An interview with Youssef Alaoui Fdili from The Write Stuff series:
Youssef Alaoui Fdili is an Arab Latino, born in California. His mother is Colombiana. His father was Moroccan. The Alaoui-Fdilis are originally from Fez. His brothers and aunts and uncles and cousins are today mostly in Casablanca and Rabat. His family and heritage are an endless source of inspiration for his varied, dark, spiritual and carnal writings. He has an MFA in Poetics from New College of California. There, he studied Classical Arabic, Spanish Baroque and Contemporary Moroccan poetry. He is also well versed in the most dour and macabre literature of the 19th Century. His poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, 580 Split, Chestnut Review, Oyster River Pages, Red Fez, Big Bridge, Dusie Press, Paris Lit Up, The Opiate, and nominated for a Pushcart at Full of Crow. Youssef is an original creator of the East Bay literary arts festival “Beast Crawl.” In 2012 he created Paper Press Books & Associates Publishing Company. This press offers several important books of poetry and one poetry and art compendium.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
I tell them I am a writer. But I am wary. People who ask “what do you do” are sometimes trouble. That question can mark the tip of an iceberg. Judgment. Classism. Materialism.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
My effort to find new audiences…
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Find your own thing to do. I fell into (poetry &) dense creative writing because I can’t help it; words and phrases appear in my head and I am compelled to make art out of them. No one can do what I do in this particular way, in the way that I do it. What I offer in my art is a unique object… among unique objects.
What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?
Education first. I was exposed to an array of writing I would not otherwise have experienced. Then the real world. I traveled a lot when I was young, or, enough to be able to formulate an idea about humans and humanity. Both angles of knowledge greatly inform my writing.
If you could give advice to your 15 year old self, what would it be?
I love you. You are beautiful. I will protect you. No one else will. Let’s get out of here, somehow. Take a bus to the edge of the city. I will leave instructions tucked into your windowsill. Share them with no one.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I am successful at this point right now for having found you, reader. I am not successful if you quit reading a few lines above.
Why do you get up every morning?
My eyes open and the kitchen beckons with coffee and toast. The day offers opportunities and agendas. Work massages the soul. Patterns and rhythms are the stitch work of life. Praise the regular day and the deviation of the norm. I accept all and wake myself because I am still breathing.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?
Two ancestors. My grandparents Alaoui. Grandpa was quite the man about town. There is a photo of him with the King of Morocco. I know he had an orange grove and lots of land at one point. He had a series of wives and many children. One of his wives was my grandmother Oum Kalthoum. Her name is beautiful. I wonder about the origins of it. She is the namesake of the famous Egyptian singer but is not her. I do not know their stories. I imagine their stories would take a novel to tell. I will fill novels with their stories and tell you later.
What’s wrong with society today?
Anger is celebrated as the norm and the solution for every activity, including recreation and repose. Aggressive sport. Aggressive beauty. Aggressive love. Aggressive design. Manufacturers build aggression into the faces of automobiles with bright white lights for eyes. How does this madness end?
Where do you go to find sanctuary?
There is a beach town of thunderstorms in Mexico and I will not tell you the place. You should not go there, it is my sanctuary. The area provides me a complete cellular regeneration. As I write this, another place comes to mind. It is the hammam called Les Bains d’Azahara, in Marrakech. You should go.
What is your fondest memory?
One night, in Paris, I forgot the code to the front door of my boarding house. I was trapped. Locked out. There was no way to get back in. I had returned late and everyone was asleep. No one answered the phone. I found myself alone on the streets of Paris running, literally running across town I suppose because there was nothing to stop me. Jeans, boots, sideburns, leather jacket, no bag. No place to go. Not hot. Not cold. Just. Running. I found the center of town. I stood at the foot of Charlemagne in the plaza of Notre Dame and gazed at the cathedral. Later, I found a seedy hotel and slept a few hours. That morning I ran into a friend at the post office. In those days La Poste offered bank services. Maybe they still do. We walked back to the boarding house. The front door was open. I wrote down the door code and never forgot it again.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
The wide dissemination of a few of my books. People will find them helpful.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
What is art? Art is as fundamental as blinking. Art is expression. Art is in the speech, the style, the gait of every human. Is it necessary? Art is inseparable from humanity. The question “why” leads to doors and doors beyond doors forever, in perpetuity.
What is the relationship between your identity and your desires? Perhaps related, perhaps not: why is sex (un)important to you?
My desires fill my identity by being unfulfilled. My relationship to desire is irrational. My reason is irrational. Sex is irrational. Sex is my rationale. Desire is the irrationality of un-fulfillment. Once fulfilled, my desire is annihilated, as is my identity.
What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.
I am a clothes man. I prefer being clothed. I know people who prefer being unclothed. Right now I’m wearing slippers. They are traditional Moroccan handmade babouches from Casablanca. The brand is “Super*Maroc.”
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
I am busy writing two books for you. I can’t wait for you to see them. Either one will undoubtedly change the way you see the world. I am not exaggerating. NOTE: They are finished and wait to slide into your beautiful hands.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
Inclusion, support, and/or sovereignty for the homeless encampments. They are us living in the future. They are revolutionaries. We will all live this way one day and they will be remembered as the founders.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Walking, an exciting reading, meeting up with good people, conversation afterwards. There are other ways to enjoy a night; movie night, energy clearing night, whiskey and LPs… or a night of the untold.
Have you ever seen a ghost? Or: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
I have heard disembodied voices. When I was little. In our house. At the recreation center in town, we had a sleepover. We were attacked by ghosts pounding the walls. We ran out to see. The place was empty. Front door chained shut. No one could have got in without sounding an alarm.
I have seen sprites moving in the sky at night. Call them gods or UFOs. I have also seen Elon Musk’s Starlink string of beads fly overhead at the drive in. My friend’s friend died that night. She never spoke to me again. Her ghost haunts me.
What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned? Or: what was your last moment of awe?
I love being blown away by amazing people, amazing friends.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
Make you cry or fall in love with 50 words. I can spend 4 days on the jungle beach with 50 bucks and change.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Page mildew at the back of the stacks.
What are you unable to live without?
I would feel weird if I could never touch my guitar again. Or my cello.
If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
A deluxe cabin at the end of a long boardwalk in the Maldives. Turquoise water, fresh food, books, and a bicycle.
If you could live in your ideal society, what would your average day be like?
In my ideal society, artists would get paid for creating art. The average day would be like we have now, but less killing and more construction of aqueducts, rail, freeways, bridges, infrastructure. There would be a high speed train from the Tijuana border to Vancouver, another from Santa Monica to the Florida coast, another from Seattle to Bangor, another down the Eastern Seaboard… you get it. Less war and preparation for war, but more love and listening. Open borders. Lots of transportation. Art and artists. Cooperation. If there’s anything I have neglected, please add it here. Send me an email. Let’s begin.