Behind the Words: Saeide Mirzaei

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Saeide MirzaeiThe decision to accept “The Joy of Peeling” came almost instantaneously, and if you’ve ever worked for a literary journal, you’ll understand how rare that is. Saeide Mirzaei writes this flash piece with such grace that the reader is immersed in the moment, as if the memory is a glimpse into your own past, not the narrators. We were so honored to find out “The Joy of Peeling” was a finalist for the 2013 Best of the Net awards. We couldn’t be more proud of this writer we published in our first issue. 


Erin: First, I’d like to congratulate you on being a finalist in the 2013 Best of the Net Fiction genre. We loved “The Joy of Peeling,” and we are so happy to see it achieving the praise it deserves. When you first wrote this short flash piece, did you think it would one day win an award?
Thank you very much! Well, in fact, “The Joy of Peeling” was the first assignment I wrote for my very first creative writing class at UA. It was a prose poem class with Dr. Kellie Wells, and it was a non-prompt assignment. I had never taken a creative writing class before (since I did both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English literature in Iran and no creative writing classes were offered there), and I was so nervous about submitting a work for everyone to read and talk about. However, it was a pleasant surprise when I got encouraging reviews from my classmates. And Dr. Wells even encouraged me to submit the piece to literary journals for publication. But to answer your question, no I never thought this piece would be nominated for an award because it was not only my first MFA assignment, but also my very first prose poem piece.

I’d love to know more about how this piece originated. With flash, we never quite know if we are publishing fiction or creative nonfiction. Can you tell us a little more about how this story started?
As I said above, I wrote this as an assignment for a prose poem class, but to go further back in time about the origin of the piece, I have to say it’s creative nonfiction and the little girl fascinated with the sight of her mother peeling boiled potatoes is me when I was too young to have experienced the restraints of the Iranian society imposed on women or to understand how the society subjected women to sex discrimination.

So much happens in a mere 223 words. Do you usually write in flash? I’d love to know more of your process when writing in such a limited space.
I don’t usually write in flash. Almost always, when I start typing, I just go on and on for pages, and I have to confess it is most of the times very hard for me to confine myself to a few words. However, there are things that I believe are better told in few words to enhance their influence, and there are times that a very short piece feels complete to me and I refuse to add more.

You’re currently an MFA student at the University of Alabama. What lessons have you learned that have meant the most to you?
I think among all that I’ve learned as an MFA student at UA, my most treasured gain is not a lesson, but a necessary step in my development as a writer, and that is finding my own voice. I used to think that to fulfill my dream of becoming the voice of the unheard and underrepresented Iranian women, I had to sacrifice my own voice and assume some kind of collective voice that could represent a group of individuals rather than only myself, but here I learned that I can have and develop a voice of my own without compromising my neutrality as the representative of a generation of women to which I belong.

If I’m not mistaken, you’re also on the staff of the Black Warrior Review. Can you tell us a little more about what you do there, and how your involvement in a literary journal influences your own writing?
Yeah, I’ve been an assistant editor with the BWR, for both fiction and nonfiction. I can’t really think of how my writing might have been influenced by my reading for a literary journal. I always thought of the relation as a reverse one, by which I mean a person’s writings and literary values influencing their editorial choices. But as an assistant editor one thing I’ve learned for certain is that it is never a good idea to open a letter to an editor with either “I have submitted to your journal several times before but you have always rejected my work” or “As a frequently published author.” So, yeah, I’ve learned a lot about the most effective ways of submitting my work to journals, but I can’t say my writing itself has been influenced by my BWR experience.

You write in both English and Farsi. Have you ever had to translate your work between languages? What was that process like?
When I was a kid, that is around the age of 8 or 9, when I started writing, I only knew Farsi and I continued to write exclusively in Farsi until I was about 18 or 19, that is when I learned enough English to write both my diary and my stories and poems in English. They were a disaster, because I knew only enough English to make a little sense on the page. But since then, I’ve kept my Farsi and English writings separate from each other by which I mean I’ve never felt the need to translate from Farsi to English, and I think that’s because if I want to have a piece in English, I simply think and write in English, so it undermines a need for translation. When I write, words don’t come to me in Farsi, hence no need to translate to English, if that makes any sense. But have I ever tried to translate my old, Farsi works from when I didn’t know English? By God no. They are too horrible to be worth reading, let alone translating. They’re just too crude, childish and embarrassing. But I do read them from time to time and refer to them as a source of material because they contain my memories and feelings from many years ago, which I then recycle into new pieces completely different from the old ones..

Where do you see your literary career in five years?
Well, since I’m planning to start a PhD in English after finishing my MFA, that is, hopefully a year from now, I will be focusing more on developing myself as a scholar and literary critic, while continuing to read and write creatively. In five years from now, I’m hoping I would have published several literary essays, as well as creative works (in journals and as books?). Also, by then I will hopefully be done with my PhD, teaching and writing at a school somewhere in another country, maybe in Africa or Asia.

Do you have any favorite writers or poets you’d like to share with our readers?
Some of my favorite writers are Doris Lessing, Nabokov, Iris Murdoch and Haruki Murakami. Among these, I believe Doris Lessing has had the greatest influence on my writing, and I admire her work for its imagery, symbolism, and portrayal of women in a male-oriented society.

Erin Ollila is an emotional archeologist who graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Her writing has been published in (em): A Review of Text and Image, Ilanot Review, Revolution House, Lunch Ticket, Paper Tape, Belle Journal, Shoreline Literary Arts Magazine, The Fall River Spirit, and RedFez. She is the co-founder and editor of Spry Literary Journal. Her blog, Reinventing Erin, is her outlet for ruminating on the minutiae of everyday life.


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