Scotiabank Giller Prize Spotlight: Noor Naga
September 25, 2022
Noor Naga’s novel If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English has been longlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Noor Naga is an Alexandrian writer and the author of a verse novel, Washes, Prays. She is winner of the Bronwen Wallace Award, the RBC/PEN Canada Award, and the Disquiet Fiction Prize. She teaches at the American University in Cairo.
Do you have a tradition for every time you finish a book?
It’s generally a depressing time. After years of looking forward to all that a manuscript can be, it has now squarely settled into what it is. The disappointment can be extreme. I try to find a new project as fast as I can and to believe—since this can take some time—that one is coming. I think I’m learning to trust the lull a little bit more now, but initially it was disheartening.
What are you reading now?
At the moment I’m rereading, for the third time, the poet Neil Surkan’s collection Unbecoming. I love this work because it is earnestly inquisitive. At a moment when a lot of contemporary poetry is confident and declarative on matters of ethics in particular, I really respect how uncertain his voice can be, how much room there is for sincerity, curiosity, ambivalence and contradiction.
What is your favorite CanLit book?
Michael Ondaatje inspires so much good envy in me that I often have to put him down. I read him in fits and starts, savoring and swearing at him in turn. I love all of his books, but if I had to choose just one, it would have to be Coming Through Slaughter.
What would your job be if you weren’t an author?
I narrowly dodged a career in architecture, but without writing, I think this would have been my fate.
How did you know you wanted to be an author?
Someone I loved as a teenager told me matter-of-factly that I was a writer. I wanted very much to impress her and to be her friend, so I wrote an epic fantasy novella with her as the hero. That was how it began. An attempt at flattery. I wanted to glorify her in writing, and to realize her prophecy. I think I might have eventually found my way to literature without her, but she definitely saved me some time.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Playfulness! And a small dose of distrust!