I sat down for a cup of coffee with Toronto native and children’s book author, Nadia Hohn, to discuss her gift of storytelling and the art behind creative writing.
Dorian: Tell me a little bit more about your background. Where were you born?
Nadia: I was born in Toronto, Ontario in Canada to Jamaican immigrant parents.
Dorian: How did being raised there impact you?
Nadia: Being raised there means I was surrounded by so much diversity in people, food, viewpoints, etc… This diversity comes out in my writing. I couldn’t wait to write and illustrate my own stories.
Dorian: You started writing stories, making books, and even illustrating at five years old! What made you get started?
Nadia: I think the realization that I could make books with what materials I had around me made me start writing stories. I also loved to draw pictures that tell stories and also learn about different countries and people.
Dorian: That’s so cool that you were intrigued about different backgrounds at such a young age. What was the title of your first book? What was it about?
Nadia: I had a poem published in an anthology book called, “T-DOT GRIOTS: A Tribute to Toronto’s Black Storytellers” in 2005. My first two, self-authored books were “Music” and “Media” which are in the Sankofa Black Heritage series published in 2015.
Dorian. Nice! You’re a poet too. Tell us more about your most recent book, Malaika’s Costume.
Nadia: It’s the first Carnival time in the Caribbean since Mummy has gone to Canada to work and send money home to support Malaika and her grandmother. When the money for her costume doesn’t arrive, Malaika has to decide what to do. Will she able to dance in the Carnival?
Dorian: I’m sure Malaika was stressed about that because the costume is everything! Mummy should’ve used EmPost! The illustrations in the book are amazing. How did you connect with the illustrator, Irene Luxbacher.
Nadia: I originally wished to illustrate Malaika’s Costume but my publisher wanted to go with someone with a longer track record. My publisher asked me if I knew anyone. When Irene was suggested by my publisher, we both agreed as she had the track record and she gave the look I was hoping for. I really wanted mixed media and a kid-like look.
Dorian: You’re also a song writer. What is your favorite genre of music?
Nadia: By far, reggae is my favourite. Reggae has global appeal and I hear it so often on Abu Dhabi radio. There are several subgenres of Reggae.
Dorian: I love Reggae! There’s something so spiritual about it. Are there any parallels between writing narratives and writing songs with regards to the writing process?
Nadia: Definitely. In music, I think of rhythms, themes, choruses, bringing out the melody, imagery, and also telling a story. This can all be applied to the writing process as well. If there was a soundtrack for Malaika’s Costume, it would be Soca and Calypso music.
Dorian: You like to write about Caribbean folk music. Why is this important to you?
Nadia: It’s a way of conveying the Caribbean, in my case, Jamaican history, language, and culture. It connects with me at a deep level.
Dorian: You currently are on leave from Toronto and are teaching music in Abu Dhabi. What do you teach?
Nadia: I taught early years music at a private school. Within Early Years music, I give students an introduction to music, genres, instruments, listening to music and , and learning theory through song games while following a curriculum.
Dorian: How do you fancy your life in the UAE?
Nadia: I find there are aspects of UAE, such as the diversity, which remind me a lot of Toronto. There are definite challenges as this is my first time living overseas and there is so much to learn. Socially, it has been quite a lot of fun. There are such a variety of festive, social events. I also find that so many people have “side hustles” as well.
Dorian: You recently attended the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai? What was your experience like?
Nadia: Yes, I was a presenter of a workshop called “Caribbean Playground”. I had a wonderful experience. The Emirates Airline festival of Literature (EAFOL) did a lot to engage its authors in the UAE literary and cultural scene through evening events.
I also loved the group of children who participated in the workshop. They were engaged and had amazing questions. The workshop consisted of story readings, circle games, a rhyme, a song, slideshow about the history of Caribbean Carnival, and soca dancing.
Dorian: How have you found the literature scene in the UAE?
Nadia: Wonderful. There is quite a lot of activity going on in Dubai. I have not had a chance to attend as much since there is quite a distance between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Dorian: How can we connect with you on Social Media? Where can people go to purchase and and/or learn more about your book?
Dorian: *Points at bill… Great! This bill allows us to learn more about the costs associated with the lovely coffee we just had. Are you taking care of this? Or…
Nadia: *Stares at Dorian blankly*