5 Burning Questions with Susan Muaddi Darraj

Susan Muaddi Darraj is one of our featured writers at our May 14th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I remember being in fourth grade, in the Catholic school I attended in South Philadelphia – my teacher’s name was Sister Euphemia (never forget it), and she encouraged me to write creatively. I once wrote some godawful story about a princess and a castle, but in the end, I thought it wasn’t serious enough, so I killed off the princess dramatically. Anyway, Sister Euphemia liked it and said I should copy my stories neatly in notebooks to start my own “collection.” Something about that struck a chord with me – that I could be a storyteller, and so I started writing more seriously, even illustrated some of my tales.

How many drafts = done?

It’s never really done! I have given readings of my work, from a published book, and before the reading I will edit myself. Someone following along in the book would notice that my reading differs from the printed text. But BEFORE the thing goes to print, there are numerous drafts. Probably a couple dozen. I print out every draft and edit by hand, then put the changes into the electronic version, then print it out again. It’s a slow process.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias – a barrio noir (a genre Iglesias invented) novel set at the border.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I am passionate about depicting the lives of working-class people, especially immigrants. There is such passion and beauty and tragedy in their daily lives and struggles – I want to bring that to the page, to the reader.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I have a lot of favorite words – some I love for their sound, some for the meaning, some for their associations. But I will offer the word “mosaic,” because my books are “mosaic novels” — I like to depict a larger, sweeping picture of a town, a way of life, an historical period by showing the reader fragments from multiple points of view.

Bonus question: What kind of fruit best describes your least favorite celebrity or relative?

Prickly pear. Maybe it’s sweet on the inside, but really, who wants to bother?


Susan Muaddi Darraj is the author of two linked short story collections, The Inheritance of Exile and A Curious Land; the latter won the 2016 Arab American Book Award and a 2016 American Book Award. In 2018, she was named a 2018 Ford Fellow by USA Artists. In January 2020, Capstone Books will launch her debut children’s chapter book series, Farah Rocks, about a smart, brave Palestinian American girl named Farah Hajjar.

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