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#WOTSTalks: Interview with Hana Shafi

September 11, 2018

It’s finally September! We’re so excited about WOTS that we couldn’t wait to talk to some of the authors that will be joining us on September 23! We sat down with Hana Shafi to talk about her book It Begins with the Body, her art, and personal storytelling.


WOTS: This is your first book of poetry, but you’re already well-known for your art as Frizz Kid. When did you first get into poetry? Did it always have a connection to your visual art?

Hana Shafi: Interestingly enough, I’ve actually been into poetry for much longer than visual art. I started writing poetry in the fifth grade (which was, of course, as cheesy and terrible as you can imagine). I always loved visual art too, but often felt I wasn’t actually good at it. So it took me years to sort of bridge that gap between two things that I really love and couldn’t live without.

In some ways, I did connect poetry and visual art early on—I actually had my own poetry scrapbook growing up (an embarrassing tidbit about me). I’d put all my poems in there and decorate the hell out of them! It was totally ridiculous, but not all artistic beginnings are super magical and profound. Some, like mine, are just really clumsy and a little hilarious.


WOTS: It Begins with the Body is about coming into your own. What is one thing that you are glad to have learned along that journey?

HS: I think the biggest thing I’m glad to have learned is that even when things were hard, or awkward, or unfamiliar, there was always a story to come out of it. Storytelling, whether it be with words or visuals, is what I love most. When you’re growing up and you’re in the midst of all these changes, all this turmoil and confusion, you start to feel hopeless. Now I’ve come to realize that no matter what happens, there will always be powerful storytelling to come out of it, and it’s helped me embrace a lot of things that I used to feel embarrassed or still wounded about.


WOTS: What are your favourite places to write? Any quirky must-haves when it comes to sitting down and building out a story?

HS: I really enjoy writing in different coffee shops around the city—it’s very important for me to get out of the house to actually write. But one of my favourite places to write when I was putting together my book was platform 24 at Union Station. I’d wait there a lot for a GO train to Mississauga from Toronto, and I spent a lot of time writing there as a result. I’d sit right at the end of the platform, and it was really such a bleak spot in a lot of ways. But I was able to access a lot of vulnerable parts of me there, and I actually named one of the poems in my book “platform 24” as a result.


WOTS: Tell us a bit more about your process. How did you start writing? Do you have any favourite stories about when you were just starting out?

HS: As I mentioned before, I started writing in the fifth grade. As I got into high school, I got really enraptured by Shakespeare and as a result I’d write all this melodramatic stuff—it was obvious I was trying to emulate that high flown language, while also being influenced by a lot of the emo and alternative music I was listening to. So as you can imagine, it was pretty over the top writing. But everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

I actually did a couple of poetry slams in high school too! I remember not even knowing what spoken word was. So everyone was performing these spoken word pieces, and I go up and read this elaborate poem inspired by a Batman comic, hahaha. Everyone probably thought I was so weird, but I’ve embraced that. I think those little bits of dramatic writing have still stuck with me; there’s probably some stylistic similarities between my old and current writing. But I’d like to think I’ve gotten much better since then (I hope)!


WOTS: What would you say to a writer or artist who’s just starting out? What one thing do you think it’s crucial to know?

HS: Write/draw/whatever all the time. Practice really is the most important thing. I’ve written and drawn hundreds and hundreds of pieces. Some are great. Some are terrible. Some are forgettable and some I’m still really proud of. You have to let yourself create the not-so-great stuff to get to the really good stuff.


WOTS: You tackle subjects that some might consider uncomfortable, from body hair to trauma, in your poetry as well as in your illustrations. What motivates you to share intimate and personal experiences with your readers? What do you think of the importance of personal storytelling and memoir?  

HS: Not everyone feels comfortable sharing personal, emotionally intensive stuff with others, or is even safely able to share that stuff. But for those that can and do, their work is a beacon of hope and understanding to others. Personal storytelling has always been a passion of mine because it connects so deeply to the vulnerability of the reader.

If you’re sincerely vulnerable with your reader, or viewer of your work, then your work is going to create such an intense bond with that person. Creating an intimacy between a piece of work and the people consuming it isn’t an easy feat, but if you’re able to do it, it’s an amazing thing.


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