Khaled Hegazzi

recorded in New Orleans, LA

with Andy Young

 

Andy Young

I’m Andy Young, I live in New Orleans and I came here 13 years ago. I had been living in Oakland, California for just a couple of years after having grown up in southern West Virginia and living in North Carolina, I went out to the exotic West and then came fleeing back toward the East and the South and I came through New Orleans and visited a poet friend of mine that I’d met out in California, who was from here, and he was subletting a place from another poet that’s become a very good friend of mine. And while I was there I just started asking about rent prices and meeting other poets and artists and when people asked what I did and I’d say I was a poet, they didn’t ask me what I really did, they asked me what I wrote. So it was legitimate to be an artist here and I could afford to live here, and


Retiba

What’s that?


Young

That’s a microphone. I could afford to live here and do kind of odd jobs and be devoted to my vocation of poetry. And a few years later, I landed this great job at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where I get to think about poetry in my work life, too. So I guess poetry brought me to New Orleans, poetry’s kept me in New Orleans in a lot of ways.


Khaled Hegazzi

My name is Khaled Hegazzi and I think I got here when I was 13 years old. I think I came here when I was 13 years old, by spirit. But my physical body had a great welcome. Anyway, when I was 13 years old, I started reading The Alexandria Quartet. Are you guys familiar with that?


The Knox Writers’ House

I don’t think so.


Hegazzi

It’s a beautiful, beautiful, big novel about Alexandria


Young

By Lawrence Durrell.


Hegazzi

By Lawrence Durrell.


KWH

Which is the city you’re from.


Hegazzi

Yeah, or the city that I moved to. So, I fell in love with that city and I moved to it—a few years later, I moved to Alexandria. When I was 29 years old, I ran into a friend, an American journalist and writer and we started to hang out and talk—that’s all we did in Alexandria, just talk about The Alexandria Quartet and Lawrence Durrell and trace the whole city. For two years, all we did, we met like three times a week, we’d talk about The Alexandria Quartet and Lawrence Durrell and New Orleans. So, he introduced me to New Orleans because he lived here in 1970 and he always, every time we talked, every time we mentioned anything great about cities ands culture, he says, New Orleans. So, when I came to the United Sates, I was like, Okay, I think I know where I’m going. So, I came here, and why I don’t need to explain why I said I had a great welcome, I came here September 11, 2001.


KWH

Wow. You flew in?


Hegazzi

No. I flew into Miami September 9th, I took the Greyhound from Miami to New Orleans, I arrived in New Orleans September 11th at 5 a.m. And I check into a hotel, call my family, I took a nap and by 9 o’clock they were waking me up, like, Are you okay? And I said, What? Are you okay? I was like, I’m okay, what’s going on? It’s tragedy. So, anyway, I walk the streets and look at the news and I watch the TV at McDonald’s and I just stood there for an hour, I didn’t know what to do. I went back to the hotel, they were very nice to me and they asked me to leave, so I left that hotel for another one. Anyway, that’s why I said I had a great welcome.


KWH

They asked you to leave?


Hegazzi

Yeah, they didn’t want me to stay there.


KWH

Did they tell you why?


Hegazzi

No, they said they’d given me the room by mistake—they had a reservation, basically. They wanted me out.


KWH

That’s outrageous. Your first day? That’s so awful!


Hegazzi

That’s what I said, it’s a great welcome! [Laughs].


KWH

Were you already writing when you came here?


Hegazzi

Oh yeah. I’ve been writing since I was 14 years old or something. And publishing too, you know, I have a few books and stuff like that.


KWH

In Egypt.


Hegazzi

In Egypt, yeah.


KWH

So what inspired you to come to America?


Hegazzi

Just a little bit of freedom, you know. We don’t have as much freedom as you guys have here. Social freedom, mainly. But it was kind of like I knew New Orleans was a little bit different, from what that friend told me, and from what I felt the first few days I basically fell in love with the city and I decided to stick around. I got a job as a waiter in a Middle Eastern restaurant and 17 days later, that restaurant was burned down to the ground, in a hate crime, basically. So it was just a little bit tough.


KWH

And you stuck around.


Hegazzi

Yeah, I stuck around, I think, because in the first two weeks I was here, I got in touch with the poets and writers here immediately. The first thing I asked for, Where is the poetry reading happening here? Where is that? So I felt like I had a family because I just hung around the poets and spent time with them.


KWH

Did you already speak English so well?


Hegazzi

Not as much as now. Thank you, anyway. But yeah, I spoke a little bit of English; it helped me. I think I learned English from the movies because I watch a lot of movies.


KWH

Yeah, that’s the way. And the biggest question we always ask—and we might need to you jump in here—


Retiba

Momma.


Young

I’m right here honey, they’re just going to ask me a question. Maybe you can help me answer.


KWH

You just touched on this a little bit, but the biggest thing we ask is how you feel about the writing community in the place you live, and if you consider yourselves a part of it, which you both seem to. People are really into the writing community here, so could you talk a little about what goes on in that, and your own involvement in it?


Young

It’s a really strong writing community here, I think. I have been part of it over the years, the last couple years I haven’t been as involved as I would like to be, because I’ve been busy with raising little children [laughs] and I’m in grad school, I’m about to graduate, so I’ve been really busy. So I haven’t been as involved, so I can’t really speak to everything going on right now, but I remember after Katrina, coming back, that was one of the most beautiful moments. All the poets gathered, I think, at The Goldmine. It seems like the poets were back here pretty quickly, and the literary community was clearly—it was clear that was my community. Like so many things, you just take it for granted, and then when they’re all here again, they’re such sights for sore eyes. I think it’s very strong and it’s been a real source of support and community for me.


Hegazzi

I have the same feeling. I feel like the writers’ community is very close together here, and they’re very helpful. And in other than personal relationships with the poets and writers, even in a professional, intellectual relationship, I feel like they’re very good people here. For example, the poet David Brinks, he always comes up and asks you for something if there’s a reading here; he’s very dynamic, he always moves. I feel very comfortable around that community. And I feel also I did my share for that community by bringing a unique project, which is Meena. Meena is like the only bilingual journal.


KWH

Can you explain it?


Hegazzi

Yeah, Meena is a bilingual journal in the United States. It’s a journal for poems, short stories, fiction, interviews from the Middle East and the United States and translated in the other language. If the text was written in Arabic, we’ll translate it into English; if the text was written in English, we’ll translate it into the Arabic, and we combine them with art and put them in one book. I think visually it’s a beautiful project. We’re very proud of that and I feel like we did our share for that writers’ community by bringing this different culture or the other language into that community. And they have been really supportive of that. They’re very open and welcoming. I feel very comfortable around the people here.

Death by Mohamed Abd El-Rehim

Listen

Listen More

Other Writers in