit. In both our families, it’s tradition to salaam and kiss the hands of those older than you, wiping the slate clean and strengthening your relationships for the year ahead.

I love that! I’m a huge fan of The Weight Of Our Sky so I’m really looking forward to reading your upcoming middle grade novel The Girl and the Ghost. I’m interested in hearing more about the Malaysian folk tale behind it. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

HA: The Girl and The Ghost comes out on August 4th from HarperCollins! It’s about a little girl named Suraya who inherits a ghost from a grandmother she’s never met and turns it into a friend, playmate and protector – and has to learn the consequences the hard way as she grows older and begins to make other human friends.

It’s based on old Malay stories of the pelesit, a type of dark spirit that can take the form of a grasshopper. A pelesit always needs a master, or it’ll wreak havoc on everyone around it; it’s also a generational spirit, which means when its master dies, it needs to be passed along to someone of the same bloodline.

So yes, as you can clearly tell, this is a horror story. But I’d like to think it’s a lot more than that; it’s also a story about friendship, and what happens when you grow apart, and when a friendship becomes toxic, and the heartbreak involved when it ends.

That sounds amazing! What do you want readers to take away from Suraya’s story?

HA: That the right thing is also sometimes the hardest thing, and that being afraid and doing it anyway is one of the bravest things anyone can do.

And finally, what books written by Muslim authors have you read and loved recently? Which books are you looking forward to reading soon?

HA: I loved S. K. Ali’s Love From A to Z – Adam! Zeynab! MY HEART! – Nafiza Azad’s gorgeous The Candle and The Flame and Karuna Riazi’s excellent second MG novel The Battle. And when I have time to breathe, I’m very much looking forward to diving into Candice Montgomery’s By Any Means Necessary and Adiba Jaigirdar’s The Henna Wars!

Thank you so much for joining us, Hanna, and for taking the time to answer these questions!

Once Upon An Eid is out now. Order the book at an indie bookstore near you, and don’t forget to add it on Goodreads.

For more books by this author, check out The Weight Of Our Sky and the upcoming The Girl And The Ghost in August 2020.

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