Pioneering author publishes novel in Somali language to further her legacy

When not doing his day job as a medical device engineer, Fadumo Yusuf writes the stories he craved as a young man.

“I’ve never seen myself represented in the books I’ve read, so I decided to become the change I wanted to see,” Yusuf said during a recent signing for his new novel at the Doubletree hotel in Bloomington, Minn.

The book, Ebyan, Waqti iyo Waayaha Jacayl, which is Yusuf’s first novel, it is written in Somali language. Yusuf, whose family fled Somalia when she was a child, said writing is her way of preserving his culture. Ebyan follows a Somali love story and focuses on the themes of heartbreak, healing and supporting the community he surrounds himself with. Yusuf said it was important for her to write a book that she and the young people in her family could relate to.

Black authors are severely underrepresented in English book publishing in the United States. Of the more than 7,000 authors in the United States, a meager 5.8% identify as Black or African American, even though they make up 14% of the population. Publishing books in African languages ​​is even less common because many Africans prefer European languages ​​and Arabic, which are more useful for conducting global business. For example, Somali linguists have expressed concern that their language may become “endangered” due to the fact that many Somalis now embrace Arabic. Authors like Yusuf aim to preserve their heritage and restore pride by writing in their African languages.

Fadumo Yusuf signs his debut novel ‘Ebyan, Waqti iyo Waayaha Jacayl’ for a reader during a book signing event in Bloomington, Minnesota on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. Photo: Abdirahman Mukhtar/Tusmo Times

“I tried to teach my brothers and cousins ​​Somali,” Yusuf said. “I hope to create more books that they can relate to.”

Minnesota is home to more than 70,000 people of Somali descent, more than any other state in the nation, according to the Minnesota Compass. Thousands of Somalis fled the East African country after war broke out in 1991. Many ended up in Minnesota because the state’s resettlement agencies have a long history of welcoming refugees from around the world. Additionally, Minnesota’s robust economy and relatively low unemployment rates have made the state a hot spot for newcomers looking for a high quality of life. The highest concentration of Somalis in Minnesota is in Minneapolis, with the majority residing in the neighborhoods of Cedar-Riverside, Phillips and Elliot Park.

Sheikh Shuaib, a member of the Somali community, echoed Yusuf, saying that if more books were not written in Somali, the language would risk dying. Shuaib also said that the future of language and culture preservation lies in the hands of the next generation.

“It’s so important to the future of Somali heritage for us to have young people writing books like this,” Shuaib said.

Attendees at a book signing event for author Fadumo Yusuf Ebyan’s debut novel, Waqti iyo Waayaha Jacayl” in Bloomington, Minnesota on Saturday, January 7, 2023. Mshale staff photo by Panashe Matemba-Mutasa

Yusuf’s cousin Faduma Omar spoke about how the book pioneers in a culture where romance in the media is still considered taboo. Omar described her cousin as a “pioneer” for being bold enough to address topics that are often not openly discussed in the Somali community such as heartbreak and healing. Having grown up in the West, Omar said she doesn’t regularly see books written in Somali, so seeing Ebyan on the shelves that defy cultural norms made her particularly proud.

“It’s changing the culture and the way we talk about love,” Omar said. “It also makes me want to learn more of the language because I can only understand part of it.”

Zakaria Illeye, 19, said like many children of immigrants, she hadn’t seen her parents’ country. However, she said she tried to interact with Somali culture in every possible way. Illeye said he was thrilled to see young people like him reading Ebyan to advance the culture.

“It’s a romance book, so I can see it resonate with teenagers,” Illeye said. “Just because many of us haven’t seen Somalia doesn’t mean we can’t interact with our culture.”

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