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Melanie Schnell on Volunteering During The Second Sudanese Civil War

In 2002, Melanie Schnell joined an aid organization in South Sudan, where she researched her debut novel.

Melanie Schnell, author of While the Sun is Above Us (Freehand Books).

While The Sun Is Above Us (Freehand Books) takes readers into the extraordinary world of Sudan through the intertwined narratives of two women. In the midst of a bloody civil war, Adut is captured and held as a slave for eight years. Sandra, fleeing her life in Canada, travels to South Sudan as an aid worker but soon finds herself unwittingly embroiled in a violent local conflict. When chance brings Adut and Sandra together in a brief but profound moment, their lives change forever.

"Schnell’s prose is transparent and true, and her voice is haunting, full of emotional clout. Hers are characters made of flesh and blood—they are brave, vulnerable, strong and, ultimately, alive with hope."—Lisa Moore

"Schnell cleverly juxtaposes and parallels the two main characters and two continents throughout the novel . . . Inexorable descriptions of this suffering would be arduous to read were it not for Schnell’s skillful ability to balance out the thrum of painful intensity that runs throughout the prose with gently asserted control." Read the full review at The Globe and Mail.

I recently met with Melanie Schnell while on a stop in Toronto for her book tour. In this podcast, we discuss, among other things, the following:

  • when the traumatic lives of real people compel the writer to create a fictional narrative
  • Schnell's time spent volunteering in Sudan as part of a non profit aid organization
  • the experience of writing about south Sudanese people, largely ignored by the international community for decades
  • how a satellite phone call from her Sudanese translator got her back on track to finishing the novel
  • fiction as an act of activism (in this case, stories about women in war and suffering through transformation)
  • how growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan informed her work ethic as writer

It's a great chat! Enjoy! (RT: approximately 18 minutes)





While the Sun is Above Us, by Melanie Schnell (Freehand Books)

Melanie Schnell grew up on a farm in southeastern Saskatchewan and has lived in Regina, Vancouver, Toronto, Boston, Colombia, Thailand, Kenya and Sudan. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and has written for television, magazines and journals across Canada. While The Sun Is Above Us is her first novel.

Melanie’s website:

Author photo by Graham Powell.

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