In The Fluency of Light, Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s essays read like meditations on themes of identity, race, and family. Her writing is sharp—one might say spare—and her descriptions, clear and beautiful. Her essays are a guide that help me navigate my way through my own writing. I study her essays in terms of their structure, I study her craft. Her essays sparked memories of my father, of my mother, and of growing up biracial in Los Angeles, memories that were once buried. Her work is a map to my memory.
I felt grateful and delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Aisha about her writing. I found her to be sensitive, smart, and sincere, and I appreciated that after I asked a question, she would take a long pause and then respond in a way that seemed thoughtful. We met at LACMA on a weekday afternoon; the day was dry and sunny, a typical LA day. We sat in the middle of the courtyard surrounded by people and art.
ZOE RUIZ: Why did you decide to write a book of essays and how did you decide to organize the essays by location?
AISHA SABATINI SLOAN: In college I started interviewing people. I did interviews in Los Angeles, Paris, London, New York, Northfield, Detroit, and eventually South Africa. The project had different manifestations of “doneness” over the years. I wrote a lot to make that project coalesce, including these essays that attempted to capture the cultural/emotional/historical backdrop in each city. But one day, I sat down at my desk, and the interview portion of the project just slumped out of my arms and onto the floor. I took a deep breath, and I weeded out the portraits of my interviewees just to see what was left, and it was the essays about place. I felt like I was seeing the framework of a coherent project for the first time. Maybe ever.