Eating Authors: Sofia Samatar (Campbell Award nominee)

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Sofia Samatar

Welcome to another special edition of EATING AUTHORS as we continue our sacred mission of introducing you to this year’s Campbell Award nominees. Max Gladstone was featured last year during his first term of eligibility, and Wesley Chu landed here a few months back in the regular course of the blog. Over the last two weeks you’ve met Ramez Naam and Benjanun Sriduangkaew, which leaves this week’s participant, Sofia Samatar.

She’s been having a year that few authors get to experience. In addition to her Campbell nomination, Sofia’s debut novel, A Stranger in Olondria, was a finalist for the Nebula Award, and her short story, “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” was nominated for both the Nebula and the Hugo. All of that aside, she won me over when I learned she has a PhD in African Languages and Literature. Seriously, how cool is that?

LMS: Welcome, Sofia. Please tell my readers about your most memorable meal.

SS: One evening I went out to dinner with a book.

The book was Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, which is now one of my favorites. I was reading it for the first time. I’d picked it up in a bookstore because of the first two sentences—She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She has sensed a shift in the weather. (This was before it was made into a movie.)

A Stranger in Olondria

The meal was a green salad, pasta puttanesca, and a glass of merlot at a little restaurant in Madison, WI called the Wild Iris Café. Sadly, it’s not there any more! But when I was getting my master’s degree, the Wild Iris was my favorite spot for a date: pretty without being too chic, and serving up delicious meals a grad student could afford once in a while.

I’d been there on dates a couple of times. I’d never been there alone.

I’d never been to any nice restaurant alone.

It was summer. I was waiting tables. Making rent was a struggle, and I really couldn’t afford even a modestly priced place like the Wild Iris. But I put on a skirt and went down there with Michael Ondaatje, and enjoyed one of the best meals of my life. The server was lovely; she seemed happy that I’d come in there with a book, with nobody to argue with or please. The pasta was rich, ringed with glistening mussels. The book was captivating. But spoiling myself? That was a revelation.

I never made a habit of going out alone with a book, but I’ve done it since, and I always keep the possibility in the back of my mind. It’s like keeping a door ajar. You can get back to that private garden. Good food, good words, and solitude. You can get there.

Thanks, Sofia. And yes, I have to agree completely. My favorite “me” time is settling into a good book in a nice restaurant. It’s a great way to pamper yourself.

This concludes the 2014 edition of Campbell Nominees’s Meals here at EATING AUTHORS. All five are extraordinary writers. Go read their stuff and vote wisely.

And of course, next Monday: Another author and another meal!



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