South Asian Heritage Month Spotlight Series: Haamid Sharif
Haamid Sharif is a history graduate at the University of Nottingham and will soon be doing a PGCE in History at the University of Manchester.
It has been his lifelong ambition to become an influencer and mentor through writing and teaching. Currently part of Manchester writing collective Young Identity; where he's had the opportunity to be mentored by some of the best talents in Manchester, but also the privilege to mentor young talent.
1. How would you describe your writing for someone who has never come across your work before?
My writing is generally provocative. My writing has sought to address the world in several ways: Personal and global. My unorthodox upbringing and unusual experiences mainly drive my 'personal' writing. Consequently, my observations of various subjects are relatively unique. For instance, I give my unique insight on the theme of mental health around multiple topics such as depression, eating disorders and PTSD. My writing can often be considered 'dark' due to the nature of the issues and my openness to discuss subjects that are often met with stigma within my local community.
Recently, I was paralysed and have begun writing about that experience, knowing that by sharing my personal experiences in poetry I cannot just inform but also challenge preconceptions that may already exist around mental health, or being paralysed and give a unique perspective on the topic.
However, I do also write personal poetry with fewer dark connotations, such as writing poetry from the perspective of a lover, or a dreamer which I generally find as equally cathartic.
My 'global' poetry, on the other hand, can be considered as extremely political. As a history graduate, I have firmly believed that the learning of history is fundamental when it comes to raising awareness and building a better future. I think that my knowledge in history needs to be shared as it is often a topic overlooked or a topic, so vast people do not know where to start their research. Some of the 'global' issues I discuss can include: Racism, sexism, inequality, poverty and genocide, to name a few. I understand that by spreading historical knowledge, I can give people information with the hope that by learning from events in the past, we can secure a better future.
2. Who are your favourite writers of South Asian heritage and why?
Mohsin Hamid is one of my favourite novelists just because of the way he writes about the liminal nature of being Eastern and Western at the same time. My favourite novel he wrote is ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ where we see the struggle a Pakistani can have in identifying as an American but also as a Pakistani at the same time. Furthermore, it gives the perspective of how everything from relationships to friendships may be different for some with Eastern heritage living in the Middle East.
Another author I admire focuses only on non-fiction. He is a human rights lawyer, that is Arsalan Iftikhar, and I do not feel any writer has more knowledge on Islamophobia in the west as he does. He identifies countless different ways in which South Asians, non-Muslim and Muslim experience racism. He recognises how the inequality of outcome is not organic and that there is opportunities are unequal for South-Asians living in the UK or the US.
3. If you could only recommend one book, whether novel, poetry collection or non-fiction, from a writer of South Asian heritage, what would it be?
Iftikhar’s book 'Scapegoat' is a must-read for everyone. The foreword itself is written by another one of my favourite authors called Reza Aslan. The book by Iftikhar itself would open anybody's eyes to the level of racism experienced by South Asians in a post 9/11 and post 7/7 world. The idea of the book is not to criticise but instead to awaken people of the short term and long-term battle South Asians experience.
4. What are you reading at the moment?
At the moment, I have just began reading ‘A Little History of the World’ by E.H Gombrich
5. Could you tell us about the role of literature in your upbringing?
Literature was never a massive part of my life growing up as I was raised in a non-English speaking household. Although I remember one series of books most fondly, I would take them from school and read them most nights, and that was 'Horrible History'. At any school book fair, it was the first book I looked for, and it had such an impact on me, it would not be farfetched to suggest that it was Deary's books that made me become a historian.
I am a firm believer that we need to learn from history. Therefore I try to incorporate my knowledge in history as much as possible with my poetry to inform, engage and offer people a unique perspective that I think needs to be heard to make society a much better place for future generations.
6. When did you realise you had a passion/skill for writing?
My passion for writing came as I felt like I was 'too deep' for most of my peers in school. I used to struggle to try to express how I felt. By the time I was 13, I had got sick of the mundane way to explain the way I felt as I never thought it did justice to how deeply I felt certain emotions. For instance, there were times where I may have been despondent and merely saying I was 'sad' did not convey genuinely how I felt.
I met a guest poet who came to my school who introduced me to poetry, and from then, I felt part of a writing community which encouraged me to express my feelings in the form of poetry. It was unique as the conventional way in which literature was introduced to me in school felt fake, but with writing my poetry, I thought I could be more expressive, real and authentic to my feelings. Furthermore, I quickly realised writing poetry meant I could have my voice heard, which was also appealing to me as often I felt my voice was diluted by other voices in the school I went too.
7. Do you write in other languages? If so, which languages do you write in and what are the differences you feel in writing in another language as well as English?
I do not often write in other languages, but sometimes I do use Punjabi instead of Urdu, which I can also speak. The reason I opt with Punjabi is that it is my first language, and it brings a smile to my face as often it brings me closer to my late grandfather. The historical value of Punjabi is also crucial for me; I find I can convey happier emotions better in Punjabi just because of the rhyming schematics of the Punjabi language itself.
8. What advice do you have for emerging writers of South Asian heritage?
My advice to emerging South Asian writers out there is to speak to as many people outside your bubble as possible. It may sound like generic advice to give anyone.
Still, the reason I provide this advice to emerging South Asian writers is that statistically, cultural isolation is a massive issue in the UK. South Asian writers generally hold unique and valuable perspectives of society, and cultural isolation means that you need to be heard more. Still, it would be best if you also listened to others to realise how unique you are.
Furthermore, you do not honestly know how unique your voice is until you have spoken to a variety of people. The more people you talk to, the quicker you will realise what you have to offer in writing (personal, local or global) is more valuable than you realise and the more pride you will have coming from a South Asian background. Own it.
Manchester City of Literature would like to say a huge thank you to Haamid for taking part in our South Asian Heritage Month Spotlight Series. Be sure to keep up to date with Haamid's work over on Instagram: @haamid.sharif.