On Wandering: I was born in Ethiopia. In the mid-’70s, there was a revolution and an authoritarian dictatorship took over. My grandfather had worked in the Emperor’s court, so it wasn’t safe for us to stay. We lived in Nigeria for a while, and then Kenya. When I was seven, my family moved to Colorado. Since then, I’ve lived in Michigan, Los Angeles, Italy, and New York. My first language was Amharic, then English (which I spoke with a British accent when I first arrived in the U.S.), and later Italian.
On Expectations: I went to college thinking I would become a doctor. That’s every Ethiopian parent’s dream for their child. But as soon as I got there, I knew I couldn’t do it. I wanted to focus on reading and writing, but I didn’t know how to tell my parents. I didn’t come from a literary family. We knew engineers and doctors. Those were the practical things you were supposed to do, especially when your parents sacrificed so much to put you through school. When I called to say I was going to be an English major, my dad said, “But you already know English.” They didn’t get it.
On Feeling Lost: Right out of school, I worked as a business consultant, but I was miserable. At night, for my sanity, I would bartend so that I could relax and talk to people not in business suits. I had this kind of double life. After two years, I connected with an advertising firm that needed a copywriter willing to work for free. That’s when my writing career really started, but I was still lost.