Interview: A Teen Poet in Her Own Words

The Homegirl Project interviewed Duaah Hammad on how publishing her first poetry book, Finding Home, helped her tackle the immigrant and diaspora experience.

by Malavika Kannan

MK: Tell us a little about your writing journey.

DH: I [have] been writing short stories since I was 12 or 13. Making up characters and plots was something that was so much fun for me, but I didn't begin to write poetry until I was 16. I was a freshman or sophomore in high school when I turned to writing poetry as an outlet for my frustration. What started as an outlet quickly turned into a hobby and then a daily habit.

MK: While the field is getting more diverse by the day, there isn’t always a lot of hype for writers of color. What inspires you to write?

DH: When I decided I wanted to write my book, I was terrified at how it would be perceived. People of color who do anything out of the norm are either embraced right away or quickly shunned. But I knew I had to tell my story because I felt like my voice could become a voice for hundreds of girls [who] don't have one. People like Rupi Kaur and Malala [Yousafzai] inspire me a lot, [especially] how their actions and words inspire millions, and I can only hope that someday, my work has the same impact on people.

MK: What barriers or stereotypes have you broken?

DH: I'm the first in my family tree to pick a creative career. Some people think that doctors, lawyers, and engineers are still the only "respectable" careers but then when they see a creative career slowly start to rise up it definitely shocks them. There were a lot of barriers that came my way as I wrote and published because my writing is very raw. There's no filter, I'm very honest about what I feel and the things that I felt were unjust I pointed them out.

MK: Did you ever receive opposition? If you’re comfortable with it, can you tell us about it?

DH: I receive opposition almost everyday, whether I'm doing a reading in person or through social media. It's actually quite funny because every time it's for a new reason. I think one of the worst things I've heard is when I was doing one of my first radio interviews a Pakistani called in and told me I was a disgrace to the Pakistani community. Another time, at one of my first readings, a Marine told me I wasn't honoring my parents' sacrifice to bring me to America if I still felt like I didn't fully belong in American society. Hearing things like that really did hurt me but it made me grow so much as a person. If I hadn't heard those things in the beginning I would not be able to have progressed as far in my career as I did in one year.

MK: Tell us about your book, Finding Home. Why did you write it?

DH: Growing up I always felt like I wasn't good enough for either Pakistani society and then American culture. I was either too conservative for one and too modern for the other so there was always this intense pressure to fit into both. With the help of writing poetry and over time I got over wanting to fit in but by that time a new problem had started. I watched on the news as people of color were ridiculed and hatred was spreading like wildfire. When Trump was elected I couldn't take it anymore I decided I wanted to write the immigrant story. I wrote my book because I want other immigrant children to know that they're not alone and for the people who aren't immigrants, I want them to read my book and remember that everyone needs to be accepted despite race and religion.

MK: What are your thoughts on how creation and activism could intersect to create change? What advice would you give young writers?

DH: Young people are the future of this country and the world. Do you see what the kids in Parkland have accomplished by raising their voice? We have voices and if we decide to use them to create change there is no adult or evil that can stand in the way of it. My advice is to young writers is never stop believing in what you do and always keep writing. There's going to be so many people that try to bring you down and tell you that your writing isn't good enough, but let me tell you something. That writing could change the world.

MK: Who inspires you in life?

DH: My parents, my godmother, my family, and every women of color who's stood up for what they believe in. The adults around us make so many sacrifices in order to give their children's a better future, it's time we give back to them.

MK: The key theme of The Homegirl Project is "female empowerment." How does this issue impact your own life?

DH: I will spend the rest of my life promoting female empowerment through my writing or through my voice. Growing up as the eldest and only daughter of Pakistani immigrants I saw a lot of double standards. We need to work together to show everyone that there shouldn't be a difference between the way you raise a son and the way you raise a daughter.

MK: What is one issue that you want to change about the world?

DH: I'd like to change the way third world countries are viewed. Most people know nothing about the traditions and beautiful culture that comes from within each country because the mainstream media does not cover it. If the world could see and learn more about third world countries I think a lot of the hate would disappear.