Lighting the Fire: Nadeem Zaman

Nadeem Zaman was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in Chicago. His undergraduate degree is in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Masters in Interdisciplinary Humanities from the University of Louisville, where he is currently in the PhD. program. His short story Adulteress was published in the 2015 edition of the Roanoke Review and he has had fiction appear in Eastlit Journal, China Grove, 94 Creations, and Farmhouse Literary Journal. Steph Spector speaks with Nadeem below.

How does your other fiction compare to Adulteress?

Many of the themes are similar. Right versus wrong, class and economic disparities, religion and politics. The heart and soul of these stories are always the people who take it from one day to the next, just working, eating, and living.

This is part of a collection of stories that takes place in Bangladesh during the 1971 conflict between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Even as recently as this week, there have been fundamentalist Islamic groups wreaking a lot of havoc there, so those thematic elements make appearances, too.

Describe the process of creating the characters Shamsher Ali and the judge.

The opening scene of Adulteress is how I first imagined them—Shamsher Ali standing before the judge, distraught. I loved the idea of putting these two characters together because they come from such different places.

The judge makes a small appearance in another story within the collection. The reason I leave him unnamed here is because I wanted the sound of the word to stick out in the reader’s mind—he never stops being a judge.

What writing, art, and music inspire you?

I’m working on my PhD at the University of Louisville.  At this point, having completed my general education requirements, I have the luxury of selecting classes geared toward the writing that I’m working toward. Fiction is the world in which my head lives most of the time and I’m constantly reading novels and short stories. Thanks to great literature like the Roanoke Review and the simple ability of going to the bookstore multiple times a week, I have access to reading what my peers are doing out there. Reading fiction, staying connected with the form and with the craft—that’s the fire that constantly lights what I’m doing.

As far as music goes, my mother is a singer. The music I listened to in Bangladesh didn’t really resonate with me in younger years. But the moment I revisited that world as an adult, that all changed. I like to play it on my headphones or at home as I’m working.

There’s a constant mix of languages and images in my head that I may see in a picture and say wow, that’s exactly where I imagined this character living. Then I’ll literally have that image open in a document as I work.

What advice do you have for young writers?

Writing is work. It’s something that requires attention, practice, and honing, like anything else. If you’re getting ready to run a marathon, you’re going to have to train your body, muscles, and mind to keep them in peak shape. Same with writing. Writing for fame or money won’t get you very far.

If you’re looking for a place to start, begin by writing every day. Find twenty or thirty minutes at the end or beginning of your day to sit down and write 100-150 words, whatever they may be. After you get used to a schedule, find your own rhythm. The time of day that works for you, particular rituals—these will develop over time and vary from person to person.

I personally set aside 2-3 hours in the beginning of my day to write fiction. Then, I attend to my schoolwork.

What question have you always wanted to be asked as a writer?

You know, you’ve already asked me the most flattering question I could have hoped to receive as a writer. Would I like to be interviewed by a professional literary journal?