The Big Apple has been kind to Afdhel Aziz. Having moved to New York a year ago, he says his favourite thing about the city is the food. “Everyone here is a foodie, from the businessmen to the cab drivers. I once had a great conversation with a Senegalese cabdriver on the best way to cook a tilapia fish.”
The city is also home to the iconic Radio City Music Hall, where Afdhel had a chance to indulge his other great passion when he watched the inimitable Aretha Franklin in concert.
Among other things, Afdhel celebrated his great love of jazz music in his first publication, a collection of nearly 100 poems titled ‘China Bay Blues’. Of late however, poetry has been vanquished by prose and Afdhel now has plans for not one but two books. The first is a collection of stories that Afdhel actually wrote in his teens, beginning from the time he was 14 and first saw his work in print. They are now lying around, waiting to be turned into a collection of short stories for young adults called ‘Channel Zero’. A novel, ‘Strange Fruit,’ should be out early next year.
Once a journalist covering the arts beat, Afdhel’s current job combines his love for pop culture and the arts with a decided talent for brand management and marketing. As a Senior Marketing Manager on the Global Sponsorships and Partnerships Team at Nokia, he’s currently working on a nine-city hip hop tour featuring Ludacris, N.E.R.D, T-Pain and next year will only bring more projects and music festivals.
Afdhel finds great joy in travelling. South America and Brazil in particular, hold a special charm for him. “I love the vibe there. If I wasn’t born Sri Lankan, I would have loved to have been born Brazilian,” he says.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading the ‘Best American Travel Writing’ series, which brings together all the best travel writing from the last year - everything from getting healed by shamans in Columbia to eating sheep’s brain in Mongolia.
Are you enjoying it?
Very much. Especially the bit about the sheep’s brain.
Where do you like to read?
As a kid, I used to read everywhere – in the backs of cars, even while walking down the street (not the safest of things!). Now I read when I’m travelling – give me a long plane ride and a good book and I’m happy.
Do you have a favourite collection of poetry? How do you think a fine poem is best savoured? Should it be read aloud? Read twice over?
I think Pablo Neruda’s Collected Works is probably my favourite. He is such a beautiful, sensuous lyrical writer.
I think a fine poem is best savoured when it is read aloud by you to someone else – or when someone else reads it aloud to you. Preferably at night, on a jetty, by the sea.
What is the one book you think everyone should read before they die?
‘The Art of Happiness’ by the Dalai Lama was a book that I picked up in the Colombo Airport and it had a profound impact on me. It was just after the tsunami, which was pretty profound in itself. I read the book, went back to London, quit my job and went travelling for six months. It reminds us of the difference between pleasure and happiness.
We’re sometimes lucky enough to find a book that we can read several times over the course of several years, cases where familiarity breeds not contempt but admiration.
Is there such a book for you?
I often find books which I like so much that I buy them as gifts for all my friends. Jhumpa Lahiri’s book of short stories ‘ The Interpreter of Maladies’ about the intricacies of the Asian-American experience– or Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ which is a beautifully unusual love story.
One book which I have returned to time and again is ‘Story’ by Robert McKee. He’s a Hollywood screenwriter and his book examines story, plot, narrative - it’s a must for any aspiring writer who is struggling with the theory of how to structure a book.
If you had to pick a particular genre, never to stray from it for the rest of your years, which would it be and why?
I don’t think I have a particular genre that I like, though recently I’ve found myself reading a lot of non-fiction over fiction. Travel writing, food writing, biographies…actual fiction with storylines and characters, less and less.
You started writing very young, and never seemed to lack for inspiration. Who were the writers who influenced your work then?
I was heavily influenced by science fiction writers- Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, the fantastic short stories of Ray Bradbury. And Stephen King of course – in his heyday, no-one could creep you out better. I used to write these very macabre short stories where everyone died at the end. My mother was concerned about me.