In the Spring of 2022, Arkana Editors chatted with writer Annie Lyall Slaughter. Her creative nonfiction piece, “Putting the Fear Behind” is featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue as the Editor’s Choice Award winner.
Arkana: Tell us about your intentional decision to begin your piece with a disclaimer. Relatedly, do you make it a consistent practice to change the names of your characters, especially when threatening or disrupting topics are being explored? Or is this your general practice when writing creative nonfiction, as a genre?
Annie Lyall Slaughter: When writing creative nonfiction, I typically try to keep all the information in my stories as close to the truth as possible, including the names of my characters. That said, for this particular piece, I didn’t ask the family’s permission to write the piece and wanted to respect their confidentiality, given the fact that they arrived to New York on refugee visas. Although they are no longer my clients (I have since left the resettlement agency), I felt it would’ve been a breach of trust to include their names in this story without their explicit permission. Not to mention, I wanted to keep them safe.
ARK: When you look back on the situation you were in, would you have been able to keep hold of hope if Ayesha and Sharif hadn’t reacted the way they did?
ALS: A loaded question! Ayesha and Sharif went on to secure an apartment in Little Pakistan largely on their own, thanks to the help of their family friends in the area. I couldn’t have done it without them. Although I went on to support countless families throughout nearly two years in the role, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an everyday battle to maintain composure and hold on to hope. The exorbitant price of rentals in New York City paired with the lack of federal funding in the refugee resettlement program creates insurmountable challenges for refugees who resettle in the New York City metropolitan area. As a result, resettlement staff—required by law to help newly arrived families find a home—are left scrambling, constantly trying to patch the holes of a larger systemic issue that needs addressing.
ARK: Would you say that the situation then would be similar today or in the near future, or how do you think it has changed?
ALS: Although I am no longer working in refugee resettlement, from what I understand, little has changed. There was (and still is) a huge shortage of housing in the fall when hundreds of Afghan evacuees arrived in the city. There are some truly wonderful people and organizations doing great work to support refugees in NYC, but unfortunately, the housing market is relentless, and the cost of living has only increased here since COVID-19. On a more positive note, I’d like to acknowledge the incredible work of Ruth’s Refuge, a Brooklyn-based organization dedicated to supplying moving services and furnishings for refugee and asylee families. Thanks to their services, many newly arrived refugee families are able to save up to $1,000 in expenses towards furniture and home goods.
ARK: How did you come to realize that creative nonfiction called you and that you enjoyed writing within this genre?
ALS: I’ve always loved to journal. As a child, I would write stories when something unimaginable or exciting happened to me. (I’ve always felt a creative urge to put pen to page.) But it wasn’t until I started working at the IRC that I realized just how much material there is to write about in the immediate world around me. Now, I’m working towards a master’s in journalism, learning how to combine my own personal experiences with reporting to comment on larger social, cultural, and political trends.
ARK: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about? (What are you working on now?)
ALS: As an M.A. student in NYU’s Cultural Reporting and Criticism program, I’m currently working on a long-form essay analyzing the history of naming traditions (onomastics) in the American South, through the lens of my own double name “Annie Lyall”. Actually, I’m also working on another creative nonfiction piece about my time at the International Rescue Committee… I can’t seem to get away from it!
Ark: Thank you for sharing with us and congratulations again on the Editor’s Choice Award!
Read “Putting the Fear Behind” here!
Annie Lyall Slaughter is a writer based in Manhattan. From September 2019 to March 2021, she secured twenty-one apartment units for refugee families while working for the International Rescue Committee in New York City. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism at NYU.