Alumni

Alumni profile - Annabelle Sami

One of the best things about studying in London, and specifically in the East End, is that I was studying with, and being taught by, a diverse group of people. East London has a rich history of migration and revolutionary resistance which makes it an exciting and inspiring place to live and explore. 

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Why did you choose to study your English MA at Queen Mary?

I did my BA at Queen Mary in English and Drama, and absolutely loved it. I did go elsewhere to study an MA for a year but missed the staff and environment at Queen Mary so much that I decided to leave and come back to Queen Mary. The staff in the School of English and Drama are all genuinely interested about you as a student and your studies. That level of care is what drew me back to do my MA at Queen Mary. It’s an environment that encourages experimentation, growth and diversity of thought.

Can you tell us about the modules you chose to study as part of your MA and your dissertation topic?

I was able to do modules in my two areas of interest: queer theory and postcolonial studies. The ones I remember specifically were 'Queer Theory and Contemporary Fiction', 'Global Shakespeare: History and Theory and Performance' and then a history module called 'Race, Resistance and Decolonization'.

I began writing for children as an experiment – completing three chapters of Llama Out Loud which I showed to an agent who encouraged me to write the rest. I’d always been interested in working with children but wanted to do so in a creative way outside of the structure of formal education. Writing children’s books gives me a way of connecting with children in a free and exciting way.

My dissertation was ‘Beyond Survival: Freedom and Queer Aspiration in the lives of QTIPOC (Queer, Transgender and Intersex People of Colour).’ It was about the ways in which survival is portrayed for queer people of colour in theory, literature and film and how those individuals might strive for something more than that.

What did you enjoy most about the course?

I enjoyed being able to incorporate many different areas of interest, and even disciplines, within the course. This was an English literature course and yet I was able, and encouraged, to use what I was learning and apply it to film, global literature and even history topics. There was an understanding that an interdisciplinary approach could yield interesting research results and that is what led me to choosing my dissertation topic.

Were there any academics that had a strong influence on shaping your time and studies at Queen Mary?

There are so many academics that I was taught by during my BA and MA who I still regularly think about. Catherine Silverstone was an amazing teacher and wonderful person who I will always feel grateful to have known. I also learnt so much from Sam McBean and Charlotta Salmi, not to mention everyone I was taught by in the Drama department in my BA.

What were some of the best things about studying in London?

One of the best things about studying in London, and specifically in the East End, is that I was studying with, and being taught by, a diverse group of people. East London has a rich history of migration and revolutionary resistance which makes it an exciting and inspiring place to live and explore.

You are now a published children’s author, having written three books in a series titled, Agent Zaiba Investigates, and two books in another series, Llama Out Loud. What inspired you to begin writing for children?

I began writing for children as an experiment – completing three chapters of Llama Out Loud which I showed to an agent who encouraged me to write the rest. I’d always been interested in working with children but wanted to do so in a creative way outside of the structure of formal education. Writing children’s books gives me a way of connecting with children in a free and exciting way.

What do you think are some of the most important aspects of writing for children today? Are there any key messages you strive to convey through your writing?

Well, children are literally our future! It would be foolish to ignore or dismiss them as they are important, radical agents for change. I hope that I convey in my writing just how important children are, that every child has value and should be listened to. I also hope to provide much needed representation for children of colour and queer children, as I believe seeing yourself as a protagonist is important for a child’s sense of self.

Will there be more books in the Agent Zaiba Investigates and Llama Out Loud series? Are there any other stories you’re hoping to write?

Yes! The third Agent Zaiba book comes out in April next year, as will the second Llama Out Loud book. I’m also working on a book for slightly older children about a young saxophonist with performance anxiety. But that’s all I can reveal…

You’re also a Producing Assistant at Fevered Sleep, a director and a performer. How did your studies at Queen Mary prepare you for these different roles?

Much of the Drama course in my BA helped us to develop practical producing skills for arts management, for example 'Performance Composition' taught by Lois Weaver. There were also many opportunities in Queen Mary Theatre Company which helped me understand arts administration and production, including three exhausting but amazing trips to Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

What are some of your interests outside of your work?

I love music, singing and playing saxophone although it’s hard to find the time to practice! I also like exploring my spirituality and practicing meditation, tarot and other magical practices. It helps me balance out the analytical process of writing and editing by remembering that there are some things in the world that can’t be intellectualized.

What does LGBTQ+ History Month mean to you and why do you think it is important that we acknowledge the contributions of LGBTQ+ people throughout history and in present times?

I think LGBTQ+ History Month serves a purpose in a multitude of ways; to celebrate, to protest, to remember and memorialise, to educate, to make reparations, to validate... It means different things to different people. Especially for people with intersectional identities who may participate in multiple history months a year based on their race or ethnicity too, having a chance to feel pride for something that has been historically persecuted can be a type of healing. More than anything, it is a chance for allies to show support and lift up the LGBTQ+ community.

Do you have any particular LGBTQ+ role models?

There are so many people in my personal life who inspire me, like my friend Sal Morton, who also went to Queen Mary, and Betty Adewole, a talented artist, model and actor. People like them who live fully and choose to persevere despite having their identities disputed and criticised by people are my role models.

Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing an MA in English?

Research anything that piques your interest, even if it seems unrelated to your area of study. Often, you’ll find interesting links or something exciting that’s entirely new. That’s the fun of being at university in an environment that encourages growth and trying new things.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Annabelle or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at n.grey@qmul.ac.uk.