“When people ask, ‘Where’s home to you?’ I always have to give them a road map,” says poet and novelist Noor Naga. The 25-year-old was born in Philadelphia, raised in Dubai, educated in Toronto and now lives in Alexandria, Egypt – and the question of belonging is a theme that infuses all of her work.
Recently, Naga’s poem “The Mistress and the Ping” earned her this year’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, a $10,000 prize given to writers under 35 who haven’t published a book. The poem is an excerpt from an in-progress novel-in-verse, which explores the spiritual crisis of a young Muslim woman entangled in an extramarital affair.
Naga (BA 2014 VIC, MA Creative Writing 2016) describes its bittersweet tone as definitively Egyptian: “A sense of humour is really integral to the national character,” she says, on the phone from her grandmother’s house in Alexandria. “This is how we deal with tragedy.”
Though fluent in Arabic, Naga writes only in English, her first language. “I don’t have strong loyalties to any one place, and I think that’s helpful. It allows me to critique different social spaces or political structures without feeling a sense of betrayal.”