For our regular readers out there, the name Craig Loomis may already ring a bit familiar to you. A long time professor at the American University of Kuwait, he is also a near-constant contributor of fiction pieces to bazaar magazine. With the release of his latest book of short stories, The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Kuwait, he gives us a further glimpse of his unique interpretation of local life. We met recently to discuss teaching, the writer’s life, and his new collection of stories.
How did your literary journey begin?
It is a long and winding story but I can give you the Reader’s Digest version. In the 1960s I encountered a book by James Baldwin entitled Another Country, and for reasons I can no longer remember that book enticed me to look harder and longer into the universe of books–and by extension, reading–as much more than simply a painful homework assignment. In short, I began to take my education more seriously, and part of that seriousness, or sincerity, translated into attempting to try my hand at writing stories of what I saw, heard, and believed. So, my fifty-year venture into the world of reading and writing can be blamed on Mr. Baldwin.
Why did you choose the medium of fiction (vs. poetry, creative nonfiction, etc.)?
I can answer half of this question: poetry is far too difficult for me. Spending all that time searching for that one “right” word would be my undoing. With fiction I can allot myself more flexibility, more room, to weave a tale. Speaking of brevity, writing stories for bazaar for the last nine years, has, I think, made me a better writer in the sense that I have only about one thousand words to work with, to tell a story; and, of course the catch here is to be able to do so within that word limitation. Sometimes, the story does not work; one thousand words is not big enough. When this happens, I either shelf the story for another time, or rework, revise, remold the telling so it does “fit.” This is the challenge: telling a valid, four-minute story.
What are some of the challenges of the writer’s life?
The biggest challenge is training myself to sit down and write daily. You (anyone who pretends to want to write) cannot wait for the muse to hit you. It is a job. Plus, you must come to the understanding that not every day, and in fact very few days, will the words come rolling out, smooth and golden, everything falling into place. For me, writing is a daily chore that comes in chunks; it is a chore that demands constant revision and process, and even then I am never completely satisfied, I simply run out of time. That is why once I publish a story I do not want to see or read it again, because if I do I always see that wrong word, that image that now sounds awkward, a character who would never say that.
What writers have influenced you and/or your work?
It is almost impossible to answer this question. Over the years a good many writers have influenced me. For example, to some degree, I have been mesmerized by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, and his obsession with terse, concise sentences, as well as what has become known as his “ice-berg theory” on writing; and of course I need to include Mark Twain, and his mastery of characterization.
Tell us about your new book specifically?
My latest book, The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Kuwait, Syracuse University Press, comes from my nine years of living in this country. I see The Salmiya Collection as a bundle of mini-stories–call them snapshots–of, as the title implies, the ebb and flow of life in the State of Kuwait. Of course many characters and situations are involved in my Salmiya life-tide, and to that end, I have attempted to give readers bits and pieces of humanity at work in the gulf region.
How has writing/living/teaching in Kuwait changed your writing?
Any writer must be an astute observer. Writers must constantly have their story-telling antennae out: collecting this dialogue, recording that laughter, feeling that texture, remembering that color, etc. The many coffee shops in Kuwait offer a wonderful vantage point for watching the swell of humanity stroll by.
What do you hope readers will gain from these stories?
Although people can celebrate their individual countries, cultures, and heritages, the human condition does not change. Of course it goes without saying that, in many ways, an Arab can be culturally different from, say, a North American, but at the emotional and psychological core, we are made of the same stuff. We sometimes forget this because these days our world has a tendency to stress the differences, and more times than not, those differences are perceived as less than positive. The Salmiya Collection embraces this different-but-same notion.
The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Kuwait is available through Syracuse University Press at: