An Interview with writer Tasnim Ahmed.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself...
I'm a writer living in New York City; as a child I moved around a lot – I was born in London, then moved to Dhaka, next to Toronto, then to a small suburb outside of D.C. before finally landing here. I'm in the process of getting my master's in International Relations, which has been an interesting challenge. I also founded an online publication called Journal which stemmed from my desire to create a "journal" of some incredible people I've met both on and offline. When the pandemic began I was playing around with very basic graphic design, and was at the same time coming across massive waves of information via social media, the news and my classes, and so Journal also became a space to share easy-to-understand educational resources. My mum and I started an online store called Nahar, named after my late-grandmother, to share beautiful odds and ends that are parts of our Bangladeshi heritage, as well as our travels.
2. Can you tell us about your path as a writer?
I've been writing on the internet since I was 18 – I'm now 31 – but was writing to keep myself entertained since I could string sentences together. When I was 10 years old I published a short-lived "newspaper" replete with crosswords, current events, and lifestyle pieces, and this is something I remember very clearly because I loved doing just that. Writing has always been a way for me to communicate myself and the way I see the world to others. I could express an impulse or share something painfully researched for months on end.
Even though I'd been participating on online communities for a while, I first began to freely share my writing on Tumblr at 18. I'd anonymously sent something to Alexi Wasser, who was running this blog called I'M BOY CRAZY, and she published it, and at that moment I thought, "This is something I can do!" I wrote for a few other blogs, and then for Thought Catalog upon moving to New York. I was fortunate enough to also become friends with some really wonderful editors and writers, such as Sable Yong, Tanisha Pina, and Isabel Slone, and they gave me incredible opportunities to write for publications such as Allure, NYLON, and FASHION. Some of my writing resonated with others which have also led to more work. It hasn't always been smooth sailing; there's been a lot of rejection and disappointment, which makes me all the more grateful for those who have had my back.
3. How has the pandemic affected your practice? This can be tangible –– or just in the way you’ve thought about your work.
At the start of the pandemic I was finishing up a piece for NYLON. It was nothing complicated but it felt almost impossible to get the words out. I was simultaneously entertaining the idea of becoming one of those insanely productive people during this pandemic, hoping to make writing something I could do full-time, but I hit a creative wall. In the summer of 2020, I accepted a chance to write for the beauty platform Eadem, and I think the only thing that got me through it was what I thought was my dignity at stake. I also went through some huge personal challenges, and writing, which was the one thing that brought me clarity and joy, took a backseat. In March of this year I got a "pinch me" opportunity to write, and after completing the assignment I was reminded of why I love to write, but it also helped shape how I want to follow through with my practice going forward.
It's hard to see any positives in this pandemic, but it did help me realize that I can exercise control even within the parameters of an assignment, that I can push for what I believe will do my subject justice but which isn't rooted in ego, and that instead of pushing myself beyond my limits, I can communicate where I'm at. This doesn't have to be my full-time occupation, and I don't have to feel like an imposter for identifying as a writer, and I can be more selective in what I choose to write about. It also doesn't make me any less of a writer. In the past I had been forced into a certain niche, which I only continued to perform for fear of not being given more jobs. But the pandemic has affected how I see myself in my practice as someone with great range and resilience.
4. Who do you like to read? Or listen to, or watch...
Lately I've been listening to Alice Coltrane, Sevdaliza, SZA, and Joy Crookes. Whenever I get time to myself I like to watch films by Pedro Almodóvar, Satyajit Ray and Agnès Varda. My guilty pleasure has been videos by Rachel Nguyen of That's Chic; there's something so soothing about her work. That kind of vulnerability is rare. I love to read Toni Morrison's works over and over again. Her writing is so honest and beautiful.
5. In On Tumeric, The Root of Love and Healing you wrote on the cultural appropriation of Turmeric. What do you see as necessary shifts in cultural erasure, or change you would like to see, in any of the industries you’ve covered in your writing?
A professor of mine used to always say, "Cite your sources!" There are too many brands, trends, and what have you which monetize on aspects from cultures not belonging to them without any regard or respect for the cultures from which they've appropriated and certainly without any level of racial, ethnic and gender inclusivity in the hierarchy of systems. How can one profit off of a culture and then not stand by and do everything in their power to protect the people belonging to that culture? This just needs to stop.
More or less every industry I've covered in my writing, including the writing/publishing industry, is oversaturated with white people, leaving little-to-no room for Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian individuals. We're often pit against one another, forced to prove ourselves, compared to those we may have very little in common with other than our race and/or ethnicity; it can cause resentment, jealousy, insecurity and burnout, but the ones causing all this pain are the gatekeepers. I have yet to see a space that hasn't flourished by facilitating inclusion and bringing non-white people to challenging roles – I'm thinking of Samira Nasr, Edward Enninful, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the list goes on. It's time to let us shine and make room for inclusivity in thought, and dismantle systems that have never worked.
6. Outside of writing, what is keeping you grounded and interested currently?
I've had a complicated relationship with caring for myself, and that came to a head in a series of health issues from the beginning of the year. I'm really terrible at this, but I'm trying to allow myself rest, to not feel the need to be productive and feel no guilt in it. For the past year and a half I've been fortunate enough to be doing therapy, and that's been a weekly exercise in being grounded. Talking to my best friend, checking in with my friends, going on a long walk with my husband, stretching, spending time with my beautiful cat (as I was writing this she walked into the room and got on my lap to smell some flowers by my desk), seeing my parents, preparing a thoughtful meal – these have been my anchors of sorts. It turns out that the simplest things make me feel grounded and give me clarity.
See more of Tasnim here.