Abeer Hoque is a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer, poet, photographer and editor. She has travelled extensively on a shoestring budget and has documented her travel experiences in a book of photography and poems called The Long Way Home. In 2016, she published her memoir, Olive Witch which deals with love, loss, personal identity and mental health. Here are excerpts from our conversation with her.
In your many years of travelling, you have come across different cultures, societies and ethnicities. What has been your most important takeaway from being in close contact with such diversity, especially in the context of today’s global climate?
Ignorance is often the cause for conflict between different groups of people. Hence, it is important to meet new people and understand their culture. I believe that open-mindedness is very important in today’s global context. Working and living with culturally diverse people will naturally make one open-minded and more receptive to contrasting opinions. Travelling helped me get in touch with a diverse set of people and I would definitely recommend it as a way to meet new people and learn about their lives.
Many people dream about quitting their jobs and travelling around the world. How hard is it to travel around the world on a shoestring budget?
I was in business school and worked for a few years and hence, I fit the mould of someone who left a lucrative job in order to travel around the world. There is definitely a certain financial risk associated with being a traveller or an artist. Travelling is certainly not for those who would prefer a stable job with financial security.
Personally, I have always had a part-time job to provide a regular income. Some of these involved working at universities and offices. This greatly helped me in my creative pursuits as I didn’t have the pressure of making my work commercially successful.
What would you regard as your philosophy of life? What role does this philosophy play in your writing?
I always think about things in terms of clarity. ‘Clarity First’ is something which has been close to me. In writing, I certainly think about clarity and I strive to describe things clearly and concisely. I attempt to get to the heart of the situation and explore the emotions involved. This philosophy applies to my life as well where I look for clarity in terms of my job and relationships.
In what ways has the writing of a memoir helped you re-examine yourself and change your idea of yourself?
The topics that I chose to write about gave me an indication about what I considered important. Further, I realized that the memoir contained my version of events and that this version could be different for the people I interacted with or even for myself after the passage of time. If I wrote the same book now, I would probably tell different stories. Most importantly, writing a memoir entails an exploration of one’s life and it comes with the realization that life is complicated and has many layers.
What would be your advice to those in their early twenties?
The advice that I would give my twenty year old self would be to spend time exploring different fields. I never imagined being a writer when I was twenty. It is important to think about what you want to do, have an open mind and not spend your time trying to fit into a system.
Who is your favorite author? What is one book that greatly influenced you?
One of my favorite authors is David Mitchell and my favorite book of his would be ‘Cloud Atlas’.
The book consists of multiple stories with different plotlines, timeframes and characters. I really admire his writing style and in particular, the range that he shows. Along with such a diverse set of characters, I enjoyed the subtle and beautiful links that he created between the different stories.
You have a multitude of interests (business, photography, poetry, writing) and are proficient at several of them. Many families encourage multipotentialites like yourself to choose a career path and stick to it. What is your opinion about handling different pursuits and making a living out of them?
It does not sound glorious to be good at multiple things and not excel at one thing. However, I really enjoy trying different things. For a long time, I regretted going to business school but I slowly realized that business school taught me how to make a living and this is crucial for those with creative pursuits. Hence, I believe that one can learn useful skills by trying different things and even failing at some of them.
I would definitely urge people with multiple interests to follow them all. Many of my friends had interests like dancing and playing the violin but stopped pursuing them owing to a lack of time. I think it is essential to take out some time every week to pursue one’s interests.
What do you have planned out for the next few years?
I have a lot planned for the next few years. Currently, I am looking for a publisher for one of my novels. It deals with memory loss and this is a topic close to me since my father has been suffering from memory loss for some time. I hope to spread awareness about this issue and hopefully, raise some questions.
I am also trying to write more poetry since that was my starting point in the journey to being a writer. I would love to publish a book with photographs and short poems that describe them.