When she’s not working her day job as a medical device engineer, Fadumo Yusuf writes the stories her younger self yearned for.
“I never saw myself represented in the books I read, so I decided to become the change I wanted to see,” Yusuf said during a recent book signing for her new novel at the Doubletree Hotel in Bloomington, Minn.
Book, Ebyan, Waqti iyo Waayaha Jacayl, which is Yusuf’s first novel, is written in the Somali language. Yusuf, whose family fled Somalia when she was a child, said writing is her way of keeping her culture alive. Ebyan follows a Somali love story and focuses on themes of heartbreak, healing and relying on the community you are surrounded by. 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 grossly underrepresented in English-language book publishing in the United States. Of the more than 7,000 authors in the United States, barely 5.8% identify as black or African American, even though they make up 14% of the population. Publishing books in African languages is even rarer because many Africans prefer European languages and Arabic, which are more useful in conducting global business. For example, Somali linguists have expressed concern that their language may become “endangered” as many Somalis now embrace Arabic. Authors like Yusuf aim to preserve their heritage and restore pride by writing in their African languages.
“I was trying to teach my siblings 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 country, 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 had a long history of welcoming refugees from around the world. In addition, Minnesota’s strong economy and relatively low unemployment rates have made the state a hot spot for newcomers seeking a high quality of life. The largest concentration of Somalis in Minnesota is in Minneapolis, with most living in the Cedar-Riverside, Phillips, and Elliot Park neighborhoods.
Sheikh Shuaib, a member of the Somali community, echoed Yusuf, saying that if more books were not written in Somali, the language would be in danger of dying. Shuaib also said that the future of language and culture preservation is in the hands of the next generation.
“It is so important for the future of Somali heritage that we have young people writing books like this,” Shuaib said.
Yusuf’s cousin Faduma Omar spoke about how the book is pioneering in a culture where romance is still considered taboo in the media. Omar described her cousin as a “pioneer” for being brave enough to address topics not often discussed openly 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 she’s especially proud to see Ebyan on the shelves defying cultural norms.
“She’s changing the culture and the way we talk about love,” Omar said. “It also makes me want to study the language more because I can only understand part of it.”
Zakaria Illeye, 19, said like many children of immigrants, he has not seen his parents’ country. Still, he said he tried to engage with Somali culture in every possible way. Ileye said he is excited to see young people like him reading Ebyan to take the culture forward.
“It’s a romance book, so I can see it resonating with teenagers,” Illeye said. “Just because many of us haven’t seen Somalia doesn’t mean we can’t deal with our culture.”
Website of the author: fadumoyusuf.com.