Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sarah Sweeney, Borderline and Madonna and Me

Leading up to my 'Madonna and Me' talk at the Decatur Book Festival, I will be interviewing my fellow contributors. Today: Sarah Sweeney. In her coming of age essay, 'Mother Madonna', Sarah grapples with all the sexual confusion Madonna evokes as well as a father who is adamant that Madonna is the 'devil'.  
My favorite bit from Sarah's essay  "Madonna emblemized happiness, a life without limits, and I knew I wanted that and not my parents' humdrum version of living: their tired bodies dragged out of the house each morning, the gruff churning of the engine, the invisible desire to flee." 

 And here's Sarah herself:

Favorite Madonna song and why?
My favorite Madonna song is Borderline. Obviously I have many favorite Madonna songs, but this one really speaks of the lengths Madonna, and many women, will go for love. And yet we can only take so much bullshit along the way, so I identify with this song too. I blast it and dance and wish I had that coveted checkered bow hat that Madonna dons in the video.

Favorite video and look?
Hands down, Like a Prayer. I prefer Madonna blond, but for this video the dark hair rocked. As a kid, I longed for the wine-colored dress she wore with the bra straps hanging down her arms. It seemed so sinful to me then to show even a hint of your bra, so of course when I started wearing a bra, I wanted to show it to everyone! Such is the power of Madge.

Madonna with Nicki Minaj and MIA: Ultra Diva or Desperate?
I admit I've fallen out of the mainstream Madonna loop, so I can't reference her with MIA or Nicki Minaj. I know she's collaborated with a lot of people, and I applaud her for continuing to take risks. It's so easy for an artist of her caliber to stand alone, and yet she is now more than willing to share the spotlight.

Can you tell us a little about your writing and revision process for “Burning Up?”
I think I'm still revising "Mother Madonna." The piece packs a lot about my younger self and my eccentric family life into very little space. I think it works, as is, but I'm hoping to expand it for a longer book of essays I've been working on. After reading about the call for submissions for women writers for this anthology, though, I immediately began writing this essay. 
This is something I've wanted to write for such a long time -- about Madonna's role in my life -- and I'm thankful to editor Laura Barcella for giving me an outlet and believing in the story enough to include it. When it was accepted for the anthology I was hugely dissatisfied with my essay -- I think almost two years had passed and, while I feel the same, I would've written certain things different. But that's the beauty of being a writer: we can, and do, keep revising...

What are you working on now?
Right now I'm working on a book of poems about two months I spent in the Yucatan peninsula. The poems are rather top-secret as of now, but they're charged and sexy and about love and disappointment and they incorporate a lot of Spanish language and a bit of Mexican history. It's unlike anything I've tackled before. Stay tuned!

Thanks Sarah!
Sarah Sweeney's poems and nonfiction have appeared in Quarterly West, Barrelhouse, Cream City Review, The Best of the Web, Tar River Poetry, Pank, and more. A native of North Carolina, she now lives and writes in Boston, where she works for Harvard University. Visit her at

Buy Madonna and Me

 Tomorrow Q & A with Maria Raha

Read  Q & A with J. Victoria Sanders
Read Q & A with Laura Barcella
Read Q & A with Wendy Tokunaga

Sept 1, 2012. Decatur Book Festival. Local Prose Stage. 3: 15.
Soniah Kamal will be talking about growing up Muslim with Madonna. She will also read from her essay 'Through the Wilderness'. Please join her.

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