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Gabrielle Deonath is a full-time college student in the United States. She is a contributor to the teen column, “At The Crossroads”, in SISTERS Magazine and the author of the short story “The Finish Line” in the Survival of the Hardworking charity anthology. She also attempts to share her stories and experiences through her YouTube channel, MissHijabi101, and "Hijab Diaries" series on suhaibwebb.com.
Gabrielle's website: hijabdiaries.com.
Khaled Hosseini and Jennifer Zobair are two writers whose work is currently very inspiring.
What are your top three favourite works of literature and why?
• And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini: Hosseini is natural storyteller. This novel spans half of a century and takes readers to various countries including Greece, Afghanistan, and the Unites States, among others. Each chapter is like a short story of its own, but Hosseini seamlessly transitions from one into the next. These “short story” chapters have different main characters, with some relation to those previously introduced. Each chapter answers questions that arose in the preceding parts of the novel, and then presents new questions. The story kept my interest throughout, and opened my eyes to how much could be achieved in one novel.
• Painted Hands by Jennifer Zobair: This was the first novel that I have come across about modern Muslim women to whom I could relate. The main characters, Amra and Zainab, are educated, successful, South Asian women living in Boston, in their late 20s. The situations they navigate through are ones that I see myself eventually having to deal with as well. The novel touches upon relevant issues, like balancing a successful, demanding career with personal relationships, judgmental communities, the pressure on South Asian women to get married before a certain age and the political backlash Muslims face. There’s a character for everyone to identify with, reverts and Republicans included. When I first read the novel for the first time, I automatically recognized my friends and family members in these characters. It is a “real, normal” story about “real, normal” Muslim women.
• The third spot is hard to decide. It is currently between One Hundred and One Nights by Benjamin Buccholz and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. One Hundred and One Nights intrigues me because the author is a former soldier who served in Iraq, yet he was able to convincingly narrate his story from the point of view of an Iraqi native. Interpreter of Maladies inspired me because each short story had its own uniqueness. Each was different from the previous and the following stories. Lahiri created such distinctive characters and worlds; I couldn’t help but be captured and enthralled by her stories.
What are you reading now? What’s next?
Stephen King’s On Writing and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer are currently lying on my nightstand, waiting to be read. Now that my first semester of college is over, and I am well adjusted, I finally have leisure time to read some new books.
What are your reasons for writing?
I began writing seriously after my first article was published on suhaibwebb.com. I wanted to share my story of coming to wear the hijab at the age of fifteen in a family that was not very religious. When I wrote my first article, it was more for myself, to help me better understand my own reasons for wearing the hijab and my personal journey. I never thought that it would be published on the site when I submitted it for consideration, but a few months later, it was. After its publication, I received such amazing feedback, and I realized many could relate to my story. When I was contemplating the decision of wearing hijab, I did not have someone who could tell me what it is like to become a hijabi in the middle of their high school years or to share their experiences with me. Some girls message me from time to time and say that I have become that person for them, which is one of the reasons why I keep writing my nonfiction pieces.
As far as fiction goes, I have always had a very active imagination. Writing fiction is a way for me to make my fantasies somewhat of a reality, and it lets me exercise my creativity and imagination.
During the process of becoming a writer, it became clear to me that writing is not just a hobby or a passion, but a necessity in my life. Like I said before, it helps me understand myself and the world around me better. Whether my work is being published or I am purely doing it for myself, I know that writing is something I will continue to do for the rest of my life.
When and where do you like to write?
My favorite time to write is when inspiration first hits. This can be for a fictional story, a blog post, a magazine article, or personal pieces I write as a therapeutic outlet. In the quiet of the early morning and late evening, I am most motivated and productive, in regard to writing. My bedroom is my private sanctuary and where most of my writing is produced. I also like to write in my living room next to the fireplace. The security and familiarity of both of these rooms helps me open up emotionally and write honestly, without any inhibitions.
"Writing gives me the courage and the opportunity to voice my real thoughts and opinions. I have found the more honest and truthful I am, the stronger and more impactful my writing becomes."
Because most of my published pieces are nonfiction, and I am still in my teens, I have a limited amount of experiences that I can discuss in those articles. The most challenging aspect is being able to keep it fresh and not to become repetitive. With fiction, the biggest challenge is recognizing which of my various budding ideas I want to continue with and develop.
Are you involved in any other literary projects - past, present or future?
I am one of the writers for the teen column, “At the Crossroads”, in SISTERS Magazine. I am the author of the “Hijab Diaries” series on suhaibwebb.com. I also have a blog, hijabdiaries.com, where I write about more personal, lighter topics. Links to all future projects will be posted there, as well.
What inspired your piece in Survival of the Hardworking?
At the time, I was in my senior year of high school and was in the process of applying to universities. It was one of my main focuses, so I think it was natural for it to seep into my story. However, I wanted to explore a completely different journey of the college acceptance process. Perhaps that is why the main character, Tiffany, and I are so dissimilar. She is a white, revert, foster kid who is accused of cheating. I fit into none of those classifications. Tiffany was bound to have a very different experience applying to colleges. College is the path I want to take to achieve the professional goals that I have set for myself, but for Tiffany, college is a necessity to make a better life for herself. She did not have family who could financially support her after she turned 18. That was one of the reasons I thought her story was perfect for Survival of the Hardworking.
What’s your favourite line in your piece?
"I stopped running, dropped to my knees and placed my head on the ground in sujood."
What is your proudest accomplishment as a writer?
I am most proud of the discovery of my own voice as a writer and the fact that every piece I have written so far has been created from truth. I am able to give a voice to young Muslims, which is not a voice that is heard very often. When put in such a position, it is tempting to want to hide your flaws and to seem like the perfect role model. However, I attempt to use my experiences, especially my mistakes, as inspiration for my writing and to create realistic worlds for my characters. Especially with non-fiction pieces, I feel I am the most honest when I am writing. It’s not that I am dishonest in my personal life, but writing gives me the courage and the opportunity to voice my real thoughts and opinions. I have found the more honest and truthful I am, the stronger and more impactful my writing becomes.