An Interview with Hugo Award Recipient Amal El-Mohtar

Carleton PhD student Amal El-Mohtar recently received a Hugo Award for her short story Seasons of Glass and Iron. Carleton Journalism student Liam McPherson talked to the author about what inspires her, why she loves to write and how she felt upon receiving the prestigious award.

 What inspired you to write Seasons of Glass and Iron?

A few years ago, my seven-year-old niece asked me to tell her a fairy tale to while away a long car ride. I wanted to, but found myself hesitating over which to tell her, because the only ones coming to mind featured women being rescued by men or tormented by other women. So I decided to make one up, and told her about a woman trapped in iron shoes climbing up to a woman trapped on a glass hill before they ran off together to have adventures.

About a year after that, Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe invited me to contribute to the original fairy tale collection they were putting together (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales which recently won the Shirley Jackson Award for best anthology), so I decided to develop the story I’d told my niece into something for the page.

Why do you create, in general? 

Honestly, the idea of not creating makes me too sad. Even beyond the truth-telling impulse, I write because not writing is anathema.

What was your reaction when you found out you won the Hugo Award for Seasons of Glass and Iron? 

Stunned, overwhelmed gratitude and joy. I was in attendance at the ceremony in Helsinki, surrounded by dear friends clutching my hands and gripping my shoulders as they read through the nominees. This was my first Hugo nomination, and to be honoured in such a powerfully strong category among women I admire so fiercely is just incredible.

Are you still studying at Carleton? What are you studying? 

I am! I’m in the dissertation phase of a PhD in English Literature, focusing on representations of fairies in Romantic-era British literature, with a view to how those representations intersect with constructions of national British identities.

How have your experiences been at Carleton in terms of your growth as a writer?

Pretty great; the English Department’s a wonderful place full of talented and enthusiastic people, several of whom are writers, and my amazing supervisor Julie Murray has been tremendously supportive of my career’s development even where it veers somewhat away from academia. I’ve also enjoyed running a poetry workshop at Carleton, and always feel students teach me a great deal.

Will you be writing anything new soon?

Oh, always. Max Gladstone and I recently finished co-writing an epistolary spy versus spy time-war novella. I’m always writing short fiction, poetry and reviews, and am very slowly picking my way through a novel.

You can check out El-Mohtar’s website here.