A Narrative of Her Own
Twenty-year-old Amna Germanotta Riaz is a poet and a writer – her impressive tackling of important issues concerning identity politics has led to her being published on Media Diversity UK. I spoke to her about how she started, where she gets her inspiration and the sad lack of minority representation in the media today.
How did your passion for poetry to develop?
I always loved creative writing, I can remember in year 8 and 9 I loved the creative writing projects we were given to complete in class and at home. They were mostly around about 800 words or so, but I enjoyed creatively putting the images in my head on to paper. At this point in time I had never written poetry, I found poetry less accessible, mainly because most poems I had access to were from school, and I found them somewhat elitist, I can’t write like Donne or Keats! I think by the time I was 17 and studying A-levels, I was introduced to Maya Angelou’s poetry (in English literature) and so I started to channel my ideas into poetry because the ideas were not developed enough for a novel, and it also meant I could quickly write poems in creative bursts and not worry about development of continuity of narrative.
What is your process like as a writer? Do you need to have a set of specific conditions or can you write anywhere and everywhere?
I tend to write in bursts, so in some weeks I may write lots of poems and other weeks I can’t think of anything to write so I don’t. When I was younger I used to write for the sake of writing, but I found that they were forced and therefore were not good. I almost always avoid doing that now, which has somewhat improved my writing style. I also keep a book with me where I can jot ideas down if I’m inspired on travels and I have written on trains before.
Do you find that work has any common themes?
If I could put all my work under one banner that would be identity politics. I mainly have writen about gender issues, so sexism combined with institutional racism. I also write about class politics and how economics shape our experiences and narratives. I have also recently changed the voices I used to write about my experiences and have also explored how men of colour experience institutional racism (see her poem ‘(H)uslin in ma flashy car, gizz a job’)
Do you ever try to write for a particular audience?
Surprisingly I’ve never thought of an audience, mainly because I never intended for these to be published, they were written for myself. A friend of mine recommended that these should be published on a blog and so I did. I just hope that young people, especially women of colour can relate to the narratives I explore and be inspired and most importantly empowered. It is difficult when BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) representation is limited and skewed in the mainstream and we don’t own our narratives. And of course those who don’t fit in the latter descriptions are nevertheless made aware of minority experiences in order to build better racial equality.
How did you become involved with Media Diversity UK?
I became involved with Media Diversity UK purely by accident. It is run by a truly hard-working lady called Samantha Asumadu, whose article ‘It’s time to boost ethnic minority representation in the media’ in The Guardian was tweeted by a friend I followed. I read it and I discovered her #allwhitepages campaign which was launched after Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory. I had also spotted the obvious lack of BMEs both in the audience and the participants, and as the article argues, it is time there is better representation of BME groups in the mainstream media so we are owning our own narratives.
Of the pieces you’ve written for them, which is the most important to you?
Difficult question! Probably the ‘Acting White‘ piece, just because it is probably the most effective way for racism to be institutionalised, i.e. if you make the victim believe that they are the ones that are problems to society. It puts ‘whiteness’ on par with excellence and everything secondary and inferior. Minorities need to realise that they don’t need to feel like this, or discourage high achievers by smearing them with terms such as ‘bounty’ or ‘coconuts’. The rock genre is associated with ‘whiteness’ despite its origins in Black culture.
Why is Media Diversity UK so important for young creatives?
It provides a platform to meet likeminded people and provides a sense of community with other PoC (People of Colour.) It also acts as an educational platform. And it gives a voice to narratives (such as sex work) which are often ignored by the mainstream.
How do you stay creatively motivated?
Life! I don’t know where my ideas come from. They tend to be narratives being played out in my head, or from places I go to, or it can be everyday interactions.
Who are your personal favourite artists?
Maya Angelou’s poetry inspired me to write poetry specifically. I remember reading one review which argued that her poems were simple and it worked. Also as a young teenager I used to listen to Mariah Carey’s 1990’s songs which dealt with rejection, love and racism (as a biracial young girl), and she wrote all her music except covers. I used to try to mimic her style when I was younger (although unsuccessfully.)
What advice would you give to other young aspiring poets and writers?
Read widely. Look at other people’s work and see how you can improve your individual style of writing. I discovered writers who are extremely talented and creative online so ‘published’ or ‘famous’ writers’ are not the only people you can look up to. Practice and edit a lot – I used to write in one go without editing and that doesn’t help especially when there are typing errors or there is no flow. Also don’t force rhyming patterns.
Where do you hope to be in the future and how will you get there?
It’d be nice to be published but I don’t know if that will happen! I’m at University in my third year, so I don’t really what lies in my future! I still see writing to be a part of my life regardless of what happens.