Malaka Gharib Presents on Exploring and Writing About Identity Through Questions

Above, Malaka Gharib presents on her writing to students in the Freeman Room of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library.

“You have a million and one stories to share,” said Malaka Gharib, a journalist, cartoonist, and graphic novelist. On December 12, in a Zoom presentation held in the Freeman Room of the library, Gharib shared her creative process and journey with art since high school. Gharib explored the theme of ethnicity in storytelling and encouraged students to dig into their own stories. 

At the beginning of the presentation, Gharib described how she created her first magazines with a borrowed printer from her high school journalism class, experimenting with smaller mediums to make “mini-zines.” Gharib has written two graphic novels: “I Was Their American Dream” and “It Won’t Always Be Like This,” the latter being released this past September. 

“I think I started to figure out why I like magazines so much: because I was trying to capture the maximum amount of emotion and create my world within the confines of a very small space. This, in essence, is cartooning, and it leads me to the next era of my artistic career. The little things that you do in high school, your little interests, can morph and change into something totally different and unexpected. If you keep playing with the format, whether it’s photography or poetry or songwriting or dance, if you keep reflecting on it and tweaking it, it can bring you to some really creative places in your life,” said Gharib.

Corrie Martin, Instructor in English and Interdisciplinary Studies, highlighted Gharib’s suggestions for maintaining productivity during times when there is little motivation for writing. Martin hopes to incorporate Gharib’s advice into her classes and guide her students to become avid writers.

“Students in English 300 and my Senior elective in Asian-American Literature and Film attended the talk. I will be applying Gharib’s insights about writing and creating, in particular, about the process such as indulging in a ‘creative appetizer’ in order to get into the mindset needed to get started on a project you are less excited about, and about how concision, the ‘economy of the line,’ is an essential skill. I will also apply her questions about exploring one’s identity and stories, about learning that everyone has a story to tell. Gharib is a masterful storyteller, and she made the virtual-hybrid experience really enjoyable and inspiring. She transcended the screen,” said Martin.

Gharib also encouraged participants to spend time considering their own cultural and ethnic identities by asking questions such as, “How did my parents’ dream differ from mine?” Sebastian Cynn ’24, who attended the event, talked about how Gharib’s questions prompted self-exploration of his identity. 

 “I’ve just started thinking more about [the questions]. It was yesterday, so I can’t pretend I’ve had some huge moral, or cultural epiphany because it’s been a day. But I think just having those thoughts in my head has made me think on a much deeper level about who I am, about the culture of my parents, and about my own culture. That’s been definitely eye-opening for me in a lot of small ways,” said Cynn.

Gharib ended her presentation with advice on writing memoirs, particularly when writing about difficult memories. She unpacked her own experience writing about sexual assault while noting the uneasy writing process that involves tackling traumatic topics.

“In my book, ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This,’ I do share a sexual assault scene. There were many other sexual assault experiences I had in Egypt, and the other ones were too traumatizing for me to touch. I didn’t want to use those examples because every time I thought about it, it triggered me. So I was thinking to myself, ‘I don’t want to use that example. What’s another example that I can use that feels okay for me that I’ve processed; that I’ve absorbed; that I’ve questioned and analyzed, something that feels safe for me to share?” said Gharib. 

Gharib continued, “I did end up finding an anecdote that got the point across but wasn’t an example that was so triggering to me. You have a million and one stories to share, you don’t have to share the ones that hurt you. You can share the ones you feel okay with giving away to the public, to people, and to readers. It won’t diminish the quality of [your] art, I promise you. It just makes you a more dexterous storyteller, because you’re able to pick and choose from your life the story that you want to share.”