A Conversation with Aram Mrojian on his anthology, We Are All Armenian
A Conversation with
On his anthology, “We Are All Armenian”
“For a long time, I think I wrestled with the idea of trying to be who I thought I was supposed to be...having the opportunity to work so closely with eighteen brilliant writers helped me see that identity is infinitely multifaceted, so who I am is about a million different things.”
A Conversation with Aram Mrojian
On his anthology, “We Are All Armenian”
Anthologies are especially valuable in cultivating varied views of complex subjects. We Are All Armenian, edited by Aram Mrjoian for University of Texas Press is a lovely, much-needed compilation that presents a culture of great import, examining diasporic experiences in deeply-felt prose.
Each piece underscores the variety of viewpoints, as well as commonalities in a way that will be of interest to all readers, regardless of citizenry, because at their core, these are stories of the human condition. What we carry, when we have lost, and where and how we belong.
This is a compelling compendium of perspectives about being Armenian, and an important anthology for that alone, but beyond that, I think it speaks to a host of diasporic experiences shared by all cultures. There is so much cultural mobility over the last century, for good and difficult reasons, and I think that many of these stories are going to resonate for those familiar with Armenian history, as well as those new to it.
AM The response so far to the book has been really positive, and it’s been exciting to see so many readers engaging with the essays. One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot (both as I put the anthology together and now that it’s out) is that diasporic experiences are so wide-ranging and not subject to any single culture. It’s been exciting for me to put together work that specifically focuses on the diasporan Armenian experience, an experience my own family is obviously tied to, but as you mention, global patterns of displacement and mobility are not unique to Armenians. I do hope the essays resonate, they’re a small sample of what I see as a much larger conversation.
As the climate crisis worsens, I believe patterns of mobility and displacement are only going to become more complicated and immediate, so I do think we should be talking about the complexities of that shift more, and that we’ll need to do a lot of difficult work in the near future.
There is no singular diaspora experience: where you’re going to and from, your generation, where the predominant portion of your family remains, all of those things impact one’s experiences. Acknowledging that these are only a fraction of the stories that could be told, will never be told, did you see any differences across different demographics of writers?
AM A big part of this project was trying to push against generalizations, so I worked hard to include a variety of perspectives, but of course it’s still limited in so many ways because of the finite space. I brought this up in my editor’s note, because during the three years I worked on this book, I was constantly thinking about whose voices were missing. As you said, there are so many stories we never get to hear. I wish I could help tell many more.
One thing I could say is that some of the younger writers, those who are perhaps a generation later than some of the more established writers, tended to write more directly about their activism and intersectionality. Then again, Nancy Agabian’s contribution, which, as the longest essay, sort of functions as a centerpiece to the anthology, is a sweeping journalistic consideration of queer activism during the revolution, so even as I say that I’m proving myself wrong.
What surprised you from the entries you read? I loved reading them and know that they all have the power to change readers’ perspectives—they did for me—but what kind of stories shifted your own experience of being Armenian?
AM There were so many wonderful surprises throughout the process of reading and editing the contributions, and I’ve talked elsewhere about the kind of cathartic surprise of realizing how omnipresent the feeling of imposter syndrome is, but one thing I’ve been delighted by more and more as times goes on is the breadth of subject matter. As an editor, I’m usually focused on the writing first, and so I reached out to artists who I knew had stories to tell because they could write, but I wasn’t thinking too much about the fact that they’re also experts in art, photography, culinary culture, and so on. I learned so much going through the contributions.
People have so many dimensions and interests, so I realize now how silly it was for me to imagine writers would mostly focus on literary or literary-adjacent subjects. I can’t say it enough—I’m extremely lucky and grateful to have found support from the writers who agreed to be part of the anthology.
There’s a kind of cultural intersectionality, for lack of a better word, which deepens and complications the essence of identity, and a shifting identity at that. I think a number of your respondents beautifully address this flexibility of identity, which can be both freeing as well as unmooring.
AM Is it silly for me to say I sort of feel unmoored all the time? The contributors write about cultural intersectionality with such precision and (to steal your word) beauty. It fills me with excitement. There is certainly something freeing about addressing the complications and shifts of identity, but I don’t think you can do that without feeling a bit unmoored because that complication requires some amount of movement and dexterity. A lot of marginalization and violence can come from feeling anchored to preconceptions of identity. Another way of saying this is that when people are unwilling to discuss and embrace change, positive growth and progress can be impeded.
Memory, that of the writers’ and of their ancestors, is woven throughout the anthology. I think about the fact that most of those harmed by the 1915 genocide are no longer with us, so these are often memories once removed. What kind of memories do you have about Armenia, through family narratives? In the formation of this anthology, did you learn more about your own family heritage?
AM Truthfully, I learned most of what I could about my family heritage long before embarking on putting together the anthology, and there’s not a ton of information, in part because like you mention we’re pretty far removed. I have no memories about Armenia because I’ve never been there and my family’s ties to there are nearly completely severed. Instead, I have more of a composite image of Armenia through literature, film, and television. One of my favorite essays in the book, Chris McCormick’s “Imagining and Seeing,” explores this dichotomy directly, the difference between mentally and intellectually developing an idea of a place you’ve never been in your head versus the physical act of being there.
One gift provided by putting together the anthology is reading multiple perspectives on the experience of visiting Armenia. I’ve thought a lot about going whenever time and space allow, but have always been nervous about that enormous sense of distance and removal. I can’t really explain how much editing this book helped me work through a lot of personal questions, the sense of place being a big one of those lines of inquiry.
There’s so much in this anthology that resonates for me personally; I especially appreciated your expressions about cultural imposter syndrome. I have it myself, for a variety of reasons, even though my Persian identity—imperfect as it is—is the deepest, most intimate part of who I am. How do you feel about that for yourself now, after the completion of this anthology, which will be a resource for the generations to come?
AM For a long time, I think I wrestled with the idea of trying to be who I thought I was supposed to be, not only in relation to my Armenian ethnicity, but also my Polish ethnicity, clichéd ideas about masculinity, etc. There are these huge gaps in the ways we perceive ourselves. My sense of imposter syndrome is nearly always acute, regardless of situation. I kind of constantly feel like a fraud and a failure.
What was interesting about putting together We Are All Armenian is that throughout the process, my cultural imposter syndrome has for the most part fallen away. I don’t really think about what it means to be “Armenian enough” anymore and for the most part, I am not too stressed out about proving myself through my writing or in other ways, as I was for a long time. I think reading all of the contributions, having the opportunity to work so closely with eighteen brilliant writers, helped me see that identity is infinitely multifaceted, so who I am is about a million different things, and I can’t expect myself to adhere to any one ideal of who I think I should be.
If this does become a resource for future generations, I hope they take from it that there’s no one right way to be Armenian, or one right way to exist within a singular subject position. That’s really the conversation I would love to come out of the book, that we can all find our place within the diasporan Armenian community.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aram Mrjoian is an associate fiction editor at Guernica and a 2022 Creative Armenia – AGBU Fellow. His writing has appeared in Catapult, Electric Literature, West Branch, Boulevard, Gulf Coast, Longreads, and many other publications. Learn more at arammrjoian.com. Follow him on Twitter @amrjoian575.
AUTHOR PHOTO by Dustin Pearson. BOOK COVER courtesy of Andrew Demirjian and Dahlia Elsayed, from Which Yesterday Is Tomorrow? exhibit. Featured background image by Hasmik Ghazaryan Olson via Unsplash.