Foglifter Darlings : Foglifter Press Interview with Zak Salih
As part of celebrating Foglifter’s recent Pushcart nominees, we interviewed the writers! Next up is Zak Salih, published in Volume 5 Issue 2!
What piece of art—literary or otherwise—has uplifted you during this tumultuous year?
Though I read Olivia Laing’s essay collection, Stormy Weather: Art in an Emergency, in November, I felt as if the book’s spirit had been with me since the beginning of the pandemic. These short pieces on ferocious (and ferociously political) artists like David Wojnarowicz, Maggie Nelson, Ali Smith, John Berger, and Derek Jarman read, to me, like a stirring call to arms.
What writing habits/rituals are close to your heart?
For better or worse, I find comfort in routine, so I treat writing like any other job. Every weekday morning, for two to three hours, I work exclusively on writing that doesn’t pay the bills but satisfies something inexplicable inside me. I allow myself weekends and holidays off—at least from the physical act of writing (I’m never not thinking about it). That distance is important, too.
Who (or what) guides your writing?
In high school, I took a course in advanced composition taught by an English teacher I highly admired. The work that came out was saccharine, of course: the new family puppy, the magic of Christmas. Once, the teacher penciled in the margins, Never stop writing. I still think of those words, even after all this time, as a vote of confidence and a commandment to persevere.
What do you believe is the role of the poet/writer in this cultural climate?
So many of the problems with this current cultural climate, I believe, stem from a profound lack of empathy for people outside of one’s immediate life and experience. I’d argue it’s the writer’s job to advocate for, and bring out in their work, the empathy that’s shamefully absent in so much political discourse. Writing, to me, is just as much an act of empathy as reading.
Beyond writing, how have you been finding joy or rest this year? Do you have a favorite quarantine activity?
Simple things keep us sane in crisis. For me, simplicity was burning a candle while eating dinner, reading a book, watching a movie, scrolling endlessly through social media. Something about the light, the glass, the shadows. I marked the passing of time with scented wax: winter balsam, rose, linen, tobacco and vanilla, cinnamon, then back to winter balsam again.
What advice do you have for emerging writers?
With the caveat that I’m still emerging, my advice is to write, first and foremost, for oneself. There’s a danger to beholding one’s style and craft to the tastes and opinions of a readership you’ll never satisfy completely. This is especially true for queer writers. Concerns about marketability should always come last, especially if you want lasting pride in what you’ve written.
Zak Salih lives in Washington, DC. His writing has appeared in Crazyhorse, The Rumpus, The Millions, The Chattahoochee Review, The Florida Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and other publications. His debut novel, Let’s Get Back to the Party, is forthcoming in February 2021 by Algonquin Books. www.zaksalih.com
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