Muslim Girl had a chance to interview Bayadir Mohamed, the author and creative behind the book Secondhand Smoke. Allah (SWT) has blessed Bayadir with a talent for weaving together words and phrases that, when combined, leave the reader with chills and a sense of awe.
Muslim Girl: Secondhand Smoke is your debut book, a compilation of poetry and prose. In this work, you examine the struggles and triumphs of a Black Muslim Sudanese woman immigrating to America and emerging into adulthood. Can you share with the Muslim Girl Clique how you came to own the space?
Bayadir Mohamed: Secondhand Smoke is a metaphor for secondhand trauma. As a daughter of the diaspora, I have lived a life as an American but also as a Sudanese refugee. This book is for the children of the diaspora that are coping through generational curses and that are trying to grapple with their complicated identity. In my poem “H2O,” I ask “How much of Nile am I allowed to claim as mine?” and I write “Another me is stranded across the Atlantic Ocean, the Sudanese girl I could have been.” Our experiences are valid. Our identities are valid.
Your book touches on serious and raw emotions. How did you decide that “secondhand smoke” was worth writing about and opening up about for readers worldwide?
I am hoping to inspire younger generations and my peers to follow their dreams and to pursue healing. My family was directly affected by the violent 30 year Sudanese regime. They had a warrant for my father’s head in the ‘90s because he led oppositional forces against the regime. I write to amplify my father’s story, and the millions of Sudanese people who have been silenced.
We applaud your incredible literary success! How did it feel to take this step in life and document your experiences in such a formal way?
Releasing this book has been incredible, but also challenging. I collaborated with a team of artists to complete the book. Thank you to Swar Jr. for the thought provoking illustrations, and to Tajbik Sheikh for designing the book structure. Secondhand Smoke is a self-published project so I had input every step of the way.
Many times people feel that artists have to answer to their audiences. How are you working through the ways your audience may perceive your work?
One of the best pieces of literary advice I’ve received from a peer of mine, Mohamed Tall, is to write what I’d want to read. My goal is to write poetry that moves me. Over time I transitioned from writing slam poetry to simply writing my authentic feelings.
Our experiences are valid. Our identities are valid.
In your book, you walk us through your life experiences. Can you share how you use poetry for advocacy?
I use my poetry as a vessel to encourage dialogue, advocate for marginalized experiences, and to normalize our stories. I use metaphor and wordplay to connect to social issues. For instance, in my poem titled “Horror Movie,” I delve into the trauma and gut-wrenching experiences of being Black in America. I create connections such as “They’ll put a camera on a ghost and believe in Paranormal Activity/ But get video evidence of a black man being shot and they won’t believe it.” I ask thought-provoking questions such as “Why do I expect white ghosts as if America isn’t the biggest graveyard for Native and Black people?”
Lastly, what advice would you have for young women who relate to your story?
Our lives have been filled with tragedy and challenges, but healing is possible. My dear sisters, BREATHE. I pray there are affordable and accessible mental health services available to you. I am open about my experiences with therapy and struggles with mental illness. Find your path to healing, share your story, and breathe.