Anissa M. Bouziane ’87 was born in Tennessee, the daughter of a Moroccan father and a French mother. She grew up in Morocco, but returned to the United States to attend Wellesley College, and went on to earn an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University and a Certificate in Film from NYU. Currently, Anissa works and teaches in Paris, as she works to finish a PhD in Creative Writing at The University of Warwick in the UK. Dune Song is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter: @AnissaBouziane.
Wellesley Underground’s Wellesley Writes it Series Editor, E.B. Bartels ’10 (who also got her MFA in writing from Columbia, albeit in creative nonfiction), had the chance to chat with Anissa via email about Dune Song, doing research, publishing in translation, forming a writing community, and catching up on reading while in quarantine. E.B. is especially grateful to Anissa for willing to be part of the Wellesley Writes It series while we are in the middle of a global pandemic.
And if you like the interview and want to hear more from Anissa, you can attend her virtual talk at The American Library tomorrow (Tuesday, May 26, 2020) at 17h00 (Central European Time). RSVP here.
EB: First, thank you for being part of this series! I loved getting to read Dune Song, especially right now with everything going on. I loved getting to escape into Jeehan’s worlds, though sort of depressing to think of post-9/11-NYC as a “simpler time” to escape to. My first question is: Reading your biography, I know that you, much like Jeehan, have moved back and forth between the United States and Morocco––born in the U.S.A., grew up in Morocco, and then back to the U.S.A. for college. You’ve also mentioned elsewhere that this book was rooted in your own experience of witnessing the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. How much of your own life story inspired Dune Song?
AMB: Indeed, Dune Song is rooted in my own experience of witnessing the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. As a New Yorker, who experienced the tragedy of that now infamous Tuesday in September almost 19 years ago, I would not have chosen the collapse of the World Trade Center as the inciting incident of my novel had I not lived through those events myself. So yes, much of what Jeehan, Dune Song’s protagonist, goes through in NYC is rooted in my own life experience. Nonetheless the book is not an autobiography — I would consider it more of an auto-fiction, that is a fiction with deep roots in the author’s experience. The New York passages speak of the difficulties of coming to terms with the tragedy that was 9/11 — out of principle, I would not have chosen 9/11 as the inciting incident of my novel if I did not have first hand experience of the trauma which I recount.
EB: Thanks for saying that. I feel like there is a whole genre of 9/11 novels out there now and a lot of them make me uncomfortable because it feels like they are exploiting a tragedy. Dune Song did not feel that way to me. It felt genuine, like it was written by someone who had lived through it.
AMB: As for the desert passage that take place in Morocco, though I am extremely familiar with the Moroccan desert — and have traveled extensively from the dunes of Merzouga to the oasis of Zagora — this portion of the novel is totally fictional. That being said, I am one of those writers who rides the line between fiction and reality very closely, so if you ask me if I would ever let myself be buried up to my neck in a dune, the answer would be: yes.
EB: How did the rest of the story come about? When and how did you decide to contrast the stories of the aftermath of 9/11 with human trafficking in the Moroccan desert?
AMB: Less than six months after 9/11, in March of 2002 I was invited back to Morocco by the Al Akhawayn University, an international university in the Atlas Mountains near the city of Fez. There I gave a talk which would ultimately provide me with the core of Dune Song: the chapter that takes place in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where following a mass in commemoration of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, an Imam from a Mosque in Queens was asked to recite a few verses from the Holy Quran. The Moroccan artists and academics present that day were deeply moved by my talk (which in fact simply recounted my lived experience); they told me that I should turn my talk into a novel. I thought the idea interesting and began to write, but within a year the Iraq War was launched and suddenly a story promoting dialogue and mutual understanding between the Islamic World and the West seemed to interest few, so I moved on to other things. Nonetheless, the core of Dune Song stayed with me.
Go to Wellesley Underground for the complete conversation!