This week we spoke with Hanna Ali who is a writer, Teaching Fellow and PhD candidate at SOAS, University of London where she specialises in Afro-Arab identity. Hanna is a former Radio Presenter and was listed as number 4 in BuzzFeed’s “21 Black British Muslims You Should Know About” in 2017 and was a part of Trailblazing Muslim Women in 2018. She is the Director for Somali Week Festival, which is a 10-day London based festival during London’s Black History Month in October and she also sits at the board of The Council of Somali Organisations. Her collection of Short Stories titled The Story of Us was published in October 2017.
Name: Hanna Ali
Occupation/Role: Author, Festival Director of Somali Week Festival in London, Teaching Fellow and PhD Candidate at SOAS, University of London
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I always knew that I’d be a writer – whether it’s fiction or facts, writing has always been my home away from home, as it were, and I think it’s what I was meant to do.
Who were your biggest role models growing up?
Ayeeyo, my grandmother, was incredibly close to me growing up and taught me a great deal about silent strength – she wasn’t a loud or even an educated woman, but she had experienced a lot through the school of life and taught me to always be myself.
What is one thing that you would like to tell your younger self?
You are beautiful, you are intelligent, you are enough. Be kind to your body, don’t cry over stupid boys, write a little bit every day and never make yourself less for someone else to feel big.
What was a life-changing moment you experienced that shaped you into the woman that you are today?
Becoming a refugee at age 4 was life-altering in many ways and like so many Somalis, our stories often include the forced migration story and that single-handedly changed the course of my destiny and who I am today.
What made you pursue your current career?
I have always wanted a job that didn’t quite feel like a ‘job’, I strongly believe in following your sense of purpose in this world and for me I knew that I wanted to write and research things I am passionate about and I wanted to play an active role within the Somali community so I feel very grateful for where I am thus far.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me doesn’t exist! Every day comes with its own fresh chaos; usually I divide my time between writing my thesis and catching up on Somali Week Festival admin, I enjoy working from home and background trumpet jazz or Qaraami music always gets me in the zone.
What has been the biggest obstacle in your professional life so far and how did you manage to overcome it?
I don’t have one biggest obstacle; I have a bunch of small ones! Every major step you take there is always someone or something that makes you feel small; like you’re not smart enough, not well connected enough, not exceptional enough and all the rest but like the kids on twitter say: sometimes you gotta take the l and get on with your day. Nothing and no one is worth breaking your spirit over.
Which Somali woman inspires you and why?
I won’t lie, the supermodel Iman was such an inspiration growing up – she was literally the only Somali that I saw in the ’90s who was out there doing her thing and whether people approve of her lifestyle or not, you have put some respect on her name because she put Somalis on the global map at a time where we were only known as starving background noise from the days of Black Hawk Down.
What advice would you give to a person pursuing your chosen career?
Be brave, be determined, be yourself. Write every day, don’t wait for opportunities to come, be assertive and don’t take shit from anyone.
You can find Hanna Ali on Twitter: @HannaAli