Black/Indigenous author Zainab Amadahy (Cherokee/Seminole/Pacific Islander) is an author of screenplays, nonfiction, and futurist fiction. Her opinion pieces, editorial and creative work has been featured in MUSKRAT Magazine in the past. MUSKRAT Magazine is excited to feature Zainab’s latest futuristic short story collection: Wayfinding in the Vortex as part of a special four-part series leading up to Black History Month. Wayfinding in the Vortex follows a young scientist who must consider sabotaging the work of her mentor and love interest when a mysterious time traveller warns that the ground-breaking technology that she is developing will someday catalyze an interstellar war and threaten the survival of the human species. MUSKRAT Magazine got to chat with Zainab about Wayfinding in the Vortex, what gets her creative process going and its connections to her spiritual beliefs.
EC: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why creative writing is important to you?
ZA: Yeah, so I’ve been writing since I was a kid. It’s kind of my passion and as it turns out, my purpose. When you follow your passion and engage with your passion, your purpose emerges from it. I just write because it’s a compulsion. I can’t not write. It’s a way of expressing myself. It’s a way of playing, relaxing, and healing as well. It’s been helpful in all those levels. So, it’s something I engage with every day.
EC: Wayfinding in the Vortex is an array of Indigenous futurisms. Can you talk about your inspiration in combining these diverse type parts of storytelling?
ZA: At some level, I think that everything that we write or create as artists is kind of a reflection of who we are or what we aspire to be. In this case, I do have Pacifica ancestry. The only way I know that is because it showed up in a DNA test. I’ve always been interested in learning about those cultures, visiting those places, and learning the stories just out of curiosity. I don’t consider myself an insider or, you know, I wouldn’t identify as a Pacific Islander, but it was a surprise for me to know that. That just piqued my curiosity even more. And so, you know, just in terms of reading up about those cultures, reading stories, and reading authors from Pacific Islander cultures, I wanted to branch out a little bit and do a story because of Indigeneity. I mean, we’re all different. Everybody, every nation, every culture has sometimes significant differences but there is also a thread that runs through all Indigenous cultures, that we see it in each other. We recognize it in each other, and it feels like home when we find that in each other.
That was my attempt to branch out and write about a culture that I have not lived in, that I have not really had much experience with to see if I could pull it off in a way that was respectful and illustrated some of the things that I see as common threads running through Indigenous identity and culture.
I also contacted Brian Kawada who is my cultural adviser on this story because there were certain aspects of language and certain concepts that I wanted to make sure that I fully understood. That was another incredible learning experience for me. This is an example of how my writing is more than about telling stories, it’s also about my own development, not just as a professional writer, but also as a human being. I’m learning more, expanding more, learning more about myself and being able to be more useful.
EC: Do you have any advice for other creatives that want to tell stories from outside of their culture in an appropriate way?
ZA: First, don’t just take other people’s stories or even parts of other people’s stories, and don’t appropriate culture. I think that’s the foundational ground rule. Then as much as possible, get to know that culture and get to know those people. There’s always going to be a gap because we haven’t lived that experience and we must make peace with that idea. That we’re never going to be able to experience that accurately. We can still write in such a way that honours, acknowledges, and creates closer relationships across individuals and communities. That’s the ultimate point in what we’re being asked to do as artists and as anybody…is to be able to express and create space for people to see how we’re connected, as opposed to how we’re different and divided from each other and separate from each other.
Check out our podcast interview being published soon on Muskrat Magazine!