Interview: Abeer Hoque

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abeerillustrationFor N12, we interviewed our contributors on their lives outside the notebook. Writer and photographer Abeer Hoque reflects on the difference between poetry and photography, relentless optimism and the virtues of brushing your teeth.

What was your least favorite stop on your round-the-world tour?

Agh. I’m a relentless optimist and hate trashing places. So keep in mind that I loved Santa Teresa, Costa Rica’s wild surfer beaches and hippie yoga vibe but hated the fact that some people broke into our hotel room and stole everything my friend and I owned, including my laptop, camera, and hard drive. Luckily I had a second drive hidden in my clothes (I’m a maniac about backing up), but I went dead broke replacing all my electronics. The silver lining (I warned you I was an optimist) was that I had been on the road for 3 years at that point, and had been fearing this exact moment, and when it happened, it really wasn’t all that terrible. But don’t tell my friend that because she hadn’t backed up any of her writing, photos, or music, and couldn’t stop crying.

What is one thing you do every day when you are on the road and why?

I brush my teeth. You never know who you might bump into and it’s nice to have a fresh tongue.

What is the difference between poetry and photography?

I’m fairly sure I don’t know the answer to this question, though I love it. What I love about photography is how connective it can be. You can share a photograph with a Nigerian street kid and both delight. You can’t always do the same thing with poetry. But there’s something about reading or writing poetry that can teach you something deeper or different about a place, whereas a photograph might just freeze the surface of it, all pretty-like.

What are your favorite travel books?

I love reading about place in the context of a story, like a novel or a short story. That said, I just finished a book of poetry, Seam, by Tarfia Faizullah, and it is as much a portrait of Bangladesh as it is of her subject, the war heroines of the 1971 Liberation War. And Danica Novgorodoff’s graphic novel, The Undertaking of Lily Chen (a dark and ghostly love story), is set in rural China with gorgeous pen and ink and watercolor art. I should add that I also read a crap load of Lonely Planets while on the road.

Who is your favorite traveling poet?

I’ll tell you who I love to travel with. Rumi, the 13th century Persian Sufi poet, who writes ecstatically, beautifully, about the world, inner and outer. He’s always with me.

Abeer Hoque is a Nigerian-born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. Read her story in N12 and see more of her work at

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