Writer Anissa M. Bouziane's heritage in Morocco reflects in her creative output, from her experiences in film to her 2019 novel, Dune Song. We spoke to discuss her influences and her take on "linguistic polyphony," a literary technique that combines the norms, styles and histories of multiple languages to enrich narrative. Bouziane was born in the US state of Tennessee, but she moved to Morocco while still an infant. Her family left again to the US, but soon thereafter again returned to Morocco, where Bouziane completed her primary education. She eventually returned to the US to attend Wellesley College, where she studied political science with minor in anthropology; she went on to earn a master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University as well as a certificate in film from NYU. Now a teacher by trade, she regards herself as a "lifelong learner," and she is currently working on her doctorate in creative writing and literary practice at the University of Warwick in the UK.
Dune Song is so relatable to me as Muslim American who grew up in post-9/11 US. What was the inspiration behind your story?
I gave Jeehan my truth. Are certain things transformed? Yes. But generally, most of what Jeehan experiences in America are things I experienced. I witnessed the collapse of the Twin Towers. chose not to write a journalistic account of it in Dune Song. I chose to write about the ripple layers of trauma. Those of us in the Muslim American community were impacted by that event. It's important that we engage in a dialog about the broad-ranging nature of that trauma, even if communities were impacted in different ways and to different degrees. The tragedy of 9/11 opened what many wanted to see as a chasm between East and West, and the notion that suddenly there was no bridge between these worlds. Yet, individuals like me live in that chasm. Let us recognize this space. It is maybe the place where we can begin to build a better world.
Dune Song frequently touches on healing. How does that relate to the ideas of forgiveness and personal growth in the novel?
One of the things that was the most intense for me to write was the passage of Jeehan buried up to her neck inside the dune. She lets go of all that she has been carrying. Here is girl who saw death on a scale she thought she would not see. Her whole notion of where she belongs collapses, and she doesn't know how to hold it all together. Of course, there's this symbol of her dragging a yellow Samsonite suitcase back and forth in each of her trips across the Atlantic. She feels like it's exploding with the weight of her dreams, her expectations and her family's expectations. Ultimately, Dune Song is about how we keep going in the face of fear.
I loved the settings in two continents. What was your thinking about that?
A lot of the meaning is in the way the different pieces speak to one another. When I spoke earlier about a cartography between East and West, the structure of Dune Song takes readers back and forth. Jeehan might seem like different person, but she is the same person. She echoes my truth in Morocco and my truth in America. I can bel a person who sounds very New York and very Moroccan at the same time. For those of us who are multicultural, we inhabit these different selves. They aren't mutually exclusive or contradictory. They're layers upon layers of who we are.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
I think it's important to trust your own voice. Even if your voice is unconventional and it doesn't resemble any other voice out there, I think you must fight for it rather than shape your voice to fit the expectations.