Get Familiar: Karin Amatmoekrim

Get Familiar: Karin Amatmoekrim
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As a small, independent brand, almost all our business is based on personal relationships. Author Karin Amatmoekrim released a book about the life of Anton De Kom in 2013, and this book is set to being re-released so we caught with her to discuss the landscapes that she navigates. We also dive into her peers, interests and areas where she find inspiration.

What is your personal connection to Surinam?
I was born in Surinam. My mother, brother and me moved to The Netherlands in the early eighties. My dad and the majority of my family still live in and around Paramaribo, so I’m still tightly connected to my birth country. I try to visit my fam every year.
How did De Kom enter your life?
The way he entered the lives of most Surinamese people, I guess. As one of our most important historical figures that you are told about for as long as you can remember. Someone that was held up to us as an example of how great we can be as a people.
What made you want to write a novel about him?
I wrote a review of this excellent biography on De Kom, by Alice Boots and Rob Woortman, and noticed that they only scarcely mentioned his time in a psychiatric institution where he was committed due to extreme stress. It made me wonder: what did it take for this strong, black man to crumble? How did he manage to pick himself up again after that? Learning that he was fallible made me realize, maybe even for the first time, that he too was human. And it made me respect him even more. I wanted to write a novel on his life, starting from the point that he was institutionalized because it also gave me the chance to get deeper into his skin.
 
You released this book back in 2013, now that we are in a new social context after the Me Too movement and the Black Lives Matter movement, how does this story of emancipation reveal things about ourselves in a contemporary context?
These are a whole lotta questions rolled into one, haha. Let me see if I can break it down. First, when I released the book in 2013, the majority of people had never heard of De Kom. Now, 8 years later, his name resonates so much louder, especially with hem being officially added to the national canon in 2020. I am beyond excited for the book the be re-released this year. I hope to reach a new audience that is more sensitive to the idea that Anton de Kom embodies the historical fight against social and racial inequality. Also, I think that his life might inspire new generations to resist against inequality on all levels, being sexual, gender, race or whatever. The fact that De Kom, as a black man, was committed to call for justice in Indonesia and for justice for the Indian and Javanese workers in Surinam, is a reminder to us all that we should stand with our brothers and sisters when we see them struggle in a society that was not built for them.

 

Your thesis was about "The ethnicity in Literature in Suriname", how does race and culture play a role in written media?

In my masters thesis I researched the connection between literary themes and ethnicity (i.e. creole, JavaneseNative American and Hindustani descent). It was interesting to see how social class was tightly linked to ethnic group and as a result to the themes Surinamese writers would make central in their work. For my phd-research that I’m working on right now, I try to see what role is given to the black or postcolonial intellectual in contemporary Dutch society. The questions I try to answer are who is allowed to say what, and how inconvenient opinions are being interpreted when coming from a non-white writer or journalist.

How is the experience of being a Black Woman within literature? You are breaking down doors for future generations of writers with your background but what are some hurdles you had to jump over to be taken seriously within your industry?

First of all, I donconsider myself to be black. I may have some African blood, but overall I look mostly asian. Not to downplay the hurdles that Ive personally encountered as a migrant and woman of color in this industry, but I think black female writers experience push back on so many more levels than I do. In any case - when I started as a writer in 2004 the industry was even more mono culturally white. I sometimes felt lost and yes, I had to make an effort to be taken seriously. It did not help that I was relatively young and female. I have been taken for my publishers assistent or for a girl from marketing or whatever on so many occasions. It made me realize that it actually did not matter how I’d act or what I’d wear - if ‘they’ wanted, they could always see me as no more than a brown girl. So soon enough I decided to make place for myself by setting a new standard, tailor made to fit me.  I’ve heard that some find me bold in doing so, but I’m absolutely honest when I say that I don’t know why I would be falsely modest about my work. I’ve seen too many mediocre white men succeed with not even half of the talent to ‘know my place’.

Photography by Jeroen Hofman

Who are your contemporaries that you admire or other Black Female writers to discover?

I love the way Astrid Roemer plays with language, all the while juggling the most delicate of themes like political trauma, or gay love within the black community. I can only aspire to one day get awarded the highest literary awards, like Astrid Roemer did. Among younger writers that are emerging right now, Im interested to see where Lisette ma Neza will go. She is very young and very talented. At the moment shes working on a play about Silent Histories, based on the book that Ill be publishing next year with De Correspondent and Topnotch.

What changes have you observed in your own field that relate to the ideas of emancipation?

What I love is that theres no longer just one or two of us out there. Theres this whole new generation of writers that are committed to addressing racial inequality in the west. I think our ability to support one another makes our environment a little less toxic.

We are starting to see more racial and social minorities in places of power within creative media, fashion, music and politics. How would Anton feel about these wins for marginalized groups?

I think its been a part of his dreams for the marginalized voice to be heard in places of power. I hope it will comfort his soul to know that his struggles were not in vein, and that his name will continue to inspire young generations.

Do you believe that emancipation is a continuum, in the sense that every new freedom is a result of freedoms we fought for before?

I have to believe it is. Theres just too much injustice in the world, and the mighty truly are very powerful. It can be hard to stay hopeful when you realize that so many before us have lost the battle, even lost their lives because of the battle. So I have to believe that emancipation, as you say, is a continuum.

What struggles do you believe we should be fighting for now?

Im very concerned about climate change. I mean, we can - and should - fight all the fights against inequality. But it’ll be in vein when in a couple of years our children are forced to live on a ruined, worn out planet. 

Thank you so much for your time, what do you think we can expect from you in the future? 

You are very welcome! I consider Patta to be family, so it’s been an absolute joy to talk with you guys. As for my plans: I’m finishing two books this year and will start writing on a third project (the history of Surinam). Also, a small collection of short stories will be published later this summer. In the meanwhile I passionately miss writing fiction. So I might pick that up somewhere in between projects.
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