Ep 38 Writing about marginalized communities with Kaya Gravitter
Writing about marginalized communities with Kaya Gravitter show Notes
Today our guest is 25 year old convert to Islam Kaya Gravitter. Kaya is a writer and is currently working on publishing her first novel. Kaya also writes poetry and has written articles published on The Huffington Post, Yahoo! News, and Muslimgirl.com. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and International Studies and is an activist for change, in hopes of a better world.
Kaya touches on her early experiences when converting from Christianity to Islam and talks about some of the struggles that converts and other Muslim minorities are facing within the Muslim community and gives us her ideas on how such things can be improved.
Social media impact on networking and success.
Difficulties converts have going through Ramadan and fasting alone and outside community and family.
How the Muslim community and Masjid can improve on helping new converts adjust and fit in with special convert programs.
Teachings of Islam that made changes to Kaya’s ways and personality and life.
Kaya’s plans and goals for her writing.
Connect with Kaya:
Instagram: @kaya.gravitter www.instagram.com/kaya.gravitter/?hl=en
Twitter: @GravitterBo twitter.com/GravitterBo?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
Facebook: @KayaGravitterWriter www.facebook.com/KayaGravitterWriter/
Episode 38 Transcription
Fousia: On today's episode I have with me Kaya who is a 25 year old convert to Islam. She's currently working on getting her first novel published she writes poetry and is a freelance writer. She's written for publications like The Huffington Post, Yahoo News and Muslimgirl.com. Kaya has a bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Studies. She's an activist for change, in hopes of a better world. Let's get right to today's episode with Kaya.
Kaya: My name is Kaya. It's not pronounced Kaia. Though a lot of people do it this way. My mother's name is actually Kaia. I am a twenty five years old. I'll be twenty six in March. I'm a convert to Islam. I'm currently working on getting my first novel published. I like to also write poetry and I also am a freelance writer. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and International Studies. I'm also an activist in my local community. And also through my writing I would say I'm an activist. Just in hopes of a better world. Even if it's small change. And I have several works published as she said. In several online platforms. Just to name a few. The Huffington Post, Yahoo News and MuslimGirl.com Those are some of the places I have published articles. And I also do a majority of my blogging on my blog. Where I talk about a lot of struggles that converts are facing. I also talk about things that other minorities within the Muslim community face. But that I'm not limited to that I talk about politics as well. I've even talked about my weight loss journey and those are kind of some of the things that I write about.
Fousia: I like that you have like a bunch of things that you like to write about it. You haven't put yourself in this one box. So first of all I did go on your Instagram and I saw you had a little... where are you are telling us how to say your name and I love it because we're always complaining about that. No one could say your name. No one can say your name and you have it right there. So I get it. There's like a level of frustration for you and I guess like for people not being able to say simple names I just wanted to tell you that I loved it when I first clicked on it to learn a little bit more about you. So that was awesome. So how did you go from Poly Sci international studies to writing.
Kaya: Well actually I did love to write it as a kid but there's a lot of things that you do as a kid and you kind of forget about. I used to write stories. I think the very first story I ever wrote was about... it was actually a story and then I wrote a play to it and it was called "When cheese attacks". I know it's like a really funny name but I'm from Wisconsin. So yeah. And actually my class acted out the play for the school. So I think I was in fifth grade or something. And I would you know write stories and journal but I never did anything with it. I didn't care. And then my senior year of high school I did a blog what it was like religious Christian wise. Because you know I've always been religious. But anyway then kind of died out I went to college and like you're forced to write and read a lot. So you want to stop doing that. And I wanted to like work in International Relations I wanted to work... like my dream job was to work for the Department of State like to be the Secretary of State for the whole U.S.. But actually I decided, when... I wanted to start writing was you know I moved from Wisconsin down to Florida after I got married. So I moved. And what did I was working but you know I also started to think like so many people kept asking me about my conversion. So then I started to put videos online on my youtube. I have like no subscribers so it's OK and then I started talking about political stuff and then I started to work on this manuscript. I know it's a long story to try to get.
Fousia: No no this is what I love. Tell us all about it keep going.
Kaya: So I was editing this capstone project that I did in college. I wanted to get it published in a journal which I haven't gone through yet. So I realized then that I like to write but then I was thinking another thing that really pushed me to want to get into actual journalism was I really liked Bernie Sanders. I wanted Bernie Sanders to win the election and I knew about him before anybody in the news was following him. I found it very early and it upset me that he was getting no coverage at all. So that's kind of the thing that initially pushed me. And also talking about convert related struggles I was in this at my mescit I am part of this convert group and you know we meet and we talk about these things and then I kind of said well like thinking to myself "Why don't I write about that also". So that's why my blog is kind of a few different things. But I think my voice is still the same and every single piece.
Fousia: Yeah. It's just the different parts of you.
Fousia: OK awesome. So tell us if you had to pick one thing that you could write about for ever. I know we just talked about how you like to write several different things but if there's one topic that you could pick to write about for the rest of your life what would it be?
Kaya: Right now where I'm at is I really like doing novel writing. I like journalism and articles too but if I could just write women's fiction.. Just that and it would get published.
Kaya: That is what I would want to do.
Fousia: Would it be specific to Muslim woman fiction or just women in general?
Kaya: Well in the novel that I actually wrote it's called "After she said yes". I don't know if I do end up getting it published if they'll change a name or not but it does have a Muslim character in it but the protagonist... So the lead woman she's actually not Muslim. But the next book I'm working on the head character is going to be a Muslim and that book is I don't want to say. Get into too much detail but the next book I'm working on the main character will be Muslim. And in the women's fiction I just wrote it... Like one of the main characters is Muslim.
Kaya: But like..
Fousia: But it's not just centered on her being Muslim. And the main character is someone who's non-Muslim.
Fousia: OK awesome. So tell us of all the articles that you've written and I mean it's like big places right? Huffington Post, Yahoo News. How did you get your foot through the door because I know there's a lot of Muslim women who are writers or bloggers or who even do podcasts that are trying to get their foot through the door and they don't know they feel intimidated to go to big publications and pitch their stories or write or pitch to an editor. So how did you do that and ss that like a level of confidence that you had? Or is it something that you've developed over the years?
Kaya: Well what I realized when I started writing and I was doing a lot of research on how I can get jobs at these places and they said this is another reason I started a blog like you need to have like some type of thumb print out there you need to have some type of proof that you've done work. I mean even in college actually I was the editor in chief for the diversity newsletter for the campus and I also blogged for the campus. I also forgot to mention that.
Fousia: So you've been writing since I guess we can go back to fifth grade at least.
Kaya: I didn't think I wanted to be as serious about it until I came down here and then I was like "No I really want to start taking it serious I want to give it my all". So I started with that and then I reached out to a Muslimgirl.com and also I reached out to its MVS LAM and it's like loves them. It's based in Europe.
Fousia: Yeah I've heard of both of them. I think Muslimgirl.com is more I guess here in America we hear about that more. I've been on their blog and I've read their articles and I follow Amani on social media so I know a little bit about them.
Kaya: Ok so that's where I started. So I applied to both of them I sent them some of the work that I've done. And they said that I could write. So I started writing articles for them.. Both of them. I think it was like July. So I was writing maybe for... Like six months on my blog. And that was when I got it. And that's kind of what gave me the... I was like "OK this is it. This is the type of next level thing that I need". When I first started writing for Muslim Girl though I don't think that there was... I know like they were a publication... I think for like seven years at that time. But they still didn't have the biggest following like they do now on social media. So that was helpful to me. I was writing for them and most went through like a while and then I was like OK I think it's time that I actually write for something other than a Muslim based news publication like I have nothing against it obviously like I'm totally for it because that's what my blog is. But I want to be someone who helps make media more diverse and have different type of voices out there. So actually the article I first pitched to Huffington Post was actually the night of Artifa. So like the day of. Artifa the day before. Like the big ead.
Kaya: I pitched how ignorant people what made me want to wear hijab. I pitched an article to the Huffington Post and the next morning I woke up and I was fasting.
Kaya: I got a message an email on my phone that says you know we want to post this article and also we want you to be a contributor.
Fousia: Oh wow. Mashallah
Kaya: So when I read that... Like I kept looking at my phone over and over again. I did not believe it. I was like. "This can't be real". And then I actually logged in and they made me an account and everything. I was like "Oh my God Ok this is real". So I told. A friend of mine that I have met through a Muslim girl. She used to write for them but she doesn't anymore as well but... That's kind of where I started. And ever since then. A lot of this stuff like a lot of the avenues that I have kind of started on the foundation of the people I met Muslim Girl.. not necessarily Muslim girl.But,,.
Fousia: But the connections that you made.
Kaya: Yes. So like the Yahoo article that I wrote is about my conversion to Islam which I wrote about this so many times now. But anyways they reached out to a girl who used to write for Muslim Girl and she told the editor about me and then the editor she Googled me first to see what my work was and then she asked me to write this story for her and I was super excited about that. I didn't email hard and reach out to her. She contacted me so..
Fousia: That's awesome like your work speaking for itself and who you are speaking for you at people helping you make those connections that's really awesome I think that's something that we discount a lot of times we're just looking at the work that we're doing and trying our best to be the best writer be the best speaker and all those kind of things but we're not looking at our interaction with people and the way we make people feel and I think that's like the biggest networking tip that I can give anybody is to make great connections and just be a good person. And inshallah like that will work for you and your community.
Kaya: That's a really good thing to say. I remember when I've actually got an internship at the state capital in Wisconsin and the guy was actually like a family friend but even then it doesn't matter. The person I interned for I still had to send in an application and my resumé and they had to do a background check on you to even intern there. I learned that summer that it's not about what you know it's about who you know. So networking is very important. Any chance you can.
Fousia: So what are some of your own personal networking tips. I know a lot of sisters. Especially those in hijab have a hard time with it. So what kind of made it easy for you. After you converted to kind of reach out to people or get to know people did that change how you did it. Or... Is it just your personality from the beginning.
Kaya: Well this was in college so I didn't use social media much. I didn't use Instagram much like when I was in college. Instagram wasn't as big of a deal as it is now. So I would post on that but. I would every once in a while occasionally like post a picture after I was done praying or something. Like very small but at that time my family still there no I was Muslim. So I was kind of keeping it to myself. But... If I could have started sooner. On growing my Instagram or my social media I would have because that's where a majority of my followers are on Instagram.
Fousia: It's changed to one of those places where you can virtually meet anyone from anywhere in the world and see what they're up to like the work that they're doing how they're benefiting their communities and all that great stuff.
Kaya: And I've met a lot of very interesting amazing people online. I've. Even met like other writers. Or other converts who were able to better read my manuscript. So... A beta reader is somebody that you essentially send chapters to and then they just give you their input. They could even correct grammar or... Morally what I'm looking for though from a beta reader is.. Is what I'm trying to get across good? Is this story good? because I can always have someone edit it professionally.
Fousia: Yes it's just a feedback right? How is the story flowing did you like what I like how the character is developing. Is there something that I missed. So I think friends are really great for that especially those ones who are going to be really honest with you and they write because they can pick up on things that a regular friend who doesn't read that much or write a lot. Wouldn't be able to pick up. So tell us. I love that you're going from writing articles to writing a book. Is this a pivot. Are you going to keep writing articles about Muslim women and converts or are you going to just go to writing these stories and novels now.
Kaya: I don't think I will ever stop writing about converts or these type of things. I think it's something I'm never going to change and actually I think I... I'm trying to remember. I know I started writing this novel before I even wrote for Yahoo I'm trying to think if it was before the Huffington Post so I can't remember but I wrote it a while ago and I finished it a while ago but just sending it out to agents and trying to get them to accept it you get rejected a lot and now someday Al-Hamdulillah like just last week an agent finally didn't reject me but I didn't get accepted. Yeah he wants me to send the first 50 pages of my manuscript so I'm gonna do that this week.
Fousia: That's awesome though like it's just one more hurdle that you've gone through and it's great. Like InshaAllah it gets easier and easier and easier and then he'll pick it up or someone else will. But just that evolution is something that we need as much as it sucks to get rejected I'm glad that you're not stopping like a lot of people would get like one or two or three and like you know what maybe this isn't for me but in everything in life we have to kind of struggle through it in the beginning. Obviously would be great if the first person you said did to pick it up no one's going to hate on that but just your ability to get excited every time and then one more door is open for you another door is open for you InshaAllah so may Allah make it easy for you. The other day I posted a comment I believe it was yesterday when I was asking what are you looking most forward to about Ramadan and what are you looking forward to least. And you shared something with me about being a convert and some of it I guess not having a family that is also going to be fasting with you outside of like I guess you and your spouse his family. Tell us a little bit about that because in the community we don't really.. I feel like we kind of stick to our little groups. We don't think about how everyone else's Ramadan is going or if we like need to make people part of our families who can't necessarily go home or eat or do those kind of things. So tell us a little bit about that so the listeners have a better idea for someone who's going through that.
Kaya: You know I'm glad you brought this up so I'm going to touch on two subjects but I'll start off with the family thing so you know it's sad.. It sucks not being able to do the your holiday with your family because growing up you did Christmas and all these holidays with your family and when you become Muslim you know kind of don't have that anymore. And up until I moved to Florida I actually was fasting by myself. I was having a tough time of myself. It was very lonely. And the converts and the born Muslims that I knew like they definitely could have done a way better job at reaching out to me. And that's one thing I noticed during Ramadan is there's a lot of converts who don't get invited they're breaking their fast but themselves. And it's really hard to fast by yourself and you're not really into Ramadan. I think I wasn't really into it until it was like I was around a Muslim community who celebrated and they meet and we meet for prayers and things like this. So my advice to non-Muslims is. Just try to invite converts over to your house if there's any you know or just talk to them if you see them at the mescit or... Even if you... Kind of know them but don't fully know them just reach out to them because honestly I know.. From experience... I was so... Sad that nobody would invite me over. I was just doing it on my own so and I know there's converts now who have the same thing but Al-Hamdulillah like my masjid... Like they meet... Well Hurricane ruined our Masjid.. hurricane Michael but last year and since I've been here they break fast every day at the mescit like the weekends... Those ones are usually a lot bigger. People even come from out of town to come do it. But. What I would advise to converts go to a mescit if there's something in your town if there's something maybe 30 minutes away maybe try to go to a couple of times during Ramadan just keep I'm trying and even your local mescit you could reach out to if you don't like want to talk to somebody. Cause I know some people ignore converts and people stick in their clicks. So just talk to who was ever heading that mescit and ask him if there's anything going on.. Is there any kind of thing I could get invited to or things that are going on. But then the thing that sucks as well is you don't want to ask someone to invite you. You don't want people to have pity for you. So I think we should not let it get to that point. As Muslims we should try to invite them over so new Muslims in particular so they feel welcome. They don't feel that type of loneliness or they actually feel like Ramadan is Ramadan because to me when I fasted and then it was like it didn't have that much significance to me because I was alone.
Fousia: And I think this is a problem that we have in the community like after someone converts and after we're done like you know hugging and welcoming them to Islam then we we forget about them right. There's not a lot of resources in place. There's not a lot of mentorship. There's not someone who is like OK we're gonna do a buddy system now. I'm going to help you out and introduce you to people in the community. You're gonna be my plus one. That way you learn about the community and you get to like visit everybody and do those kind of things it's kind of like well welcome to Islam. See you later. Like there's nothing after that. So if you could change or if you could set up some systems or programs and any mescit across America that would have a convert part of the board or programs dedicated to just converts what would you do right after conversion that will make the biggest impact.
Kaya: What would I do for new converts. You're saying?
Fousia: Yes. Yes.
Kaya: So what I would do myself is what our masjid was doing is you know everyone it's like you're famous for like five minutes in the whole community. People give their set of arms they hug you and then like myself I'm like that you don't see them anymore. Yeah unfortunately. But so what my mission was doing is if I'm there are any converts there. We don't even wait for a not like a born Muslim anymore like we just ended up doing it ourselves to where we actually will give them our number like immediately after they convert. And also my mescit was giving... Like new conversion packages. They had like Sajjad and it's all like prayer rugs. Hijabs. Maybe prayer beads like. Maybe the car on. The book. Like other things about Islam. Some common questions you may have I believe one of them for sure is about Jesus and Islam. Because a majority of the people I know convert from Christianity. But I really wish that mescit had these type of outreach programs for non-Muslims like apparently my mescit has one but It's failing. They're not doing what they could. And maybe other masjid have one. Like you said this buddy system would be great. But.. Not a buddy per say like it could be a buddy or like have a host family. So when it is Ramadan. You could invite them over every night for Iftar. You know just like.. Welcome them feel like there they have family like they're not alone.
Fousia: I'm glad that we're talking about this now because we've got like two months a little bit more than two months and this is when people are usually sending out like Iftar invitations and who they're going to spend it with because you know. People like to do this ahead of time so they have better preparation. So now would be the time for those of you guys were listening to the show even myself... To reach out to different people in the community like don't stick to your five friends that you grew up with your whole life or that you've been praying with their whole life. But reach out to new Muslims reach out to Muslims of color who like all or another segments of our community that gets neglected especially during Ramadan and like anytime outside of February where it's that month where everyone's it all let's have an MLK talk or let's talk about Malcolm X. Like outside of that like the rest of the community doesn't get any love. So now is the time to give those invitations and you know make someone a part of your family just from a human perspective as well you wouldn't want to be left out during Ramadan and either any other holiday don't leave other people and it's not something that is from our so not to neglect any part of our community. So we really think we need to go back to the basics and be a more welcoming community. So one more thing that I wanted to talk to you about was that you mentioned that you're from Wisconsin. You grew up in a Christian family. What was the biggest difference for you when you converted that you want to share with some of our listeners.
Kaya: When I converted I didn't necessarily fully practice right away because like I said I was kind of alone like I had Muslim friends but some of them you know they didn't practice. Some of them they went back home like they were international students. So I kind of talked about this in my yahoo article. And to be honest since I was religious before I got into college before I became Muslim. There wasn't a huge difference for me religion wise but the way I acted I acted way more nicer because this is what Islam teaches me and us. I give charity. Like I care for people. I mean I became more compassionate for people. That is the thing that changed now when I became Muslim. Like I just saw people in a nicer way. I didn't think in a selfish way like I always try to put people first before me. I mean I wasn't mean before. But I mean yeah I did have a whole new level. I would help people I don't even know now. Now that's what I do. So that's what change I think the most is just those things in Islam that you emphasize on just how you treat people like I wish non-Muslims if they're only listening to this. Just to understand like the religion of Islam... If you actually read the Koran. Learn about how Prophet Mohammed was. Don't just cherry pick. Don't just pick random verses from the Koran. It shows so much how to be a good person. How you can improve being a good person. How you can treat other people in a good way. And that you should do it. Not just how to but that you should be nice to people.
Fousia: That's awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that. I want to kind of and a little bit of the main discussion on this but I also want you to share a little bit about where people can follow you. What are your next projects are I know you're still in the process of your manuscript and Inshallah having that picked up by a publisher. So tell us a little bit about what we can expect from you and where we can follow your work.
Kaya: So not only do I get rejected by agents I also get rejected by other people that pitch my articles too. So I do that a lot as well and I'm still going to continue to do that in hopes that somebody will publish my articles. I just keep on setting them ideas. So you guys can look out for that and you can do this by following me on my Instagram. That's where I do a majority of my stuff. It's Kaya.Gravitter That's my Instagram handle and I do have Twitter and I just what everyone tells me that writers are supposed to use Twitter. My Twitter is @Gravitter and then be BO my middle name is Bo. So that's my Twitter. And my Facebook. You can just search up my name Kaya Gravitter. I'm just sticking with my full name. You can even google me if you want to find my Huffington Post articles like I'm on... I can be search on Google now which can be good and bad but..
Fousia: It's good for writers right? You're getting new stuff out there to people.
Kaya: In almost all my articles I linked by social media pages. So if you guys could follow me on Twitter I'd be so happy because my Twitter followers are like 438 right now and they really need to grow. My Instagram is two thousand but like you know when you don't do beauty blogging people don't follow you as much. I don't know why but like all my followers are organic or I don't pay bots or anything.
Fousia: So that's a struggle we are all facing if we're not doing fashion and beauty but Inshallah I hope that it goes easier for you and that the listeners can stay in touch with you through Twitter Instagram on following your articles and Inshallah that get picked up by major publications and we're looking forward to Inshallah one day reading your book. Thank you so so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.
Kaya: Thank you for having me.
Fousia: It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
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