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The Dream life of
Wins Two International Awards: IndieFEST and ImpactDocs
And An Eric Hoffer Award Winning Author of 14 Books
“Despite the large population of Arab Americans (roughly 3.5 million), our stories are underrepresented, marginalized, and stereotypical. This is partly due to the Arab/Chaldean-American community not providing a strong enough vehicle to develop and encourage the arts, which results in the perpetuation of the patriarchal stereotype.”
By dan peters
May 15, 2021
Born in Baghdad to an ancient lineage called the Chaldeans, Weam Namou is the Executive Director of the Chaldean Cultural Center, which houses the first and only Chaldean Museum in the world. She’s an Eric Hoffer award-winning author of 14 books, an international award-winning filmmaker, journalist, poet, and an Ambassador for the Authors Guild of America [Detroit Chapter], the nation’s oldest and largest writing organization. She hosts a half-hour weekly TV show, and she’s the founder of The Path of Consciousness, a spiritual and writing community, and Unique Voices in Films, a nonprofit organization.
What’s the last great book you read?
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master
This is the diary of Irina Tweedie, the first ever western (British) woman to be trained in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Sufi Order lineage. It spans five years, and reveals her spiritual transformation in India. When she returned to England, she started a small Sufi mediation group in North Lond and later named Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee as her successor to continue her work after she retired in 1992.
Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
You’re organizing a party. Which two authors, dead or alive, do you invite?
1. Enheduanna, the first recorded writer in history (2285-2250 BCE). The daughter of Sargon the Great, she was a princess, priestess, and poet in ancient Mesopotamia, and has been called the Shakespeare of Sumerian literature. She was the first to sign her name to her poetry, something never done before. Therefore, she made her permanent mark on history by composing, in her own name, a series of more than 40 extraordinary liturgical works which were copied for nearly 2,000 years.
2. Maria Theresa Asmar – Born in 1804, Maria was a Chaldean Catholic from Tel Keppe in northern Iraq, the village where my parents and grandparents were born. Unfortunately, the village was destroyed in 2014 when ISIS invaded the area. Maria traveled to the Middle East and Europe on her own, and wrote Memoirs of a Babylonian Princess, which consists of two volumes and 720 pages. She met with Queen Victoria in England, who sponsored her book, and even dedicated her book to the Queen.
Who are your favorite writers? Are there any who aren’t as widely known as they should be, whom you’d recommend in particular?
Lynn V. Author, bestselling author of the Medicine Woman series which consists of over 20 books. Lynn also teaches mysticism, through classes and her books. I studied with Lynn for four years, and for a number of years, I’ve been a mentor for her apprentices.
What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
When I’m working on a book, I mostly read material that serves as research. I also read books that resemble the genre I’m working on. For instance, if I’m writing a memoir, I read memoir to get a sense of how an author used his or her voice to tell their story.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
The things that move me in a work of literature are honestly, simplicity, humor, and the ability to use language colorfully to bring characters, settings, and dialogue to life. When an author’s voice is pure and genuine, they don’t need to rely on a plot to get you from one page to the next. The quality and heart of their words does that in itself.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading?
For a very long time now, I’ve really enjoyed reading nonfiction books, especially memoirs and biographies. Real people intrigue me, and I find that reading about the life of others is both entertaining as well as a great way to learn something, feel motivated, and get a new perspective.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine?
Scarlett O’Hara. The first book I ever read was Gone with the Wind, in Arabic! I was nine years old and living in Amman, Jordan, with my family as we awaited a visa to come to the United States. As non-residents, my younger brother and I weren’t allowed to go to school in Jordan. I loved books and this one was lying around, so I gobbled it up. I loved Scarlett and her tribe, and despite our differences, I was able to connect to her. My family saw how carried I was by this book, so they took me to the movies for the very first time in my life to watch Gone with the Wind, with Arabic subtitles.
Imagine a nine-year-old girl from Baghdad, Iraq being able to relate to a Southern teenage girl from Georgia. The two were worlds apart, but Mitchell’s storytelling transcended our differences through the common human traits we all have of love, fear, family, and desire. That’s how I would describe my work. It’s good storytelling that takes readers along a journey they might have never gone on before but which they can as human beings relate and connect to.
That story was my pre-introduction to America, so needless to say, there was quite a culture shock when I arrived to the United States and found no sign of horse carriages, of women wearing fancy puffy dresses, families having extravagant barbecues followed by extravagant drawn-out naps. George in 1860s was not Michigan in the 1980s!
What books and authors have impacted your writing career?
The classics impacted my writing career, such as Henry James’ Washington Square, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, of course Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and many others. Classic authors had an excellence in the craft of storytelling. They didn’t rely on impressing the reader with off-beat techniques, political drama, sexuality, violence, and other topics that are often thrown in just to grab one’s attention.
My first New York agent, Frances Kuffel, said that my work had the style of Jane Austen. An Iraqi critic mentioned the same in a review of my first book, The Feminine Art. Like Austen, my books are about typical people in everyday life.
What kind of reader were you as a child?
In Baghdad, Iraq, we basically read whatever the school required of us to read. As early as first grade, schools started students with mostly text books.
Tell us about yourself and your company, What kind of Corporation is your business?
I was born in Baghdad to an indigenous people called the Chaldeans, Neo-Babylonians who still speak Aramaic. My family fled Saddam’s regime and we immigrated to the United States in February 1981, when I was ten years old. My parents, my father in particular, encouraged me to acclimate to my new country, and that gave me a strong foundation to pursue the American dream.
After I graduated from Wayne State University with a Bachelor’s in Speech Communication, I started traveling the world while keeping journals and attempting to write my first book. I studied novel, nonfiction, and memoir writing through various years-long correspondences courses (this was before the internet). I studied poetry in Prague through the University of New Orleans Prague Summer Program, filmmaking at MPI (Motion Picture Institute of Michigan) and learned the sacred art of living through the most powerful spiritual teachers, including a man from India named Narendra, a Native American man and his partner (Chip and Susan), and most recently from bestselling author and mystic, Lynn V. Andrews.
Unable to find stories of my people and culture anywhere, I took refuge in western literature and films until I took up pen and paper and started to write about my Iraqi American experiences. To find my own voice and write authentic stories of my heritage, I had to find my own opportunities so as not to cave into the pressures of the publishing and film industry which wanted me to write stories that fit into their definition of diversity. As a woman of Middle Eastern background, this was especially important for me. It meant writing what I knew, in a fascinating way, without having to rely on wars, violence, the abuse and oppression of women, and other stereotypical dramas associated with the people and culture of the Middle East. It meant that my children and the younger generation, in general, will have the chance to view a version of themselves that’s relatable and inspirational rather than pigeonholed.
Over the decades, I was still unable to find stories of my people anywhere, so I tried to fill that void. I founded Hermiz Publishing, Inc. in 2004 and not long after graduating from MPI, a one-year full-time film school, I founded my production company, Namou Productions, Inc. In 2018, I founded Unique Voices in Films, a 501 (C)(3) nonprofit organization.
What is unique about your business?
Despite the large population of Arab Americans (roughly 3.5 million), our stories are underrepresented, marginalized, and stereotypical. This is partly due to the Arab/Chaldean-American community not providing a strong enough vehicle to develop and encourage the arts, which results in the perpetuation of the patriarchal stereotype.
Another reason why our voices are not heard is that the same institutions that claim they want “diverse and unique voices” have their own version of diversity and uniqueness.
My businesses break barriers, providing authentic stories of my people and culture that you cannot find in other books, films, or in television. Today most stories about Iraq, or the Arab World in general, have to do with violence, war, and politics. The beautiful, loving, and witty side of the people and culture of that region is rarely brought forth. I feel that it’s my responsibility to share such stories given that I live in Michigan, which has the largest population of Iraqi born residents and the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States.
How and why did you get started in this line of work?
Being a storyteller is my calling. Focusing on Iraqi American stories is my passion, inspiration and my expertise. The older I become, the more I understand the importance of documenting through literature and film these stories, especially that of the Chaldeans, an ancient group in danger of facing extinction.
Chaldeans trace their roots to Ur, land of the Chaldees in southern Mesopotamia. They contributed a great deal to the building of the cradle of civilization, where writing, the wheel, city-states, and many “firsts” were invented. Unfortunately, due to centuries of wars, persecution, oppression, and violence – most recently the spread of ISIS forces – the community is now in diaspora and its cultural identity endangered. So my commitment to this line of work keeps growing.
How do you deal with the stress of Covid-19? What was the worst part of business since the covid-19 started? How covid-19 affected the way of doing business?
Since October 2019, I’ve been the executive director of the Chaldean Cultural Center, which houses the world’s first and only Chaldean museum. Before COVID, I worked at the office in the daytime four days a week. I came home shortly after my two children were home from school, set up dinner which I often prepared before leaving the house, and we usually ate together once my husband was home. After the kitchen was cleared, in the late evening, I worked on my writing and film projects. I also saved my weekends for personal work and family time.
Since March 2020, it was difficult to have a routine or sane schedule. My work hours increased, and there were no boundaries between weekdays and weekends, daytime and nighttime. My children were learning from home and requiring additional attention. It was a challenge convincing them this wasn’t vacation time! And it was nearly impossible to unplug from the phone, computer, Zoom meetings, etc.
But I did notice that I was able to accomplish a lot more. It was just a matter of adjusting to the new routine. It was overwhelming, however, trying to make these new decisions on a daily basis, and not knowing what to expect with the world’s health situation. The emotional aspect to all this is really another story, one that I’m undergoing especially right now. Recently I was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia and admitted to the hospital. It was surprising to me and the doctors, given I have no health issues whatsoever and am on no medications. My only visits to the doctor are for a routine yearly checkup. Thank God, all turned out okay, but the experience was scary and the pandemic has caused me to once again pause and think about the future.
What was the best part of your work?
Being able to do what I love while taking care of my home and family.
How do you advertise your business?
I have a publicist, and I a strong team who helps me strategize different ways to reach my goals and audience.
To what do you attribute your success?
Working hard, persistence, belief in myself, and faith in God.
What’s your company’s goals?
To continue producing quality work on a consistent basis.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself doing the same type of work, but reaching a much larger audience, and being in a position to help many more people to reach their dreams.
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Believe in yourself long enough to see the project through to the end. Be patient. Don’t use your gender, marital status, parenthood, money, or any other factor as an excuse for not honoring your dreams and aspirations. Don’t be afraid to work hard. Be creative as well as practical so that you don’t rely on connections, philosophy, dreams, and luck to get you where you want to go. Your faith, work, and persistence will communicate to the universe your needs, and somehow, somewhere, the things you want the most will happen.
Vist weamnamou.com to learn more about Weam Namou and and her works.