Jamaluddin Aram '17 a finalist for Canadian short fiction prize

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Writer, documentary filmmaker and producer Jamaluddin Aram ’17 of Toronto recently was named one of three finalists for the 2020 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers in the short fiction category for his story, “This Hard Easy Life.”

The prestigious award was established by the Writers’ Trust of Canada and is sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada. The prizes are presented to authors under the age of 35 whose work has appeared in a literary publication or anthology but have yet to publish a book. Each finalist receives $2,500 and a mentorship from an established editor.

Jamaluddin Aram '17

In selecting Aram’s piece, the jury said it “is as insightful as it is heartbreaking; a story about the ways in which even love itself can become a kind of prison. Through intimate detail, compelling prose, and quiet, emotionally devastating scenes, Jamaluddin Aram gives the reader a nuanced look at life before and after displacement.

“This complicated, compassionate work of fiction reminds us that who and what we are is forever and inextricably tied to where we are, and where we are not. A painful, beautiful story."

Aram, who majored in English and history at Union, is a native of Kabul, Afghanistan. There, in 2009, he attended Atelier Varan, a French documentary filmmaking workshop. His first film, “My Teacher is a Shopkeeper,” led to a scholarship to attend a documentary filmmaking workshop at La Femis, a film school in Paris, where he shot his second short documentary, “The Unbelievable Journey.”

Aram is also the associate producer of “Buzkashi Boys,” a coming-of-age story about two friends who dream of a better life. Filmed on location in Kabul, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2012.

Aram’s writing focuses on themes of family, immigration, childhood and peace in the time of war. His stories have appeared in Numero Cinq, Blood and Bourbon, The Write Launch and Cagibi literary magazines.

Inspired from an early age by his mother’s love of poetry, Aram had tried his hand at writing poems, “but they weren’t any good. I turned to the short story. I found it to be the closest thing to poetry. Because I believe it demands of the writer a certain control, a pellucidity of thought, and an intimacy with the language and the material that a serious poem might demand of a serious poet.

“When you look at the short story that way, every sentence, every word, every element of punctuation becomes crucial and equally important. So it’s safe to say I try to write prose with the precision of a poet.”

A self-described slow writer, Aram noted that “This Hard Easy Life” is, uncharacteristically, a story whose first draft was composed in a single session.

I wrote it one early afternoon in a café in about two hours shortly after (Iranian major general) Qasem Soleimani’s assassination in early January (2020).”

Beyond the immediate themes of displacement and familial relationships, the story, he says, “contemplates the temporality of things, a concept so persistent in all facets of human life yet so largely undiscussed in the modern world that one often has to revisit Omar Khayyam’s poems to stay in touch with the reality.”

Aram is finishing his manuscript for a book of interconnected short stories, working with Canadian novelist Michael Christie as part of a Writers Trust Mentorship Program.

He says the Bronwen Wallace nomination, named for a prominent social activist and writer, was both humbling and inspiring.

“I can’t reiterate enough how grateful I am for the professional opportunities it has already brought me and will hopefully continue to bring when I have my manuscript ready. Personally, it has had an even greater impact; it has given me the validation that I’m doing something right.”