Na lista dos Hugo Awards deste ano, e independentemente de outras polémicas, há vários nomes que merecem destaque - sobretudo nas categorias de fãs, com vários nomes novos e com uma presença de qualidade nos meandros do fandom anglo-saxónico (está ainda por vir o dia em que os Hugo e a Worldcon sejam de facto prémios globais, mas o caminho faz-se caminhando), mas também nas categorias literárias. E nestas, o nome de Sofia Samatar surge em evidência, pela sua nomeação na categoria de "Best Short Story" com o conto Selkie Stories Are for Losers, publicado originalmente na Strange Horizons em Abril de 2013 (pode - e deve - ser lido aqui; é extraordinário) e também pela sua presença na shortlist do John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Natural dos Estados Unidos e com ascendência somali, Sofia Samatar já viveu e trabalhou no Sudão e no Egipto, e tem formação académica em idiomas e literaturas africanas e árabes. Em entrevista a Sarah McCarry para o Tor.com, Sofia Samatar fala sobre o processo de escrita do seu primeiro romance, A Stranger in Olondria (publicado em 2012), e sobre a influência do conhecimento e do estudo de linguagens na sua escrita e no seu gosto pela ficção especulativa. Dois excertos:
Sarah McCarry/Tor.com: Language itself is a character in A Stranger in Olondria, particularly in the different ways its characters relate to oral versus written histories, and the way the act of reading figures so prominently into the book. Did you set out to explore the ways oral and written traditions inform our ways of being in the world, or is that something that evolved as you worked on the book?
Sofia Samatar: It’s definitely something that evolved, as the whole book evolved! One thing about A Stranger in Olondria is that I spent over a decade writing it. I mean, I wrote the first draft in two years, but then I spent another 10 years on and off getting it into shape. That first draft was a monster. It was 220K words long—almost exactly twice as long as the published version. And that’s because my “writing process,” which I totally don’t recommend, involved having no outline, following the character around through tons of random cities, getting him into vague predicaments, getting him out again, introducing him to useless people, and deleting and deleting and deleting. I knew that there was a ghost, and that ghosts were illegal in Olondria, but that’s it. And through this arduous process of wandering through imagined country, I slowly brought in things I was experiencing at the time, and one of those was teaching English in South Sudan, where the mode of expression was primarily oral. I had a lot of ambivalence about that job, and the anxiety worked itself into the book. I wound up exploring how reading and writing, my favorite things in the world, things I’m used to thinking of as utterly good and right and true, are also tools of empire.
SMC/TOR: You speak multiple languages yourself—do you think your ability to move between them informs the way you approach fiction? Or nonfiction? Or are those different places for you?
SS: Well, I don’t know if this is going to answer your question exactly, but it reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague recently. He’d read A Stranger in Olondria, and he said that, as someone who doesn’t read fantasy or science fiction, he was pretty uncomfortable for the first few chapters. It was the names. The names were throwing him off. He was like, “I didn’t know whether I was supposed to memorize these names or whether they were important or what!” Eventually he realized that he could just go with the story and relax, and then he started enjoying it. That was so interesting to me, because I’ve never, ever been thrown off by weird names. You can give me the first page of a story that’s 50% bizarre names, and I’ll be like, “Cool.” I just read it as music, as atmosphere. I know that eventually the important stuff will float to the surface, and the less important stuff will sink. And it seems to me that that’s a valuable skill, to be able to keep your balance in uncertainty, and that in fact it’s what I ask from my students when I teach world literature. Don’t let foreign words or unfamiliar syntax throw you. Trust the story. It’s a language student’s skill too, because when you’re learning, you’re often terribly lost. So I do think there’s a connection between my love for languages and my love for speculative fiction. Both of them ask you to dwell in uncertainty. And I love that. Uncertainty is home for me. It’s the definitions that scare me.
A entrevista completa pode ser lida na íntegra no Tor.com.