Shirin Ramzanali Fazel is a novelist and poet. She was born in Mogadishu to a Somali mother and Pakistani father in 1953, when Somalia was still under Italian administration (AFIS – Amministrazione fiduciaria italiana della Somalia – a Trust Territory) as declared by the United Nations after the end of World War II. In this context, Fazel attended schools run by the Italian Ministry of Education (middle and high school), studying aspects of Italian culture and history, as she emphasised in her first book Lontano da Mogadiscio (1994; Far from Mogadishu, 2016).
Fazel and her husband moved to Novara, Italy, in 1971. Here are her first impressions of Italy: ‘My arrival in Italy was a disaster. It was late autumn. I had never seen fog before. I only knew the clear blue sky of Mogadishu. The oppressive, leaden Novara, lost in the paddy field was for me an unknown Italy, far from the idea I had in my mind.’ (Far from Mogadishu, 2016, 26). Nonetheless, Italy became their base in the following years when the family went on to live in several different countries such as Zambia, the United States, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.
Her first book entitled Lontano da Mogadiscio [Far from Mogadishu, 2016] was published in 1994 by Datanews.The autobiographical account traces Fazel’s life across different countries, combining personal memories and anecdotes, socio-historical reflections, and poetry. As one of the first postcolonial texts in Italian, Lontanoda Mogadiscio sheds light not only on Italy’s colonial past, but also on the life of migrants in Italy. Simone Brioni pointed out in the afterword to the English version: ‘Far from Mogadishu played a fundamental role in decolonizing the Italian imaginary, and in finally coming to terms with a history which research begun in the seventies showed to be full of atrocious crimes. […] Shirin’s text is the testimony of a black person’s life story in Northern Italy […] in a period which precedes more widespread African immigration to these areas’. (Far from Mogadishu, 151). The relevance of Fazel’s first book is also proven by the fact that it was reprinted twice by Datanews (1997-1999), in an extended bilingual (Italian and English) digital version by Laurana Reloaded (2013), and in an English paper version in 2016. In both formats, the text was translated or, better, re-written, by the author herself. Lontano da Mogadiscio is mentioned in Nuruddin Farah’s novel Links (2003), the story of a Somali man who returns to Mogadishu after an absence of twenty years.
Since the publication of Lontano da Mogadiscio, Fazel has written several short stories, many of which have appeared in the online magazine El-Ghibli. Rivista online di letteratura della migrazione. In 2010, the year in which she and her family moved to Birmingham, UK, Fazel published her second novel, Nuvole sull’equatore. Gli italiani dimenticati. Una storia. The novel tells the story of Giulia, a girl with a Somali mother and an Italian father, focusing on issues of race, meticciato, and identity in the aftermath of Italian colonialism. An extended version in English, translated by Fazel, was published in 2017 entitled Clouds over the Equator. The Forgotten Italians. In Birmingham, Fazel joined the group Writers without Borders and started writing in English. She also sat on the advisory board of the project Transationalizing Modern Languages funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, collaborating with different universities and participating in community events.
Fazel’s first book in English appeared in 2017, a collection of poems entitled Wings. The poems in Wings are divided into three thematic areas: ‘Diaspora’, with a particular focus on Mogadishu; ‘Caught in the middle’, with writings that interrogate the idea of home by evoking memories of life and people in her country of origin, as well as experiences in the current location; and ‘Migrants’, with poetic reflections on the migrant condition. In a reverse process to her previous works, Wings was translated into Italian by Fazel and was published as Ali spezzate [2018, Broken Wings], maintaining the structure of the original English version.
Fazel has taken part in the documentary Memories of Mogadishu (2018) directed by Somali-Canadian journalist and documentarist Asha Siad. This short documentary collates the stories and personal memories of members of the Somali diaspora around the world, providing a personal and fascinating reconstruction of Somalia and its capital city Mogadishu.
In 2018, the French translation of Fazel’s poem Mare Nostrum, initially released on the webpage of the migrant-led organisation Migrant Voice in 2016, inspired a composition for flute by French composer Elizabeth Bossero entitled Silentium Nostrum (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnwxrLchsqc).
Her most recent work, Scrivere di Islam. Raccontare la diaspora [Writing about Islam. Narrating the diaspora] written in collaboration with Simone Brioni, came out digitally in 2020. This volume critically questions what it means to be Muslim (and more specifically a Muslim woman) in Italy and in the UK, combining personal experiences with sociological reflections. Her latest collection of poetry, I Suckled Sweetness – Poems, came out in August 2020.
Among the first voices of so-called ‘migration literature’ in Italy, Shirin Ramzanali Fazel writes in different languages and across different genres, gracefully narrating the benefits and challenges of our transnational reality.
Compiled by Chiara Giuliani (Cork)
Lontano da Mogadiscio (Rome: Datanews, 1994; reprinted 1997;1999)
Nuvole sull’equatore. Gli italiani dimenticati. Una storia (Cuneo: Nerosubianco, 2010)
Lontano da Mogadiscio/Far FromMogadishu [e-book] (Milan: Laurana Reloaded, 2013)
Far from Mogadishu [5th Edition] (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016)
Clouds over the Equator: The Forgotten Italians (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017)
Benchouiha, Lucie: ‘Dove è la mia casa: Questions of Home in Shirin Ramzanali Fazel’s Lontano da Mogadiscio’ (Quaderni del ’900, 4, 2004, pp. 35-46)
—: ‘“Il colore della mia pelle”: Renegotiating Identity in Shirin Ramzanali Fazel’s Lontano da Mogadiscio’ (Forum Italicum, 39, 2005, pp. 119-136)
–: ‘Hybrid Identities? Immigrant Women’s Writing in Italy’ (Italian Studies, 61, 2, 2006, pp. 251-262)
—: ‘Woman, Black, Other: Definitions of Identity in Immigrant Women’s Writing in Italy’ in Women’s Writing in Western Europe: Gender, Generation and Legacy eds. Adalgisa Giorgio and Julia Waters (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007, pp. 417-430)
Brioni, Simone: The Somali Within: Language, Race and Belonging in ‘Minor’ Italian Literature (Cambridge: Legenda, 2015)
—: ‘“Un dialogo che non conosce confine né di nazionalità, né di razza, né di cultura”: temi, impatto e ricezione critica di Lontano da Mogadiscio’ in Lontano Da Mogadiscio/Far from Mogadishu [ebook ] (Milan: Laurana Reloaded, 2013, pp. 171-199) available online at https://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/5708/
—: ‘A Dialogue that Knows No Border Between Nationality, Race or Culture’. Afterword to Shirin Ramzanali Fazel, Far from Mogadishu [5th Edition] (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016, pp. 149-164).
Burns, Jennifer: ‘Mapping Transnational Subjecthood: Space, Affects and Relationality in Recent Transnational Italian Fictions’ (California Italian Studies, 8, 2, 2018, pp. 1-17)
—: Migrant Imaginaries. Figures in Italian Migration Literature (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013)
Curti, Lidia: ‘Voices of a Minor Empire: Migrant Women Writers in Contemporary Italy’ in The Cultures of Italian Migration eds. Graziella Parati and Anthony Julian Tamburri (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011, pp. 45-58)
Di Carmine, Roberta: ‘Italophone Writing and the Intellectual Space of Creativity: Shirin Ramzanali Fazel and Lontano da Mogadiscio’ (Quaderni del 900, 4, 2004, pp. 25-34)
Hopkins, Rebecca: ‘Transnational Global Culture in La spiaggia by Shirin Ramzanali Fazel’ (Scritture Migranti. Rivista di Scambi Interculturali, 1, 2007, pp. 15-23)
Parati, Graziella: Migration Italy: The Art of Talking Back in a Destination Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005)
Polezzi, Loredana: ‘Mixing Mother Tongues: Language, Narrative and the Spaces of Memory in Postcolonial Works by Italian Women Writers (Part 2)’ (Romance Studies, 24, 3, 2006, pp. 215-225)
Romeo, Caterina: ‘Italian Postcolonial Literature’ (California Italian Studies, 7, 2, 2017, pp. 1-43)
Welch, Rhiannon Noel: ‘Intimate Truth and (Post)Colonial Knowledge in Shirin Ramzanali Fazel’s Lontano da Mogadiscio’ in National Belongings: Hybridity in Italian Colonial and Postcolonial Cultures eds. Jacqueline Andall and Derek Duncan (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010, pp. 215-234)
Interviews/in the Media
Brioni, Simone: ‘Orientalism and Former Italian Colonies: An Interview with Shirin Ramzanali Fazel’ in Orientalismi italiani ed. Gabriele Proglio (Piobesi d’Alba: Antares Edizioni, 2012, pp. 215-225)
Parati, Graziella: ‘Intervista di Graziella Parati a Shirin Ramzanali Fazel’ (Studi d’Italianistica nell’Africa Australe/Italian Studies in Southern Africa, 8, 2, 1995, pp. 108-114)
Pesarini, Angelica: ‘Dinamiche neocoloniali di genere, “razza” e migrazione. L’universo femminile di Shirin Ramzanali Fazel in Nuvole sull’Equatore’ in Donne e Sud. Percorsi nella letteratura italiana contemporanea eds. Ramona Onnis and Manuela Spinelli (Florence: Franco Cesati Editore, 2018, pp. 127-136)
Scego, Igiaba: ‘Shirin Ramzanali F. Scrittrice Nomade’ (Internazionale 732, 22, February 2008, p. 60)
Venturini, Monica: ‘Incontro con Shirin Ramzanali Fazel: tra Italia e Somalia’ in Controcànone. Per una cartografia della scrittura coloniale e postcoloniale italiana (Rome: Aracne, 2010, pp. 137-146) available at http://www.aracneeditrice.it/pdf/9788854836952.pdf