A spotlight for artists, writers and musicians who contribute to our campus’s active artistic community.
Ahmad Alhomsi’s two years studying creative writing in Boone are the most he has ever spent in any single location. Born in the United Arab Emirates with family ties in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, he moved to seventeen different houses throughout his childhood. Originally intending to study abroad in Boone for only a few semesters, Alhomsi found stability in the green mountain oasis of Appalachian State and decided to officially transfer to become a permanent student. With a Syrian passport, he acknowledges that he was lucky to even be permitted into the country at all. And he’s certainly not passing up the opportunity.
We meet in a study room at the Appalachian State library during the first week back to school, following Winter break. Dressed neatly in a blue knit, long-sleeve shirt, Alhomsi speaks with patience and careful reservation. His eyes, framed by black rectangular glasses, occasionally wander throughout the room as he ponders how he’d like to arrange his words.
Much of Alhomsi’s work centers around terrorism and war and the ways in which our cultural backgrounds shape how we perceive conflicts overseas. He speaks with sincerity and honesty about these situations, asking us to empathize with characters who might typically be seen as the ‘bad guys’ without ever excusing them for their actions.
In coming to terms with America’s relationship with the Middle East, Alhomsi explains, “When I come here, I’ll go to a Church and they’ll say, ‘God protects our troops.’ And then I go back home. I’ll go to a Mosque, and they’ll say, ‘God protect our soldiers against the Americans.’ And you start to wonder who’s wrong and who’s right.”
But among all the ways to politically frame the wars occurring near his home, Alhomsi is not concerned with finding out which perspective is righteous. Instead, he reminds me that one group of people is almost always left out of the conversation.
“In the middle of all of that [conflict], there’s those innocent people who pay the most price. And I just like to write what people don’t want to read.”
But in the process of making us feel uncomfortable and disoriented, Alhomsi provides beauty through a collage of vivid foreign landscapes and characters. He often understates significant plot points to illustrate that dramatic events become unremarkable and commonplace if one becomes saturated in a dangerous environment for long enough. And with a bit of ambiguity, his pieces sometimes meander from one situation to the next as if the narrator is recalling a foggy memory.
In regard to his artistic process, Alhomsi jokes that he doesn’t have one and admits that his relationship with writing is somewhat dysfunctional. He works in quick bursts, often in complete isolation and silence, and although these techniques offer some relief, he can never seem to fully escape the discomfort he experiences while working on new material.
“When I write, I’m physically and mentally in pain. I feel like I’m suffering,” Alhomsi says, covering his stomach for added emphasis.
Alhomsi’s stream-of-consciousness mode has arisen out of necessity rather than any intentional or deliberate stylistic choice. Writing with few edits allows him to avoid hesitation and overthinking. Alhomsi notes that in some sense, his cultural upbringing discouraged him from sharing personal struggles with others. Creative writing forces him to reverse those natural tendencies, directly confronting the vulnerabilities that he previously internalized. But even after enduring the anguish of the writing process, Alhomsi often has trouble appreciating his own work. He has forbidden himself from editing the content of his pieces for this reason.
“Every time I [revise my work], I hate what I write and I just throw it in the garbage,” Alhomsi notes.
Alhomsi also tries to convince me that his English is “not that good”, but with three accepted English works in last semester’s edition of The Peel and overwhelming praise from professors and peers, it is difficult to take him at his word. He clarifies that he is not being flippant or dismissive of the positive responses he’s received.
“I’m not trying to be hard to please,” Alhomsi insists. “There’s a level that I want to reach in writing, and I still believe I have a long way to get there. I think the only thing that will make me satisfied is my own self.”
Alhomsi places so much pressure on himself because he sees writing as his obligation and responsibility. In many ways, it carries on the legacy of friends and family who do not have a venue or platform to tell their stories. And although Alhomsi is appreciative of his time at Appalachian State, he says he has work to do back at home. After completing his degree, he intends to meet up with a friend from Australia and become a teacher at refugee camps where access to education is severely limited. He hopes to continue writing as well, with plans to create a full-length novel once he has honed his English skills to his own satisfaction.
Above all though, Alhomsi wants me to understand that violence has never been–and will never be–a solution to the unrest he has experienced in the Middle East. His writing acts as a tribute to those who have been forgotten amidst the gunfire and bloodshed while simultaneously delivering a warning for what might happen if stable societies resort to violence in times of political upheaval.
Alhomsi concludes, “I wish that words could actually stop wars, rather than us carrying weapons.” He adds, “I know some people look at what I’m doing as a cowardly move, because you’re not actually putting yourself out there. But I think that even out of the worst of us, there’s good in every person. And you have to find that good and expand on it.”