A Conversation with Aisha Sabatini Sloan

MQRInterview2-620x340Aisha Sabatini Sloan, a Carleton graduate and English major (’03) will be returning to Carleton next year as a Visiting Professor.

Since leaving Carleton she earned an MA in Cultural Studies and Studio Art from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU, and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Arizona. “Her essays have been named notable for the Best American Non-Required Reading and Best American Essays anthologies of 2011, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and published in Ninth Letter, Identity Theory, Michigan Quarterly Review, Terrain.org, Callaloo, The Southern Review, and Guernica. Her memoir, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White was chosen as a finalist for the 1913 First Book Contest in 2011, and ultimately published by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. She taught writing at the University of Arizona for over six years, and is currently a contributing editor for Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics” (See her website for more details).

In the fall she will be teaching two courses: English 136, “Twenty-First Century Black Voices” and English 276, “The Art of Research: Weaving the Personal Essay”. Isaac Werner, one of the editors of the Miscellany caught up with Professor Sloan virtually to help introduce her to current students.

How has your time at Carleton helped shape your later artistic pursuits?

What comes to mind in response to this question is a moment when I was sitting at Goodbye Blue Mondays, reading a book for my Comps paper. I think it was You Can’t Get Lost in Capetown by Zoe Wicomb. They were playing “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills and Nash, and for the first time that I can remember, I fell in love with the experience of jotting down quotes and writing them on a yellow legal pad. I loved the synchronicity of relating a theory to a text. It took me a long time to return to that set up: a book, a legal pad, and the hope for some synchronicity. After years of trying different approaches to writing and art making, this recipe still works well for me. Also, the professors shaped me. At no point in my life since Carleton has any group of individuals been so kind, so patient, so brilliant, and so willing to help guide me through an intellectual or artistic question. I think about the faculty I worked with at Carleton all the time. Fred Hagstrom’s yoga classes set into motion a physical practice that has been very helpful to me as a writer.

What has spurred your interest to teach?

Teaching has always been an extension of the creative process for me. When I first started to teach eight years ago, I felt surprised to realize that teaching made me feel the same way I do when I reach a point of flow in art or writing.

How do you feel about returning to Carleton?

When I think about the upcoming semester I can’t help but anticipate an onslaught of memory— turning the corner and facing every single formative experience that I had at Carleton, kind of like a dreamscape. I anticipate feeling very inspired.

What has shaped your interest in studying twenty-first century black voices?

Erykah Badu walking down the street in Washington D.C. while taking off her clothes. Santogold’s back-up dancers. Kiese Laymon’s personal essay about growing up in Mississippi. Standing in a Kara Walker exhibit and realizing that she’s completely reinvented my relationship to the people in the room through a static image on the wall. There’s quite a renaissance happening right now, I think. Very brilliant people are coming to the table with a lot of cultural and critical context for their creative work, and it’s exciting to trace the lineage of those ideas, and to think about encountering even just a portion of these texts in a classroom setting.

What can students expect taking a class with you?

I went to school for studio art and cultural studies before I studied to be a writer, so my approach to literature and creative writing pedagogy often engages with visual expression and social/historical contexts.

Who is one of your favorite working authors and why?

I’ve always loved Michael Ondaatje, perhaps because of his reading voice. He was one of the reasons I became attracted to writing. Also, his approach to genre has always appealed to me—Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Coming Through Slaughter in particular. More recently, I have been interested in the work and ideas of Chris Abani, Maggie Nelson, and Eula Biss.

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