IMAN SISSAY: Embrace your story.
When Iman Sissay wrote the story of her family's migration to Australia, it was for an English assignment in Year 11. Encouraged by her teacher, she, along with many African-Australians joined the initiative to have their diverse stories told to a national audience.
Now, Iman Sissay's story can be found in the recent publication Growing Up African In Australia. In it, she identifies significant moments in her life and the realisations that helped shape her understanding of the weird and wonderful world that surrounds her and her siblings, as she migrates from Sudan to Australia's Apple Isle, Tasmania.
MEET IMAN SISSAY
IMAN SISSAY. As a child, I was very clueless about why were we moving around in Sudan. I didn’t experience anything bad, or traumatic when living back in Sudan but, now that I am grown, I understand just a little more than I did when I was younger about why we moved. I still have family living there and a lot of good memories that I often revisit, and I would love to go back and visit Sudan in the future.
THE PIN. Why did you choose to write this story?
IS. Originally this story was a major assignment for an English writing course back in 2017. There were a lot of moments that I wanted to write about but, I didn’t want to complicate or over think things. So, I only wrote about the moments in my life that seemed to always be the first to come to my mind. Simple moments, like going to the beach for the first time.
How did you find out about Growing Up African in Australia, and how did you submit your story?
IS. My English teacher, Anna Forward, was actually the one who found out about the Growing up African in Australia project and asked me if it was okay for her to submit my story. At first I was hesitant but, of course, I agreed.
What was it like finding out that your story was going to be published?
IS. When I found out I was going to be published, it was late at night and I decided to check my email ...for once. When I saw the subject of the email and I was kind of confused because I had completely forgotten about submitting the story. I didn’t think that my story would be chosen to be published, so it was a shock. I was speechless. I didn’t know how to react. I remember running down to my parents, to tell them the good news, and then, the following day, I told my friends and teachers. It was all very exciting.
Your mother plays a central role in this story, how did she and the rest of your family respond to the story once they had read it?
IS. My family didn’t know about the story until I had told them it was going to get published, my sister was the first to read it, and she found it quite funny. My dad thought it was nice that I had kept all those memories from a long time ago, and since the first part of the story (which is about my mum) was very exaggerated and written to trick the readers, my mum thought it was dramatic but, in a good way.
Going from not understanding the English language when you first arrived in Australia, to be a published writer is such a great achievement, how do you feel about this experience?
IS. A few years ago or, even, just two years ago, I never have thought something like this would happen. So it feels surreal, and I still can’t believe this is happening.
Did you have any doubts when you were writing?
IS. I had many doubts when writing anything. In year 11, the course 'English writing' was very new to me. I didn’t have any confidence in my work but, my teacher always encouraged me and pushed me to do better. With this story, especially, I didn’t think anyone would care to read it. So the thought of having it published never crossed my mind.
What has changed since you wrote your story, in high school? If you had written this now, would we be reading a different story?
IS. I’m not sure if it would be a different story. Obviously, I have changed a lot since year 11, I have discovered a lot more about myself but, I don’t know how the story would’ve gone if I were to write it now. Maybe I would have reflected on situations more and given the story more detail.
To an outsider, how would you describe being a part of the African-Australia community in Tasmania?
IS. Even though the African community is small, in Tasmania, it feels great when the community comes together.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, about being in the skin you're in, what would it be?
IMAN SISSAY. Just to embrace it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo: provided by Iman Sissay
Published April 2019