An interview with Sabah Parsa, author of the 2023 Felice Buckvar Prize for Nonfiction Honorable Mention “Your Cane” (Issue 44)
BLR: What were the most challenging aspects of translating this experience from real life to the page? What came easily?
Sabah Parsa: Nonfiction can be challenging for me because of the need to honor certain people and moments properly. It was difficult to keep this piece contained to the specific experiences of illness I wanted to convey, and to select the happier memories to blend with them. I think the easiest section of the piece to write was the story about the cherries; it didn’t require extensive detail but still perfectly showcased my grandfather’s personality. Humor is the easiest for me to write in any piece, fiction or nonfiction.
BLR: Did you know from the start that the cane would be the entry and exit point for the piece, or did that come later?
SP: The basic structure of this essay came together in my head long before I was able to write it down, largely due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. I was always struck by the memory of that moment in the hospital, and as the essay built on itself in my head I eventually decided that it should start and end with a variation of the same line. I definitely have the nurse to thank for that one; it was a sweet and memorable thing to say to a grieving family, and gave us something small to smile about.
BLR: Can you share some writers or particular books that have influenced you?
SP: I read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut as a teenager, which I think contributed to/helped me build on my dark sense of humor. I loved how his books were both absurd and heartbreaking. In terms of more recent reads, I am obsessed with Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend series, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. These works are obviously very different in subject matter, but they’re all family sagas set in tumultuous historical periods. I hope to write something in that vein one day, and it would be amazing to emulate even a tiny amount of their beautiful storytelling skills.