Sofia Samatar


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Sofia Samatar (born October 24, 1971) is an American educator, poet and writer. She is an Assistant Professor of English at James Madison University. In 2013, she published the award-winning fantasy novel A Stranger in Olondria.

Sofia Samatar
Sofia Samatar (2) - Imaginales 2017.jpg
Born (1971-10-24) October 24, 1971 (age 50)
Indiana, United States
  • Professor
  • editor
  • poet
  • writer
Alma materGoshen College, University of Wisconsin-Madison
GenreFantasy, mythology, postmodernism
Notable worksA Stranger in Olondria (2013)
Notable awardsBritish Fantasy Award, World Fantasy Award, John W. Campbell Award, Crawford Award
SpouseKeith Miller
ParentsSaid Sheikh Samatar (father)

Early lifeEdit

Samatar was born in 1971 in a small town in northern Indiana, United States.[1] Her father was the Somali scholar, historian and writer Said Sheikh Samatar. Her mother is a Swiss-German Mennonite from North Dakota.[1][2] Sofia's parents met in 1970 in Mogadishu, Somalia, while her mother was teaching English.[3]

Growing up, Samatar lived in various places around the world. She attended a Mennonite high school, and for her post-secondary education, Samatar studied at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana.[1] She graduated from the institution in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. In 1997, Samatar earned a Master's degree in African languages and literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wisconsin. She subsequently completed a Ph.D. in 2013 at the institution in the same field, with a specialization in contemporary Arabic literature.[4] She wrote her dissertation on the Sudanese novelist Tayeb Salih.[5]


Samatar began her career as a language instructor. Along with her husband, she taught English as a second language in Sudan for three years. They later moved to Egypt, where they served as English teachers for nine years.[1][4]

In 2013, she joined the California State University Channel Islands' faculty as an Assistant Professor of English. She taught writing and literature, and also established the institution's first Arabic class.[4] In the fall of 2016, she joined the faculty of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Samatar started publishing fiction in 2012.[1] In addition to her poetry and book reviews, her short stories have been featured in a number of literary publications which include: Stone Telling, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, and Lightspeed.[1][6] Her 2013 short story "Selkie Stories Are for Losers" was widely acclaimed.[7] A fantasy piece, its protagonist's mother is a mythological selkie.[8] Similarly, the monster in her 2012 short story, "The Nazir" (derived from the Arabic term for "to look"), is subconsciously based on the antagonist in the traditional Somali folktale Dhegdheer ("Long-Ear").[5]

In 2013, Samatar published her first novel, the fantastical A Stranger in Olondria.[1] The work was well received by literary critics and won several international awards.[9]

Additionally, Samatar has experimented with writing qasīdas in English.[5] Samatar and her brother collaborated on a book of illustrated prose poems, entitled Monster Portraits, which was published in 2018 by Rose Metal Press. A sequel to A Stranger in Olondria, entitled The Winged Histories, was published by Small Beer Press in 2016.[10]

Samatar's main literary influences (which were also favorites of hers as an adolescent) include: Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. While working in Sudan, she also read Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, which she suggests was an important formative experience. Although Samatar was not immersed in much genre fiction, she admires the work of fantasy stalwarts J. R. R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake and Ursula K. Le Guin. as well as the Gothic fiction of Bram Stoker and the Brontë family,[1] and medieval English legends such as Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales.[5] She cites the contemporary work of Cormac McCarthy, Michael Ondaatje, Miral al-Tahawy and Noura al Noman,[1][5] and especially the postmodern narratives of Carole Maso as additional influences. In terms of poetry, the mystical and haunting verse of Rainer Maria Rilke is Samatar's principal source of inspiration.[1] Due to her Somali heritage, Samatar's work also draws from the cultures of Northeast Africa.[5] She thus culls poetic elements from Somali mythology, such as in her poems "Long-Ear" and "The Death of Araweilo", which are homages to the traditional Somali folktales Dhegdheer ("Long-Ear") and Arawelo, respectively.[10][11]

Samatar served as a nonfiction and poetry editor for Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts.[6]


Samatar has received various awards and recognition for her fiction and poetry. Her short story "Selkie Stories Are for Losers" was a finalist for both the 2014 Nebula and Hugo Awards for Best Short Story, as well as the British Science Fiction Association Award and the World Fantasy Award.[12]

Additionally, Samatar's poem "APACHE CHIEF" was a finalist for a Rhysling Award.[13]

In 2014, Samatar won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel (the Robert Holdstock Award) for her book A Stranger in Olondria.[14] She was also presented the World Fantasy Award for the work.[9] In addition, Samatar received the 2014 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She likewise won the Crawford Award,[6] and was a finalist for the Locus Award for Best First Novel.[15]

Samatar's Monster Portraits, a collection of short fiction published in February 2018, was a finalist for the Calvino Prize.[16]

Personal lifeEdit

Samatar is married to American writer Keith R. Miller.[1] They have two children, Isabel and Dominic (Nico).[17] Although her father was a Muslim, she is a Mennonite[18] like her mother.

Samatar speaks several languages, including Arabic and English.[4] Additionally, she learned Swahili in college,[5] and picked up some Zande while teaching in Sudan.[19]


  • National African Language Resource Center - Arabic[20]

Selected bibliographyEdit

  • A Stranger in Olondria (Small Beer Press, 2013)
  • The Winged Histories (Small Beer Press, 2016)
  • Tender (Small Beer Press, 2017)[21]
Short fiction
  • "Meet Me in Iram" (Guillotine Series No. 10, 2015)
  • "The Closest Thing to Animals" (Fireside Fiction, 2015)
  • "Tender" (OmniVerse, 2015)
  • "Request for an Extension on the Clarity" (Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, 2015)
  • "Those" (Uncanny Magazine, 2015)
  • "Walkdog" (Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, 2014)
  • "A Girl Who Comes Out of a Chamber at Regular Intervals" (Lackington's, 2014)
  • "Ogres of East Africa" (Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, 2014)
  • "How to Get Back to the Forest" (Lightspeed, 2014)
  • "Olimpia's Ghost" (Phantom Drift, 2013)
  • "How I Met the Ghoul" (Eleven Eleven, 2013)
  • "Bess, the Landlord's Daughter, Goes for Drinks with the Green Girl" (Glitter & Mayhem, 2013)
  • "I Stole the D.C.'s Eyeglass" (We See a Different Frontier: A Postcolonial Speculative Fiction Anthology, 2013)
  • "Dawn and the Maiden" (Apex Magazine, 2013)
  • "Selkie Stories Are for Losers" (Strange Horizons, 2013)
  • "Honey Bear" (Clarkesworld Magazine, 2012)
  • "A Brief History of Nonduality Studies" (Expanded Horizons, 2012)
  • "The Nazir" (Ideomancer, 2012)
  • Monster Portraits (collection) (Rose Metal Press, 2017)
  • Tender (collection) (Small Beer Press, 2017)
  • "Make the Night Go Faster" (Liminality, 2014)
  • "The Death of Araweilo" (, 2014)
  • "Long-Ear" (Stone Telling, 2014)
  • "APACHE CHIEF" (Flying Higher: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry, 2013)
  • "Persephone Set Free" (Mythic Delirium, 2013)
  • "Undoomed" (Ideomancer, 2013)
  • "Shahrazad Spoils the Coffee" (Jabberwocky, 2012)
  • "Snowbound in Hamadan" (Stone Telling, 2012)
  • "Burnt Lyric" (Goblin Fruit, 2012)
  • "The Hunchback's Mother" (inkscrawl, 2012)
  • "Lost Letter" (Strange Horizons, 2012)
  • "Qasida of the Ferryman" (Goblin Fruit, 2012)
  • "The Year of Disasters" (Bull Spec, 2012)
  • "Girl Hours" (Stone Telling, 2011)
  • "The Sand Diviner" (Stone Telling, 2011)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Sofia Samatar: Stranger Scripts". Locus Magazine. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  2. ^ "Small Beer Press & Big Mouth House Fall/Winter 2012" (PDF). Small Beer Press. Retrieved December 31, 2014.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Samatar, Said Sheikh. "Interview with Professor Said Sheikh Samatar at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Washington, D.C." (Interview). Interviewed by Ahmed I. Samatar. Bildhaan. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d "Faculty Profiles - Sofia Samatar". California State University Channel Islands. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Clarke, Nic. "Ways of Knowing: An interview with Sofia Samatar". Strange Horizons. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c "Sofia Samatar". Archived from the original on September 11, 2014. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  7. ^ "News". Sofia Samatar. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  8. ^ Samatar, Sofia. "Selkie Stories Are for Losers". Strange Horizons. Archived from the original on February 6, 2015. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  9. ^ a b Gallo, Irene. "Announcing the 2014 British Fantasy Awards Winners". Retrieved September 9, 2014.
  10. ^ a b Samatar, Sofia. "ST Body Interviews: Sofia Samatar, "Long-Ear"" (Interview). Stone Telling. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  11. ^ Samatar, Sofia. "The Death of Araweilo". Archived from the original on July 2, 2014. Retrieved December 31, 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ "'Selkie Stories are for Losers' is a bittersweet winner". The Stanford Daily. April 3, 2019. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  13. ^ "The 2014 Rhysling Anthology and Awards". Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. Retrieved February 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ "2014 British Fantasy Awards Winners". Locus Magazine. September 8, 2014. Retrieved February 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ "2014 Locus Awards Winners". Locus Magazine. June 28, 2014. Retrieved February 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ "2013 Calvino Prize Winners — Department of English". Retrieved February 4, 2021.
  17. ^ "Bulletin fall-winter 2010-11". Issu. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  18. ^ Samatar, Sofia (December 18, 2014). "Interview: Sofia Samatar". Post45 (Interview). Interviewed by Aaron Bady. Austin, Texas: Yale University.
  19. ^ Samatar, Sofia. "WSADF contributors round robin interview" (Interview). Interviewed by N.A. Futurefire. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  20. ^ ""Summer Institute 2010 Report". National African Language Resource Center. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  21. ^ "Tender : Small Beer Press". Retrieved July 30, 2019.

External linksEdit