36 Finalists Blog: Said Shaiye

Said Shaiye, author of Are You Borg Now?

Memoir & Creative Nonfiction Category, sponsored by Bradshaw Celebration of Life Centers

Each week leading up to the 34th annual Minnesota Book Awards Ceremony, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.

Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why?

I’m proud of the fact that I wrote this book without splaying open my heart and displaying my trauma for the world. Although the book deals with traumatic things at times, I ultimately empowered myself by choosing to write around the trauma whenever possible. For all my life, this world has told me I’m not good enough, no matter what I do, unless I’m stripping my heart open & sharing my most traumatic memories with a smile on my face. I’ve learned to say no to that, which is hard for me to do as an autistic man. I always want to say yes, even if it comes at great personal cost. I’m also happy that I was able to create something which incorporated all my interests, including photography & poetry, rap lyrics and immigration documents, to tell as complete a story about my life as I could in one book… all the while withholding the things which hurt too much to share. 

What do you hope that your audience learns or takes away from your book?

I wrote this book before I discovered I was autistic. So in many ways, I was trying to answer questions I didn’t know the answer to. I didn’t have the language then on why it’s so hard for us to exist in this world, but this book helped me do just that, in my own way. So, I hope this book helps defeat all the stereotypes you may have heard about Black people, immigrants, autists, and anyone who may not immediately (or ever) make sense to you. I consider this a love letter to my traumatized inner children. I hope it speaks to yours, too. And I hope you cry (I mean that in the best way). 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category? 

You can’t control much of what happens to your writing after the fact, but you are the writer. Write your story in a way that you can live with tomorrow, a year from now, and forever. Be true to yourself always. And don’t listen to what the haters got to say. This is your story and no one knows it better than you. Stand strong with that knowledge. And keep pushing, no matter what that looks like to you. Keep holding on, for only a little remains. 

Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known.

Idk, I feel like I’ve talked so much about myself that there isn’t much left not to know. Well, I’m autistic, but you probably know that by now. I have 2 younger brothers & 3 younger sisters & a mom & a dad & I love them all to death. Raspberry Cream Cheese is my favorite thing. I love flowers, sunsets, taking pictures, and discovering new poetry books that break rules. I don’t mean in the cliche way, but in that they corporate elements which the poetry world doesn’t consider “poetry.” I love books with pictures, because I’m a visual thinker as much as I am literary. I say what I mean & corporate double speak makes my brain hurt. So if you talk to me, please only say what you mean. Oh and I hate small talk. Tell me about your dreams, not what you think of the weather. 

Minnesota enjoys a reputation as a place that values literature and reading. If this sentiment rings true for you, what about our home state makes it such a welcoming and conducive place for writers? 

You know winter depression makes it hard to get out of bed, but easy to write deeply emotional work. We’re all struggling to hold on every winter, and I think that brings out the writer in all of us. This place has its drawbacks, but I definitely appreciate the dearth of coffee shops & book lovers in MN. 

Since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. Has COVID-19 (and its fallout) impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past two years influenced your writing output in any other ways that you can pinpoint? 

I blame the pandemic for turning me into a poet again. I was an essayist, but the weight of our new reality made it difficult to dwell on the emotional deep-diving essays require. So I found that lines of poetry were easier to write than sentences. And that pictures were easier to tell stories with than words. So I leaned into that, too. I blame the pandemic (in a good way) for forcing me to find new (old) ways of art making. And for breaking down the distinctions between different types of art I used to hold so dear —- and which used to hold me back from exploring my full range of creative possibilities. 

Other than that, my life hasn’t changed much. I was always a reclusive guy. I’m autistic. Heaven is a clean, quiet apartment for me. I don’t enjoy socializing, or loud places, or working in person. So in many ways the pandemic has made it easier to live my life in a sustainable way…. And the world accepts it more easily, though I still find myself explaining why I am the way I am. It would be easier if folks didn’t try to get me to do things counter to my constitution, but that’s life. When people misunderstand us, we write. 

So, I write. A lot. But that’s life. 

Said Shaiye is a writer of Somali descent whose essays and poems have appeared in several journals and magazines. He grew up in Seattle and now lives in Minneapolis. Are You Borg Now? is his debut book.